This chapter explores whether massively multiplayer online role-play games (MMORPGs) can be used effectively to support learning and training communities. The chapter aims to propose that cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of game-based learning are needed to support better synthesis of our current understanding of the effectiveness of learning with games. The chapter therefore includes a brief literature review of online gaming research to date, taken from psychological and educational research perspectives. The chapter explores the main types of online games and highlights the main themes of research undertaken through a consideration of the use of online gaming in current learning and training contexts where online gaming is being used to support experiential and discovery learning approaches. This chapter indicates future directions for cross-disciplinary research approaches in this field and considers how collaborative learning could best be supported through this approach.
By way of an introduction to the subject of online gaming, the chapter will explore the main types of online games and highlight the main themes of research undertaken through a consideration of the use of online gaming in current learning and training contexts where online gaming is being used to support experiential and discovery learning approaches. This chapter will indicate future directions for cross-disciplinary research approaches in this field and consider how collaborative learning could best be supported through this approach.
The use of MMORPGs in educational contexts is a relatively new research area; indeed the first online games have only become established in the last five to ten years, and for these reasons there are specific problems in terms of data collection and validation (Wood, Griffiths, & Eatough, 2004). In addition, it has been noted that the field requires analytical techniques and frameworks for evaluation, some of which are being developed (de Freitas & Oliver, 2005, 2006). However, it is envisaged that this field of inquiry is set to expand, and as such, applications of multiplayer online gaming may become more numerous over the next five years, producing a wider evidence-base of research and allowing for more effective evaluation and validation (Pelletier & Oliver, 2006).
While the numbers of online games used for training and education purposes are limited at present, many of those that are available tend to center on military contexts and requirements, due to the large associated development costs. However, beyond the growing number of military applications of online gaming for training, there are an increasing number of small-scale research-based experimental projects that also fall into this area of study (Lee, Eustace, Fellows, Bytheway, & Irving, 2005; McLaughlin, Kirkpatrick, Hirsch, & Maier, 2001; Jones et al., 2004). Although online gaming is a relatively new area of activity, its success at engaging large groups of remotely located users has meant that early research projects and military training organizations have already begun to use multiplayer online role-play gaming approaches as a means for engaging and retaining large remotely located learner groups, and for supporting collaborative learning objectives and ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1998).
While there are clearly central issues emerging in the review of existing literature, particular challenges lie in the fact that single disciplinary perspectives have often precluded more interdisciplinary, cross-thematic approaches that lend better to opportunities for synthesis. This chapter brings together a review that combines literature from psychology and educational theory, and practice disciplinary perspectives in an attempt to problematize key issues emerging with respect to using online gaming in educational contexts. The second section of the chapter therefore provides a general review of what online gaming is, the third section provides a review of psychological perspectives on the literature of online gaming, and the fourth section introduces examples where online gaming is currently being used in educational and training contexts. The conclusions bring together the main themes and problems raised in the chapter.
The chapter aims to propose that cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of a game-based learning approach are needed to support better synthesis of our current understanding of the effectiveness of learning with games. The chapter will include a brief literature review of online gaming research taken from psychological and educational research perspectives. The chapter will explore a range of terms including the following: online gaming, standalone games, local and wide area games, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), and flow.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Play Game (MMORPG): Typically represented by large, sophisticated, detailed, and evolving worlds based in different narrative environments. Examples of such games are Everquest (heroic fantasy), Anarchy Online (futurist science fiction), and Motor City Online (classic car racing). The nature of these games is to offer a rich three-dimensional world where typically players have some sort of a mission or goal. For example, in World of WarCraft one of the quests is to battle Ragnoros—a type of fire god. In MMORPGs, all the characters are fictional, rather than actual persons.
Immersive World Applications: Simulations, games, and other interactive, often 3D virtual spaces or crossover spaces (e.g., between virtual and real).
Guild: A collection of players share a common principle or outlook. A guild is a specialized group. Guilds are popular among the variety of MMORPGs available. Often guilds will have a deity alignment (good, evil, neutral) and carry out actions consistent with that alignment. However any players that are caught behaving badly or against the policies of the guild will be dealt with appropriately, such as being expelled from the guild.
Serious Games: Games that integrate gaming elements with learning or training objectives. The name also refers to a movement of researchers and developers who are working towards developing games specifically aimed at educational audiences.
Exploratory Learning: Learning through exploring environments, reality, and lived and virtual experiences with tutorial and peer-based support. This notion of learning is based upon the idea that learning patterns can be helpfully transferred to dissimilar situations through meta-reflection. Unlike Kolb’s experimental learning, this process is not always circular (although it may be) and does not rely upon lived experience. Rather the approach acknowledges the cognitive process that helps individuals to use their imagination and creativity to draw out lessons from interactions, as well as extracting meaning from data. This process can be complicated and happen on different levels of understanding. That is, learning can be supported through different media, and through multimedia, interactions, and textual engagement.
Metaverse: An online virtual world in which there are no specific goals or objectives. A virtual world in which a user creates an avatar and then explores the world as that avatar. Users are able to chat with others in the world and interact with the avatars. Typically an inhabitant can create buildings, clothes, habitats, or any other items they can imagine. Metaverses do not typically have non-player characters (characters that are computer generated). In a metaverse all the characters are tied directly to an actual person.
Simulations: Non-linear synthetic training environments that allow learners to rehearse different scenarios, tasks, problems, or activities in advance of real-life interactions or to update skills.