Online games as training tools

Second Life: Porcupine: Autism Memorial
Porcupine Autism Memorial in Second Life

Today via @jayrosen_nyu I came across a post by @brad_king arguing that journalism has a lot to learn from the history of online games when it comes to online community management.

He makes some great points about hands-off community modding, and I’m a particular fan of the idea that online news communities could benefit from something like Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of gamer types (which splits gamers into four rough categories and helps game designers cater for all types).*

But I do have to disagree with this paragraph:

MMORPGs don’t have much to offer in terms of developing the traditional journalism skills. These games can’t teach students how to vet sources, how to interview, how to copy edit, how to hit the streets and find stories.

Wait a minute. Why not?

These communities aren’t just there to be managed – they don’t just have histories that can be dissected as useful examples. They’re living and breathing today. They are audiences, readers, participants, and they could be a great training tool for new journalists.

I mentioned that Second Life – one of the biggest and most influential online environment ever created – has three online newspapers with hundreds of thousands of readers.

They cover topics ranging from issues in the real world which affect the game – server outages, technology changes, ToS issues – to in-game gossip and affairs. This sort of information is valuable, and you can get it by employing all those traditional journalism skills that King mentions.

Sure, the rules of these communities are different. They present unique and diverse challenges to reporters trying to hit the street cold and generate stories. But they’re no more unfamiliar or hard to learn than Afghanistan is to a Geordie, or a Norfolk seaside town is to a young woman from inner-city Birmingham. And surely part of the point of j-school is to train us in how to learn the community rules and structures, how to work it out for ourselves, and how to engage.

So why not include a bit of MMO training for budding reporters? Lessons in:

  • interview technique via in-game chat and email
  • fact checking and how to spot a scam or a rumour online
  • vetting sources for legitimacy
  • editing copy – perhaps by crowdsourcing folks to tell them what they did wrong
  • engaging with readers as equals
  • learning a patch – getting to know the movers and shakers and the big issues, who to talk to, where to get quotes

All that and community management too. Bargain.

* Incidentally, I’m 67% Explorer, 67% Achiever, 40% Socialiser and 27% Killer.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

14 thoughts on “Online games as training tools”

  1. Thanks for the reply to my post.

    I don’t disagree with what you’ve written, although I think you’ve misunderstood what my meaning was with that (or, I wasn’t entirely clear with my point. Either may be true, but they take us to the same place.)

    Think what you will about game companies (and we wrote a book about the big virtual world folks), there are few – if any – trained journalists working in these spaces. My point that these game communities have little to teach journalism students stems from there.

    What you have described are simply tools which can be used to train journalists. But you still need those folks who can do the *actual* training.

    In other words, the games themselves offer very little in terms of training. It’s how the tools are applied. And there is very little reason to use the technology how you have proposed because there are other, simpler ways to teach those skills.

    However, the community management skills must be taught in the virtual environment (or are most easily taught).

    But I’ll end how I began: by saying that I agree with what you’ve written 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reply to my post.

    I don’t disagree with what you’ve written, although I think you’ve misunderstood what my meaning was with that (or, I wasn’t entirely clear with my point. Either may be true, but they take us to the same place.)

    Think what you will about game companies (and we wrote a book about the big virtual world folks), there are few – if any – trained journalists working in these spaces. My point that these game communities have little to teach journalism students stems from there.

    What you have described are simply tools which can be used to train journalists. But you still need those folks who can do the *actual* training.

    In other words, the games themselves offer very little in terms of training. It’s how the tools are applied. And there is very little reason to use the technology how you have proposed because there are other, simpler ways to teach those skills.

    However, the community management skills must be taught in the virtual environment (or are most easily taught).

    But I’ll end how I began: by saying that I agree with what you’ve written 🙂

  3. I think we agree for the most part – these are spaces where journalism training could happen, particularly online community management, which is a hard set of skills to learn with few opportunities to practise.

    I’m not sure where the distinction between having “trained journalists” working in MMO environments and untrained ones falls, or whether that’s a useful line to draw. There are untrained journalists and citizen reporters working in these places – just like on student papers or village newsletters – and they probably do have useful things to teach about traditional skills and their applications – just like student papers and village newsletters.

    There are often simpler ways to teach these skills, but I’d suggest that MMOs might offer a unique way of seeing them in action, in an unusual environment and for unusual purposes.

    That’s something I’d like to see more of in my training – how do I fact-check online rumours, apart from using Snopes.com? How do I learn the ropes of long-established and sometimes arcane communities quickly? How do I embed myself online and build trust? I think there’s scope to teach those things via MMOs, and to learn from papers like the Metaverse Messenger.

