By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Pictured above is the Halcyon Fold, the fictional setting of a game called Vainglory (you’ve got to click the image in order to appreciate the full screen beauty of the Fold).
Vainglory belongs to the genre of games known as MOBAs, or Massive Online Battle Arenas. According to the developers, Super Evil Megacorp (who seek “to destroy the productivity of mankind with endlessly entertaining games”), Vainglory is “the MOBA perfected for touch”.
The Halcyon Fold is a coliseum where gladiators from around the world gather to compete in fast-paced, strategic, 3 v 3 combat.
The Halcyon Fold is an arena where the mighty walk away with glory dripping from their weapons, and the weak walk away with a few lessons learned and a good dose of humility.
The Halcyon Fold is a fictional world that I escape to every now and then to quench my thirst for competitive e-sports.
And–finally getting to the relevance of this blog–the Halcyon Fold is a classroom that has offered me a visceral experience with the practice of teaching and learning.
You see, when I first started playing the game a couple of months ago, I got my butt kicked over and over again.
I had walked through the brief in-game tutorial and watched a few of the instructional videos, but mostly I just dived into the game and learned the basics the hard way: by getting seriously wrecked by opponent after opponent.
That’s when I realized that I needed something else. If I actually wanted to be good at this game (and it was so much fun that I had to be good at it), I needed to be educated. I needed learning materials, I needed supplemental instruction, I needed a teacher, and I needed a community of learners.
I began voraciously consuming everything Vainglory that I could dig up on the internet.
I pored through Vainglory Fire, a collection of guides written by players like me.
I found an instructor in ShinKaigan, an experienced gamer and excellent teacher who streams live plays of Vainglory on Twitch (the YouTube of video game streaming). Shin doesn’t even know that I’m his student, but he’s taught me more in a month than I probably teach my students in an entire semester.
I discovered a community of like-minded learners in various discussion boards, reddit forums, and Twitter feeds.
And I kept playing.
The losses turned to wins (at least some of them). My rank began to rise (slowly). The Halcyon Fold became a second home (with slightly less chaos–did I mention I have three kids?).
And, because I’m a teacher and a life-long learner, I spent the entire time metacognitively aware of my own learning process. Reflecting on my time as student of the Halcyon Fold, I’ve walked away from the warzone with a few takeaways that I hope to carry over into the classroom.
First, Learning Happens in Context
All of those resources that I tapped–the guides, the streams, the videos, the forums–wouldn’t have helped me nearly as much if I had tried to sift through them before ever diving into the Fold.
Because I was so familiar with how to get destroyed in Vainglory, all of those resources meant something to me. They meant survival. They meant victory. They meant glory.
My classroom can be the same way. Before I make the students read thirty pages about how to write a persuasive essay, maybe I can find a way to make them realize that they don’t know how to write one. Or better, that they know a few things, but not others. Then, the reading will mean something to them.
Second, Failure Shouldn’t Hurt
In Vainglory, and in most video games in general, failure just means that you get a chance to try again. Every time I die in the Fold, I wait a few seconds, respawn, and jump back into the fray to help my team again. When I lose a match, I stretch my neck, refill my coffee, and enter the queue again to play another one.
Losing might make my in-game rank drop, but all that means is that I’m more likely to get matched with other players of similar skill level.
See how that’s different than a typical classroom, where failing one test hurts your average for the rest of the semester, where even though you haven’t mastered the foundational skills you still have to get evaluated on the higher-level ones.
Finally, Learning is Fueled by Motivation
I can spend hours reading and watching videos about Vainglory because I am interested in getting better at it. It’s not just because the game is fun. It’s because the game is motivating.
Getting better at the game doesn’t just help me, it helps my team. In a 3 v 3 match, an entire team can win or lose depending on the actions of a single player. That’s motivating. That’s deep-down, fuels-your-competitive-spirit, makes-you-want-to-work-together, intrinsic motivation.
In the classroom, too often the only motivating factor is a good grade, or the next class in the sequence, or avoidance of negative attention.
I can do so much more to make my students want to learn, not only for themselves, but for their classmates as well. And I don’t think the answer is to be found in carrots and sticks. I think the way to motivate students to want to learn is to make their learning visible to them.
Beyond the grade at the top of the essay–beyond the gold star–lies real learning.
Video games are motivating because you can feel yourself learn. You can see it in every new foe slain, every new challenge overcome. Class should be the same way. I need to show students–even just one week into the semester–that they are better writers than they were before, no matter how small their progress.
When I first entered the Halcyon Fold, I was just looking for a way to pass the time, but I truly discovered so much more. And, hopefully, my students will benefit from it.
Enough talk, though. Time to jump back into the fray. Maybe I’ll see you in the Fold.
P.S. – My handle is ActionHank (Hey! I’ve been using the same one since I was 10), and I’m always looking for teammates who love to learn as much as I do.