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Monday, July 23, 2007

A unique flavor of educational game.

When I was a kid I was an enormous fan of computer games* and, as such, was exposed early to that particular strain of video game experience: the educational video game. This is a kind of game that is designed from the bottom up to provide educational value. A very good example of this kind of game is the excellent and ubiquitous title "The Oregon Trail,**" which as you might guess simulates a journey along the Oregon Trail. Sadly, most educational video games were not quite up to the standards of "The Oregon Trail" and were, to put it delicately, ugly weeping pustules on the faces of both gaming and education. I can recall one, in particular, that forced you to solve math problems under a timer to avoid crashing your aircraft. Right. Yeah. Because that's the way it works. During a bad storm in an airliner while you're suffering in coach the pilot and co-pilot are heroically performing long-fucking-division in the cockpit.

In any case, it is with this legacy in mind that I direct your attention to a new, and more interesting, educational videogame. I refer to Chore Wars, the website that turns doing household labor into a way to earn experience points for your online character. For those of you who are addicted to various MMORPGs, this basically means that instead of killing the same low-level monster a kabillion times to reach level four, you would instead get a broom and clean up the fetid hellhole you call an apartment.***

The basic idea is simple: recruit the members of your household into a "party," create characters, and decide how many "points" a particular chore is worth. The site then tracks the accumulation of points, allowing players to level their character up. It's a little unclear what this leveling up accomplishes for you- most likely just bragging rights- but that's hardly different from standard MMORPGs. What interests me about this is, first, it seems like a really fun way to help kids track their contribution to the household. When I was a kid we used a shitty construction-paper chart and Chorewars would have been way cooler. Secondly, however, I wonder if this couldn't be used as a nifty teaching tool.

In sociology we often discuss the work of Arlie Hochschild, who introduced the concept of the "second shift," the domestic labor that women disproportionately engage in following their paid labor (first shift). As the metaphor implies, it is much like having two jobs, only one is unpaid and receives little, if any, social esteem.**** This folds into what is often known as "male privilege," or the advantages that accrue to men solely because we are men. While I have certain reservations about the way that male privilege is discussed, the second shift is an empirical fact for an unfortunately large number of women. So, I am forced to wonder if this "game" might be interesting and non-threatening enough to help men and women communicate about domestic labor- perhaps this is a way to help some husbands realize how much work their wives are doing, or for sons to come to grips with their mothers' efforts. I optimistically hope that, having come to understand it, decency would lead them to try and rectify the situaiton***** but, failing that, I'm sure a reward system could be implemented rather easily. I'll readily acknowledge that there's room for abuse here, but abuse is already taking place. We may as well try what we can to fix the problem, eh?

And who knows? In a break from tradition, maybe this educational game will actually be fun.


* Still am a fan, actually, but that's not the point.

** Which helped an entire generation come to grips with the fact that Susie has typhus.

*** One would expect this to also help with the sock-shitter problem. For those who don't know, "sock shitter" is an expression for folks so addicted to MMORPGs that they shit into conveniently placed socks rather than leave the game. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, these people exist so I suppose it isn't so much an expression as just a plain statement of fact.

**** If you have at least three functional neurons, you should be able to figure out which shift I'm referring to.

***** From time to time I am rather breathtakingly naive.

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2 Comments:

Blogger ΕΡΜΕΣ said...

here's an educational game for you.

http://www.simonpanrucker.com/beans.html

Monday, July 23, 2007 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous jess said...

I love The Oregon Trail. One of these days I'm going to buy it for B. In the meantime, I just transferred his chore chart to a website: handipoints.com. I'm hoping that even though he's not addicted to online games, he'll like the novelty of keeping track of his progress online (and that it sends me updates of the points he's earned and what's on his wishlist).

Monday, July 23, 2007 1:49:00 PM  

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