My second Machinima: Epic Journey: Travel forms in WoW
Have you ever wanted to fly (like a bird)? This is just one more thing you can experience in a synthetic world that you can’t do in reality. And I stress the word “experience” versus activity – because the brain doesn’t distinguish between “real” or “unreal” but rather generates emotional and physical responses based on our sensory perceptions of real or unreal. Check out the PBS video from Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab to learn more about the science of virtual perception.
Flying, though a very peripheral aspect of World of Warcraft game play, is one of my favourite activities when I’m in-world. Though I use it mostly for transportation and for my herbalism profession (I gather herbs to make potions, which I sell at the auction house).
When I first got my flying mount and flight form, I delighted in trying out all the moves I’d only ever dreamed of – for example, flying through a canopy of trees or viewing something from high above and then swooping down quickly. Or simply traveling through an environment from a variety of heights and visual observation points. These are all things I’ve never done in “reality.”In a word: it is joyful.
The shots of me in the video above show my avatar in flight form (as a druid I can shapeshift into a cat, bird, seacreature and “moonkin”) as well as riding around on various “mounts” – creatures used for transportation. My epic flying Drake (the big dragon) is a standard mount for those at the “end game” content – though I often just fly around in bird form.
My first experience of virtual flight occurred in Second Life where I learned how to relate to others in avatar form. I remember the first time I took flight. It was magical! I’ve since received a number of vehicles as gifts – including the magic carpet above. This carpet allows me to take those new to the world (who may not yet be skilled at moving their avatar) on an initial journey in the air. It gives them a sense of being aloft and provides perspective on the space.
Flight as peripatetic learning
In the traditional classroom, our movement is limited. We walk in and sit at a desk until class is over with very limited opportunities to stand up or move around unless we’re going to the bathroom (= fail). In addition to being prevented from “leaving” the learning space, we sit in uncomfortable and cramped and non-ergonomic seating, which was initially thought to socialise our vile bodies for the conditions of the industrial workplace (stations in rows, desks in rows), which barely resembles any professional environment we presently work in – even university learning spaces have changed.
The argument that sensory deprivation helps us learn or focus is not only outdated but harmful for those who rely on varied sensory experience to stimulate and enhance their learning and engagement. When we don’t provide those opportunities, students go “off task” and find their own ways to satisfy their basic needs. I’m not suggesting we “replace” real interaction with virtual (the “replacement” argument is yet another, fallacious, either/or objection that is almost always raised in relation to virtual learning – btw), but that the “real”offline spaces/conditions of learning be augmented and enhanced with opportunities for experiences and activities that are not possible or ideally situated in the offline world.
In his TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson relays a story about a dancer who is misdiagnosed as hyperactive because of her “off task” behaviour within an institutional learning architecture that is designed to reward those who “sit still.” Traditional classroom learning is not designed with her needs (movement) in mind. As Robinson put it “she needed to move in order to think.” I am not a dancer, but if you give me the choice to meet and talk with a mentor, I’d choose a stroll through a green space to a chat in an office. There’s a whole lot more stuff we can experience – together – in exploring and moving while relating. Aristotle’s Peripatetic school is an early model of this – literally, walking as thinking.
I am one (of many) who believes that virtual worlds offer a unique opportunity to provide critical sensory experience as a necessary component of 21c learning. And though the spaces and tools for this are currently somewhat limited, it doesn’t mean we can’t make use of them in order to better realise the spaces and tools to come. This is also especially meaningful for those with mobility disabilities that aren’t creatively or effectively served by institutional design (or even, often, considered in basic lesson planning by teachers who may come up with activities). Check out Gimp Girl’s blog post about the ways her project used Second Life for mobility, identity exploration and social empowerment.
Given the fact that I can communicate with others via a headset/mic while walking or flying allows me to simulatanously work on a complex technical activity, I see no reason why we couldn’t conduct a class, a meeting or a conference in a space that allowed participants a full range of movement. For example, “end game raiding” in World of Warcraft requires complex hand eye coordination, speed of keyboard use and specific tactical actions that exceed anything I’ve ever done on a computer – all the while moving, talking and listening to my guildies in the voice chat.
I’m advocating that we design learning experiences, conferences and meetings with opportunities for free and simultantous – as well as directed – movement – up, down, inside, outside, around etc to support truly experiential interaction. For example, a biology lesson in which we go inside the body or a novel study in which we tour (or create) Kakfa’s Castle. There are tons of educational simulations like the ones I suggested, already in existence in Second Life. Trouble is, most offline educators and school boards are entirely unaware of these projects – and largely skeptical and suspicious of these strange, non-traditional spaces.
Over the coming year I plan to research and explore these and other ideas about non-traditional, situated learning via virtual world environments and game structures as a member of the EDGE lab at Ryerson. If you are interested in sharing your own experiences, thoughts or ideas please leave a comment below or email me via the contact page!
About the video
This is a montage of my Night Elf druid taking various travel forms in World of Warcraft. I created it in order to share a glimpse of the world through my eyes for those who haven’t spent any time there. I created it over the course of a couple of hours using Wegame and Windows Movie Maker. The music is an open license track from CC Mixter (see credits. I plan to do more advanced machinima using pro tools and techniques in the coming months.