I got Pwned by a couple LOTRO digital natives

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This last weekend I killed some wolves and looted their fur (which is a little strange for a vegetarian to be excited about).  I also walked back and forth from a town to a farm on a dirt path.  I swam in a lake and fought spiders three times my size.  I received some new armor and learned how to whack my opponents over the head with my wooden shield.  I did all this while my two sons (ages 10 and 13) followed me around and kept asking me questions like “do I want them to make me better armor”. 

Well, actually, I sat in front of my computer and clicked a mouse and typed some keys on the keyboard.

I decided to play my sons’ favorite online game Lord of the Rings Online, or LOTRO.  LOTRO is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth.  I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings.  I’ve read the books and watched the movies too many times to count.  I’m also a big fan of MMORPG’s.  I was addicted to World of Warcraft (WoW) for a few years until I got married and decided that forking out $180 a year for a game was not such a great use of money.  I obviously decided to play this game for educational reasons, never mind the fact that after I sent the boys to bed, I played until past midnight. 

LOTRO, like I said earlier, is a MMORPG, which means a lot of people play this game online (more than 1.5 million people, in fact).  It’s also a role-playing game in which the user gets to create a character and play as that character in the game.  I chose to create a hobbit; I love hobbits.  LOTRO is a complex game, meaning it requires many hours of playtime to master the game.  In games like LOTRO, though, you can get your character to the highest level, but there’s never really a finale to the game.  Often in MMORPG’s, the game is so complex that players don’t read the “instruction manuals” until after they’ve been playing for a while.  I chose to play this particular game for a number of reasons.  First, I knew I’d score major step-mom points with the boys (and I did).  Second, I thought the game would be fun (it was perhaps too fun).  And third, it’s free to play.  Players may subscribe to LOTRO for about $15 per month and receive special benefits in the game, such as free points and extra accessories for their characters. 

After I created my character, Holbytla (which means “hobbit” in old English… perhaps I’m showing my nerdyness a bit?), I was shown an in-game movie involving my character and other characters from Middle Earth.  After the movie was over, I was told to follow another hobbit around as we fought spiders and walked to other sites.  I assumed this was to help me learn how to move around in the game.  After the introduction to the game, I was off on my quests.  In MMORPG’s, each player is constantly working on completing quests in order to earn money or experience points.  I quickly leveled up my character.  In just a few hours, my hobbit was level 6 (out of 75).  I found myself not reading the windows that popped up when I was offered a quest, but instead skimming the story for the important details of what I was supposed to do in the quest and where I was supposed to go.  Then, I closed the window and continued playing.  During one point in the game, I kept running back and forth between a town and a farm, attempting to find a certain plant to bring back to a woman in the town for a quest.  I couldn’t find the plant anywhere.  I stopped playing for a minute and started typing in emotes into the chat window to see what I could get my character to do.  I typed in /chicken to see if my character would cluck like a chicken.  The game told me I cannot use that emote yet; apparently I’ll learn to use that later in the game.  Then I typed in /dance; my hobbit started dancing in the middle of the dirt road.  I played around with the emotes for a few more minutes until my frustration was lowered.  I ran around some more with no luck.  Then, I did what I promised myself I wouldn’t do.  I IM’d my sons and asked how to find the plants.  They reminded me that if I typed the “M” key on the keyboard, it would bring up my map.  I did, and was able to find the place I needed to go to collect the plants.

While playing LOTRO, I learned that I don’t do what teachers are always telling their students, “Read all the directions carefully”.  Instead, I scanned to find the important details.  I also first tried to solve problems on my own, and when that didn’t work out I asked others for help.  I took breaks from my challenging questing to have a little fun in the game.  I also set goals for myself.  I kept telling myself, “Okay one more quest and then I’ll go to bed.”  But then, I’d be so close to leveling, so I changed my goal to “Okay, reach the next level and then I’ll go to bed.”  But then the next quest was so interesting, and I constantly moved my goals to just out of reach so I could continue playing.  Games like LOTRO are exactly what all the writers and conference speakers are talking about when they’re discussing game-based learning.  These are games that suck the player in and make them want to challenge themselves.  The game is neither too hard nor too easy for every single player, no matter their skill level; talk about individualized instruction!  The game is challenging, and the player wants to be challenged.  This is a strange concept in the classroom, a student who asks to be challenged.  The game also allows the players to play solo or group up to complete a task.  Players can even get in groups of a hundred or so characters to all battle together.  Games like LOTRO could be great in the classroom as a way to get kids engaged and challenge themselves without realizing how much time and effort they’re putting into their education. 

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