As someone who enjoys video games, even those I’m lousy at playing, it’s no surprise that I think gaming can provide unintentional learning opportunities. Of course there are games that target specific skills, but I’m seeing many ways that even the MMORPG I’ve been playing can be educational.
That’s my second avatar in ArcheAge. Like my first, she’s of the Argent class and she just reached level 47, but she’s a different race from my initial avatar and I’m working on different proficiencies with her. Since I’m nearing endgame levels and I refuse to engage in PvP fighting or join parties, guilds, or raids, at this point I’m doing whatever amuses me rather than playing the game as it’s designed. That means a lot of stealthy farming and gathering, leveling skills so I can craft everything I need, observing chat drama, and wandering off the edges of the map. It’s given me a lot off time to see what other people are doing in-game and think about those behaviors.
I’ve seen players develop incredibly detailed profit and loss spreadsheets, as intricate as anything in a first-year college accounting class. Making money can be a big part of the ArcheAge gameplay, either as a goal in and of itself or as a way to afford high level gear. Someone who successfully farms for profit in AA has to track his costs carefully: raw materials (seeds, saplings, baby livestock), feed/fertilizer/medicine, land costs, the cost of the labor points used to plant and harvest, the cost of buildings/storage and carts/ships for transportation. He needs to know where he can get the most profit from what he raises and balance that against the risk of piracy on long trade runs. He must monitor the prices of raw materials he needs but doesn’t grow himself, as well as keeping an eye on the auction prices for his products, which sometimes may be cheaper to buy than grow himself.
Farmers like me, who don’t own or share land but instead seek out hidden places on the map where they can plant, have a different set of variables to track. We incur a higher labor cost and the risk of loss through theft or griefing, and we might need to keep track of numerous spots and the time that each particular crop will ripen. If someone intends to farm for profit instead of just playing 3D Farmville, the bookkeeping is no small matter.
Others monitor auction prices with the diligence of Wall Street options traders, snapping up underpriced items and flipping them for profit. Though some use bots and plug-ins that are against the game rules, many simply keep track of prices, fees, and profits over time. I’ve seen a trader buy up all of the listings for one particular item, then relist all of them at higher prices with differing auction duration.
Social and strategic skills are exercised in an MMORPG, for better or worse. In ArcheAge, trusted partnerships can be important for commerce and crafting as well as fighting. It’s possible to play as pirates and criminals, though there is a peer trial and prison system that provides consequences to those actions. Because people who have played the game long enough to have good gear, equipment, and land have a huge advantage over new players, new players who want to reach the upper echelon need to be socially strategic, making connections and getting into a powerful or very helpful guild. Once inside a guild, all the political and interpersonal pressures intensify. I was so burned out by leading a guild in another MMORPG that it will be a long time before I choose to be an active member again.
Even people who like to explore on their own face puzzles that require creative thinking. How is it possible to reach the peak of that mountain? Is there a hidden path, or a slope that can be tackled with some difficulty, or might I have to find a higher peak beyond my render distance and soar over with my glider? Plotting a path through a bunch of monsters without attracting aggro is mathematical thinking.
It may seem mindless, but even relatively low-strategy gaming requires more cognitive work than passively watching a movie. When my stepson was younger, sure, I would have preferred for him to read a book, build something, play an instrument, or get a job in his free time, but I knew that his MMORPG time was valuable in helping him develop social and conflict management skills. Now as I lurk at the edges of ArcheAge, I see another generation engaging their brains along with their fingers.