Friday, January 20

WoW as an Educational Tool

When World of Warcraft was released in 2004, it changed the face of gaming with its massive multiplayer universe. WoW is much more than just a succesful MMORPG: its complex universe behaves so much in the same way as a real society that it has even been used as a tool to teach us about the real world.

For instance, World of Warcraft has been used as an analogy to explain the complex Bitcoin digital currency. For example, if real-life Bitcoins are like WoW gold, then the Bitcoin blockchain is like Blizzard - regulating the market to ensure that currency is not generated or used unfairly. A major difference between the Bitcoin blockchain and Blizzard's data servers is that the blockchain is open source. This means that instead of having a centralised control point overlooking all transactions made, the blockchain is instead shared between everyone who uses it, making it nearly impossible for corruption to happen.

Users must "mine" (with special hardware, if they're looking ot make a profit) to generate Bitcoins. Sounds familiar? Much like in WoW, if you want to generate Bitcoins you have to invest money into specialised equipment, and invest time into the mining process in order to increase your chances of generating a winning block hash. When you mine in WoW there is the possibility of picking up random items along with the ore - and with Bitcoins you have the chance of getting a randomly generated winning block hash which awards you a certain value of Bitcoin. Bitcoins are increasingly accepted across the internet - you can now pay for flights, shop in real-life stores, and even play video slots games using Bitcoin. In addition to casino games, Bitcoin-exclusive iGaming provider VegasCasino also offers a Bitcoin faucet, a type of Bitcoin service which gives you the chance of earning Bitcoin for free, in exchange for navigating a couple of pages and completing a captcha task. 

The teaching capabilities of the WoW universe have been extended so far that colleges in the USA are even using the game to teach classes. Dr. Landon Pirius teaches a class titled Warcraft: Culture, Gender and Identity at Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota. His class takes place entirely within the game and some of the assessments include analysing the cultural differences between Horde and Alliance, studying the economics of the game, and role playing by using differing levels of written English (WoWspeak, broken English, etc.) in the game's chat and analysing the differences in how people responded.

World of Warcraft can also be useful in studying how people react to crises. In 2005, a virtual plague broke out in WoW when a new raid called Zul'Gurub was opened and players were subjected to a spell called Corrupted Blood which drained their health and spread to other players. The spell soon spread to players outside of the Zul'Gurub area and began to infect WoW's cities, soon wiping out a huge number of players. Epidemiologists published papers on the incident likening it to real-world epidemics, and used their research to predict human behaviour in the event of a real outbreak.

Whilst you might think that playing World of Warcraft just means getting lost in a fantasy world, the fact is that the simulated universe can teach us a few things about our own world. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining why it's still the most popular MMORPG more than ten years after it was first released.


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