September 8, 2008

Ignorance, the Ultimate Boss

How Videogames Blind Us with Science

“A few years ago, Constance Steinkuehler — a game academic at the University of Wisconsin — was spending 12 hours a day playing Lineage, the online world game. She was, as she puts it, a ‘siege princess,’ running 150-person raids on hellishly difficult bosses. Most of her guild members were teenage boys.

But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they’d dump all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they’d develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked — and to predict how to beat it.

Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. ‘They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,’ Steinkuehler recalls.

That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

They were using the scientific method. They’d think of a hypothesis — This boss is really susceptible to fire spells — and then collect evidence to see if the hypothesis was correct. If it wasn’t, they’d improve it until it accounted for the observed data.

This led Steinkuehler to a fascinating and provocative conclusion: Videogames are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today….

This is what Steinkuehler reports in a research paper — ‘Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds‘ (.pdf) — that she will publish in this spring’s Journal of Science Education and Technology. She and her co-author, Sean Duncan, downloaded the content of 1,984 posts in 85 threads in a discussion board for players of World of Warcraft.” [Games without Frontiers]

Fascinating stuff. We had Constance speak at the first (non-ALA) Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium back in 2005 (sadly, MLS has taken down all of the materials that were online about that event, so I can’t point you to anything about it). You can read my notes from her session here, though..


10:18 pm Comments (8)

8 Comments

  1. Thank you for that–it’s beautiful. 🙂

    Comment by Kaolin Fire — September 9, 2008 @ 5:17 am

  2. […] post by The Shifted Librarian Need WOW Guide? Click […]

    Pingback by Ignorance, the Ultimate Boss | World Of Warcraft News — September 9, 2008 @ 6:22 am

  3. Hi Jenny, you can still get to the archived MLS 2005 gaming symposium website, but it doesn’t redirect anymore from the original URL, see it here: http://www.mls.lib.il.us/gaming/index.html

    Comment by SuBo — September 9, 2008 @ 8:01 am

  4. And if you want to see the absence of science check out http://www.antispore.com

    Comment by terry — September 10, 2008 @ 7:40 am

  5. […] I was recently pointed in the direction of a blog article which really created a WOW moment for me. It was about how teenagers have used mathematical modelling to figure out how to defeat “the bosses” in their virtual online game. A definite must-read: “Videogames are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today….” […]

    Pingback by Virtual gaming as a learning and teaching tool | School 2.0 in SA — September 10, 2008 @ 8:16 am

  6. […] a recent post by Jenny Levine (The Shifted Librarian) about some research that has found kids using science skills to beat games. It’s pretty interesting and I can see this going the way that Fantasy Sports have been used […]

    Pingback by gaming in the library « elizabeth in library land — September 10, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  7. Want to see similar things? Check out faqs/walkthroughs for games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or even Dynasty Warriors. You’ll see people not only figuring out the models, but people researching (and frequently plagiarizing) from other sources.

    There’s a few games I rather like that I’ll probably have to get a notebook for one of these days (final fantasy tactics advance 2 comes to my mind).

    Then again, from what I can tell these type of people are a bit rare and probably the ones who approach problems like this in real life as well…

    Comment by Jon Gorman — September 11, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  8. It is amazing how video games like this (or many games in general) promote scientific and mathematic thinking in order to excel. World of Warcraft is one that comes to mind (merely b/c of the sheer number of people that play it… and that I play it too I guess). If you visit forums for the game, you can find “number crunching”, mathematically proven formulas, and much more information that people have compiled in order to have greater success with “casting fire balls at dragons”. Games like this, also include macros that can be programed to perform different tasks. While the programming for these macros is by no means difficult, it can teach basics of programming and logic to anyone that uses them. I find all of this rather amazing really.

    Comment by Jolli — September 29, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

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