Workplace-based guilds: the next step in training?

Long-time gamer and scholar highlights the role of MMOGs in teaching and learning

Games may not be the end-all method of teaching and learning, but they do trump traditional textbooks in some respects, claims communications scholar Douglas Thomas.

Presenting at the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) last month, Thomas argued that Massive Multiplayer Online Games [MMOGs] such as the extremely popular World of Warcraft had the ability to impart leadership and management skills that could be useful in the business world.

To find out what MMOGs have in store for workplace training, Liz Tay spoke with Thomas, a long-time gamer and associate professor in the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, about his research and opinions.

What role does MMO gaming have in imparting practical life skills?

There are two answers to this question. The first is that there are basic social skills as well as skills of leadership and management which games teach. These might include things such as being treasurer for a guild, where you need to make decisions about allocation of resources.

It is pretty easy to see how games can provide a training simulation for practical skills. However, that is not what we found to be the most interesting aspect of games and learning.

Games are also very good at creating what we have called 'dispositional stances' which are much closer to attitudes one takes toward problem solving. So, for example, a 'questing' disposition teaches you how to find and utilize resources from your environment to solve problems, rather than assume a one size fits all solution.

That kind of learning exercises the imagination and, we believe, fosters innovative thinking.

What skills are MMOGs particularly suited to teach?

What we have seen in MMOs such as World of Warcraft is an explosion of technological innovations and problem solving around the game. There are massive databases for items and quests.

Every guild has its own web site, usually composed of internal message forums, raid tracking software, wikis, membership databases, and event planners. Guilds are themselves extremely flexible, hyper-responsive modern organizations, which change and shift dramatically in response to player and game-driven needs. They provide a model not only for management, but for understanding how players continually position themselves in terms of the needs and goals of the greater organization.

Can these skills be useful in the business world, and how do you suggest job hunters could make potential employers aware of these skills?

How to make employers aware? We were half joking when we wrote [in a research report] that people should start listing their World of Warcraft characters in the resumes -- but only half joking. We are already starting to see business moving into spaces like Second Life; IBM has a significant presence of its workforce there already, for example.

The awareness will happen as people in organizations experience the benefits first-hand. It is starting to creep into popular culture as well. 'The Office' [is a TV series that] has a running theme of employees playing Call of Duty as a team building exercise. Maybe workplace-based guilds are the next step!

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