Critical Thinking and WoW


Tobold said something, in the comments to his post on the nature of his blog, that struck a chord with me so I’m going to riff off it. Here’s a snippet (be sure to read all of it):

“If I just wrote what happened to me, this blog would be pretty boring. The interesting thing is how what happens relates to game design, and the behavior of other people. Given how human behavior tends to follow certain paths, most notably that of least resistance, how would game design need to change to turn some bad game feature into a good one? It is not about what I do while playing, it is what I *think* while playing that makes people read this.”

Another way to describe what Tobold is talking about is the term “critical thinking.” Asking questions, connecting the dots, asking why and how, determining causal relationships; really just using your head and diving beneath the surface to understand how things work.

The reason this struck a chord with me is because I was considering writing a post on this very topic (so thanks to Tobold for the inspiration). See, I teach college English, and so I also teach first-year writing (I know, everyone hates freshman comp.), and one of the objectives of these courses is to teach critical thinking. So, how does this relate to WoW?

Does playing Warcraft teach or develop critical thinking?

I think so. Just take a basic transaction in the Auction House. You have to compare and contrast; you have to consider how the gear will enhance your stats. What build are you? Which will be more useful to you +spirit or +strength? Even grinding possesses the potential for analysis: Can I pull this mob without pulling 2 more on me? At what point do I down a healing pot? What’s the best sequence for my casting? While you can go through all this without a second thought (and you can be successful, too, I would assume), that doesn’t mean that there’s no thinking involved.

Let’s approach this from another direction. Take NASCAR for instance. I grew up in the South and so stock car racing was quite prevalent in my environment, but I never liked it. Like many people, I thought it was just cars driving fast in a circle. Then, a few years back, I actually watched a race, and lo and behold, there is strategy: tire pressure, aerodynamics, when to pit and when to stay out, drafting, and tons of other technical things that I still don’t even know about. So, yes, you can watch NASCAR and not give second thought to it; but you can also consider the strategy and nuances of the sport, too; you know, think about it.

Thinking and Warcraft do go hand in hand; I mean, that’s what theorycraft is all about, isn’t it?

That doesn’t mean that you have to critically analyze the game all the time. What’s particularly attractive to me is that it possesses strategy and intellectually-challenging content and plain and simple bash and blast. Many times I play to not think, to get out of my head; but it is also nice to analyze and critique, too, so perhaps it’s that combination of the intellectual and the visceral that keeps me coming back.

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