I’d been itching to write this post for a while but wanted to save it until I truly had something instead of a collection of random “good ideas.” Last year, when I heard Michael Abbott over at the Brainy Gamer was utilizing Portal as a part of a college course he taught, I got to thinking about other video games as unconventional education tools.
I grew up in an age when computers were just beginning to be a part of normal people’s lives. In my household, we were lucky to have a computer but we didn’t have any of the consoles other kids played. For the most part, video games were anything but educational, even in the remotest sense. Duck Hunt didn’t really teach you how to aim, shoot, or even effectively hunt. I spent hours on Privateer but I don’t think I could pilot a craft of any sort, even if I had the vast expanse of space at my disposal. Then games like Math Blaster came around and, to a little kid, simply being on a computer was fun enough to make math bearable. Anything but having to do addition by conventional paper and pencil, please!
So when the baby was sitting in my lap while I played World of Warcraft one day, happily smashing away at my space bar to “make mommy fly higher,” I realized I already had a multimedia tool to teach many basic concepts to a child. The idea just hadn’t occurred to me before because I was getting a little sick of people constantly suggesting that I teach my daughter how to “farm” herbs or ore on the game.
Below is a comprehensive list of concepts and the corresponding in-game tools. (Ideal for toddlers and beyond! If you’ve thought of more, let me know in the comments below!)
– Basic directions: This was the idea that started it all, saying the word, “Up,” every time my daughter smacked my keyboard. All you need is your character; a flying mount; the Q, E, and X keys; and the space bar. Every time you move, announce the direction you’re going in: up, left, right, and down. To make it even more interactive and fun, physically move in your chair with the little one as you go! Put a song to this game and you’ve got yourself a Warcraft hokey-pokey!
– Cardinal directions and map reading: Dial “M” for “map.” Apparently, a lot of kids these days (insert cane shaking here) don’t know a lick about basic geography! There’s the typical topography and geological markers on your Warcraft map, as well as roads and various points of interests picked out. Anytime you ask yourself (or your child), “Where do we need to go for this quest?”, don’t just reply with, “That way!” Turn it into a learning experience by figuring out the basic direction, e.g. “It’s northeast of where we are now,” or, “It’s to the south of this town.” On a macro level, you can figure out which direction you need to travel to go from one region to the next. You can create a rough compass of sorts for a more hands-on approach, too: just hold up the compass you’ve made next to the screen and point the arrow in the right direction. Afterward, translate the in-game experience to a real-life experience by using any maps you might have around the house or using Google Earth. It’s perfect for making the most mundane errands seem like a fun quest when you figure out where the grocery store is in relation to the house!
– Counting: Anyone who’s accepted a quest in Warcraft knows that it often involves, “Collect X amount of stuff,” or, “Eliminate N amount of creatures.” That, by itself, can get pretty boring rather quick. Rather than just keeping count of what you’ve collected or killed, play games like, “I’ve gotten six rabbit feet so far. The next one will be…?” and your child can happily respond, “Seven! The next one is seven!” With collection quests (or even resource farming), you can split up stacks of things in your inventory to count things one-by-one or in multiples, if you’re feeling daring (e.g. counting by 2s, etc).
– Basic math (short addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division): Related to counting– mostly because my brain can’t think of one without the other now– is basic math. Using the above methods for counting, collection becomes a math problem when you say, “I have seven rabbit feet. We need ten to complete the quest. How many more do we need?” By splitting up stacks, you can make addition problems: “I have four in this stack and seven in the other. When I put them together, how many (X items) should I have in the finished stack?” Again, translate this experience to real life by adding up or subtracting things while at the grocery store or even while you eat.
> Kids won’t be learning stuff like multiplication and division till 1st or 2nd grade, but it never hurts to start early if you’re so inclined. For multiplication and division, I like to use crafting professions. If your kid is the “learn by association” sort like me, counting (and adding) in multiples also helps with multiplication. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that counting in 2s or 5s was exactly like reciting the multiplication table for 2s and 5s when I was a kid. Anyway… Let’s take engineering for example. We know crafting something takes more than just the bars of elementium and an anvil. In the case of making an elementium toolbox, it requires 15 elementium bars and 12 volatile earth. Each bar requires two ore. How much ore do you need for one toolbox? You could count 2s until you’ve done it 15 times but you can also multiply! 15×2=30! Learning (and understanding) this “shortcut” will make a kid overjoyed and they might want to find excuses to use this knowledge.
– Colors: I admit… I have a hard time not matching gems to their socket colors. We’re going to omit meta sockets and gems for the sake of simplicity here. There are three basic socket colors: red, blue, and yellow– your primary colors on the color wheel. There are, however, six basic gem colors: Red, blue, yellow, orange, purple, and green. Matching red to red is the first step. With orange, purple, and green gems, you can teach color combinations! For example, red and yellow make orange. Therefore the orange gem is happy in a red socket or a yellow socket! For a visual learner, create a rudimentary color wheel together with the three primary colors and the three secondary colors. Of course, learning colors isn’t quite the same without making a painting, mixing colors as you go!
– Basic reading comprehension: How many times have you done a quest, struggled to figure it out, only to find that the answer was hidden in the quest description this entire time? -raises hand- Yup, me too. While trade chat and forum trolls like to pick on someone’s “lack of reading comprehension” as an insult (when it’s really about a misunderstanding or failure to convey a point), this is more about reading what’s on the quest screen and actually understanding what’s being told to you. It could be directions or a description of what creature or receptacle contains what you need. It could also be a tidbit of lore or an explanation as to why you’re being asked to do this task. This latter point is especially important to develop a kid’s independent thinking, to have them be conscious of what they’re doing and the reasons they’re doing it.