Notes & Observations

Additional Notes on the Syllabus & Observations

1.      Guilds sit together. The classroom is divided into six zones. Each zone is identified by the name of a significant individual covered in class. For the Multiplayer Game Design class zones had names like the Fields of Koster and Garriott Gardens. Every few classes guilds move to a new zone (so slackers can’t cluster at the back for an entire semester!), and receive extra credit for answering questions regarding the person it is named after. Since they don’t know the questions in advance, they do research on their own. Last semester in our Theory and Practice of Game Design class I was planning to hide some quiz answers, taped to the bottom of chairs in each zone. They still had to match the answers to the questions, but they were encouraged to trade the information with one another. This directed their preparation for quizzes, forcing them to study when ordinarily many wouldn’t bother.

2.      Quests labeled “solo” in the syllabus are completed by individual students.

3.      Quests labeled “pick-up group” are completed by pairs of students not in the same guild. This helps foster a community in the class as a whole. Community is a very important word in MMO design.

4.      Quests labeled “guild” are completed by all guild members. The guilds are given the option on how they would like to complete them. If they like, only one member needs to do all the work. In every case the guilds have decided on their own to work together.

5.      The reading presentation quests were delivered to the class by their fellow students, with questions and comments from me. They relied on PowerPoint for the most part, supplemented by illustrations drawn on the board, and YouTube videos. I coached them on how to deliver PowerPoint talks (e.g. not simple bulleted lists that they read aloud); and to find new and innovative approaches. A guild last week built their presentation as a game! Every so often they had multiple-choice questions on material they had just covered, and awarded candy to those who got the questions right. They had the full attention of their classmates for an hour. It was awesome!

6.      Solo Camping: Glossary Building. Not all students in the class are familiar with MMOs, or even video games. So on their own everyone researches and sends in suggestions to build a glossary for the class. Last semester we used a textbook that was so riddled with typos, grammar mistakes and factual errors, students hunted for them for XP. This was more successful than glossary building because it forced them to read carefully, and learn some spelling and grammar along the way.

7.      The final grade is based on a guild project. In this case the concept document for an MMO. Since each guild member received the same grade, I added a secret ballot peer review, so that anyone not contributing would receive a weighted grade. I was concerned that they would simply give each other equally high marks, or that personal animosity might factor in. I saw no evidence of either in their rankings. The assessments they made coincided with my own observations.

8.     To prepare for our first boss raid (midterm exam) a couple of weeks ago I took 60 questions (40 would be used on the exam), and we had a guild vs. guild PvP session. Each guild had a single copy of the 2 books we use in class. They were allowed to look up answers in the  books, but were required to close books before shouting out their zone name (like hitting a buzzer) to answer a question. At first the person holding the book would try to immediately memorize the answer. This proved problematic since some required up to 8 elements (reduced to 2 or 3 on the actual exam). So pretty soon guilds were dividing up the elements, one person taking only one. That tactic gave way to writing down the answers, since the rules didn’t prohibit that. And soon they were using cell phones to simply photograph the needed page, and reading from the photos. These emerging strategies are exactly how guilds learn to defeat mobs in a boss raid, learning from their wipes, modifying their approach, until at last they bring the beast down. I thought it was very cool.

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