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Will Grind for Grades

Luke Thomas | 9 Jan 2012 17:00
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Videogame developers can easily tap the fiat idea because games are nothing but systems of rules. Even the most valuable things - your health packs, your suit of death knight armor, your new extraterrestrial pet - are simply attributes of the ruleset composing the system. In virtual economies, the fiats have inherent value. In other words, in-game goats do not have to be backed up by real goats. Like the benevolent dictators they are, developers can gift mountains of wonderful stuff to players simply by decree. The only test of real-world value is the player experience.

Every quarterly report card could be an opportunity for enrolled gamers to trick out their avatar's spaceship or level-up their mage.

A player of the three Bs' titles need only acquire a baseline level of skill before he requires new content to keep him engaged. To access new content, he inputs time and attention. (Depending on what type of content he is after, attention may not even be required - he can practically automate grinding for gold and experience in games like WoW without even cheating.) What the three B's, and anyone else with a similar game, could say is: "Okay, if you're a student and you can prove that you spent your time and attention achieving something in school, then we will give you back an in-game reward as if you had spent that time in our game."

Obviously a student who merely states that he did three hours of homework should not receive a pile of digital gold. The school system, however, is built around metrics of academic achievement. Every quarterly report card could be an opportunity for enrolled gamers to trick out their avatar's spaceship or level-up their mage ... after their teacher sends verification of their good work to the game company. In fact, a period of several months between academically-based rewards would prevent a program like this from cheapening normal play time.

Now, we all know that deploying such a program in a multiplayer game would piss off the players who are not in school, who could not trick out their characters except by toiling away in-game. Ultimately, though, this is only a minor logistical issue. In WoW, , for instance, "School Credit Enabled" could be added to the list of categories (e.g. "Player-Vs-Player" and "Roleplaying") that already distinguish servers with tweaks to the main rule set. This separation is already accounted for in solo games.

For developers, a system for rewarding academic achievement is a public relations goldmine. They can donate a portion of the energy kids devote to their games to the same kids' teachers - not so different from a superstar lawyer offering his services, pro-bono, to an impoverished community. Also, unlike a lawyer for whom time is money, a developer can dispense study rewards for free.

The success of the Quest to Learn schools, and the development of virtual teaching systems like SMALLab indicate that educators would love to harness the unique way that games excite the human mind. Before the current education gaming renaissance created this enthusiasm, it may not have been possible to convince public educators to collaborate with those responsible for sapping so much of the attention of a generation. Now, however, the time is ripe to game the system.

Luke Thomas is a freelance writer and editor based in New York

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