  4. I think we agree for the most part – these are spaces where journalism training could happen, particularly online community management, which is a hard set of skills to learn with few opportunities to practise.

    I’m not sure where the distinction between having “trained journalists” working in MMO environments and untrained ones falls, or whether that’s a useful line to draw. There are untrained journalists and citizen reporters working in these places – just like on student papers or village newsletters – and they probably do have useful things to teach about traditional skills and their applications – just like student papers and village newsletters.

    There are often simpler ways to teach these skills, but I’d suggest that MMOs might offer a unique way of seeing them in action, in an unusual environment and for unusual purposes.

    That’s something I’d like to see more of in my training – how do I fact-check online rumours, apart from using Snopes.com? How do I learn the ropes of long-established and sometimes arcane communities quickly? How do I embed myself online and build trust? I think there’s scope to teach those things via MMOs, and to learn from papers like the Metaverse Messenger.

  5. The distinction is in the traditional skills. You fact check rumors the same way we have always fact checked rumors. There is nothing inherently new about that. You investigate. Even with emerging reputation systems, for instance, you still have to get to primary sources.

    My thesis on storytelling is there are traditional skills and emerging skills. MMOs will not be great at teaching copy editing. They just won’t. I can do that in far better settings.

    But, as you point out, there are emerging skills where games, virtual environments, collective actions can be taught. And that’s what makes sense.

    As a technologist and a writer, I’ve found that it’s best to use technology in places where it makes a task easier and best to leave it be in places where it doesn’t.

    (and FTR, the cluetrain manifesto answers many of your questions – as did life on The Well. If you haven’t read TCM or read The Well, I highly recommend them.)

  6. The distinction is in the traditional skills. You fact check rumors the same way we have always fact checked rumors. There is nothing inherently new about that. You investigate. Even with emerging reputation systems, for instance, you still have to get to primary sources.

    My thesis on storytelling is there are traditional skills and emerging skills. MMOs will not be great at teaching copy editing. They just won’t. I can do that in far better settings.

    But, as you point out, there are emerging skills where games, virtual environments, collective actions can be taught. And that’s what makes sense.

    As a technologist and a writer, I’ve found that it’s best to use technology in places where it makes a task easier and best to leave it be in places where it doesn’t.

    (and FTR, the cluetrain manifesto answers many of your questions – as did life on The Well. If you haven’t read TCM or read The Well, I highly recommend them.)

  7. Thanks for the comment – I see your point, and it makes a lot of sense.

    As you say, MMOs are learning tools for emerging skills, and not necessarily great places to teach traditional ones.

    While I think it’s possible to use MMOs to learn that way I also think you’re probably right that it’s not the best use of the tech or the time.

    And thanks for the recommendations, too – they both look fascinating, and they’re the sort of history and context that I’m sorely in need of.

  8. Thanks for the comment – I see your point, and it makes a lot of sense.

    As you say, MMOs are learning tools for emerging skills, and not necessarily great places to teach traditional ones.

    While I think it’s possible to use MMOs to learn that way I also think you’re probably right that it’s not the best use of the tech or the time.

    And thanks for the recommendations, too – they both look fascinating, and they’re the sort of history and context that I’m sorely in need of.

  9. 🙂 I love discussions with smart folks (although normally I end up discussing with people who disagree with me). I think there’s loads to learn from the MMO world. Not to pimp, but we wrote Dungeons + Dreamers in 2002 and we’re working on the update now. It’s all about games and community.

    You’re in England, yes? I will be in London for 2 months next summer.

  10. 🙂 I love discussions with smart folks (although normally I end up discussing with people who disagree with me). I think there’s loads to learn from the MMO world. Not to pimp, but we wrote Dungeons + Dreamers in 2002 and we’re working on the update now. It’s all about games and community.

    You’re in England, yes? I will be in London for 2 months next summer.

  11. Aw, thanks – me too. One of the things that constantly surprises and delights me is how much there is to learn – not just skills and how to apply them, but history, context, trends, development.

    Dungeons and Dreamers is on my reading list (somewhere after the Head First Guide to HTML and before the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook 2) – do you have any idea when the update is likely to be making an appearance?

    And yes, I’m in England – Norwich mostly, though I get around when I’m not working. Are you visiting for anything in particular?

  12. Aw, thanks – me too. One of the things that constantly surprises and delights me is how much there is to learn – not just skills and how to apply them, but history, context, trends, development.

    Dungeons and Dreamers is on my reading list (somewhere after the Head First Guide to HTML and before the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook 2) – do you have any idea when the update is likely to be making an appearance?

    And yes, I’m in England – Norwich mostly, though I get around when I’m not working. Are you visiting for anything in particular?

What do you think?