By E. Brown

The Brunel University School of Sport and Education recently finished a three year study of the effects and benefits of online games on youth. Their findings? That youth between the ages of 11-18 benefited from online gaming by developing key learning skills. Using the over nine million member RuneScape as their lab, Brunel noted the following:

The study, which took the form of qualitative research into a community of players of the online game RuneScape shows that gaming is far from being a frivolous diversion from homework. The research shows how the online worlds created by the gamers mirror many aspects of material society helping teenage gamers to make the transition from school to work.

Nic Crowe from the Centre for Youth Work Studies in the School of Sport and Education at West London’s Brunel University, goes on to say:

For example, gamers are invited to join ‘Klans’ – highly disciplined co-operatives in which they share a common set of goals, they adopt identities such as merchant or warrior and they divide their time online between work and leisure. Most importantly, skills are learned which are highly valued, with experienced players tailoring their ‘training’ to acquire the ‘desirable’ skills – a clear example of ‘work related learning’.

2 Questions
This is all very intriguing and I have written on the use of MMOG’s as a tool/vehicle for learning (See World of Warcraft – Nexus of NextGen Learning). Yet, I cannot help but wonder two things:

  1. Do youth effectively “bridge the gap” between the virtual and real worlds?
  2. What is the long-term effect on real-time relationships?

Regarding the first question, Mr. Crowe makes an interesting comment above about “Klan life” compared to “work life”. We as humans, tend to compartmentalize areas and aspects of our physical, emotional, and thought lives. Does the same thing happen in gaming? I wonder. I wonder how many teenagers are actually thinking, “Wow, I can use the same mentality and ‘learning skills’ I use in RuneScape here in my new job.” Does the transition operate on a subliminal level, within the higher brain functions, or is it compartmentalized–never to become a reality?

In regard to the second question, the Brunel Press Release states: “As the average gamer spends as much time on gaming as on homework , study reveals how online gaming is a training ground for work.” Two factors come to mind here: time and anonymity.

It is already a “given” that many teens and twenty-somethings can, and do, spend a lot of time playing games online. While they are building their online relationships and skills, how does that affect their familial and friend relationships? While there is certainly some value in virtual relationships, there is also a longing within us all for ‘physical’ (IRL) relationships. Why then is it that so many desire to extend their online interactions into the real-world? Balance is needed in our online and real life dealings. We must be careful not to neglect our true family and friends for the sake of anonymous fantasy.

Which brings up the issue of faux personalities in the VR world. Once again, this is a “given” for anyone who has spent anytime in online games, forums, etc. Being anonymous gives the perceived feeling of being a person other than who we truly are. Some people I know have several online personas and each one behaves a little bit different. So, which is the real person—the innocent 13 year old little girl, the Amazon Priestess, the cubicle trapped Wall-flower, or the highly successful VP of Marketing? In the real world, all these may be one person. The person cannot (or may not want to) express certain sides of themselves. They feel that, online, they can exude certain behaviors and not suffer the consequences. For some, multiple VR personas can be an emotional outlet, for others it can be something more insidious.

It seems to me there is much more happening in relation to learning and gaming within the VR world as there is within the real world. The Brunel study is only one of many more to come from other schools and institutions. It may be 20/20 hindsight that we all look back on and truly see the benefits and losses of online gaming as it relates to learning and life application. Time will tell — or will it?

Additional Reading
Entertainment’s Educational Impact (article)
How To Prepare For A Virtual Interview

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