Saturday, September 06, 2008

Worlds of Warcraft, for College Credit

What triggered the need to blog this morning was a blog post titled My Cello Feels Neglected . . . , in which Justin G. (aka "zoomicroom"), a student at Vanderbilt University, comments that, "It’s very difficult to find a good balance between playing LOTRO and practicing the cello. Still working on that." My sympathies to Justin--it's hard to find a good balance between practicing the cello and other responsibilities, even when they include teaching the cello (hence my previous, slightly self-pitying post).

But what the heck is LORTO?

So I kept looking through his post, which had nothing else to say about the cello (what are his prioirites, anyway?) and then started exploring the blog on which he posted.

It turns out Justin is writing on a class blog for one of Vanderbilt's first-year writing seminars, ENG 115F Worlds of Warcraft, perhaps not the first class at an elite university to focus on a popular video game, but certainly the first I've come across.

(If you're wondering how I came across Justin's comment on a blog I wouldn't usually read, here's the answer. I have Google alerts set up for "cello" and "cellist," among others, and get a daily email with each new mention of those words anywhere Google finds them on the web.)

The course not only incorporates blog technology but also an ITunesU podcast. (There's a direct link to the course's podcast in the blog's sidebar.) The students aren't just playing games and listening to Itunes; they're reading books, making connections between the virtual gaming world and actual literature as well as gaming theory, and doing a lot of writing. I'll leave it to others to debate whether a first-year writing seminar which requires significant amount online gaming is a sign of the end times, or an innovative way to teach critical-thinking and writing skills by capitalizing on a passion shared by many new college students (and evidently some of their teachers, one of whom is the Chair of English at Vandy). (I'd be interested to see if Margaret Soltan, an English professor herself, at University Diaries has any thoughts.)

I imagine my avid-gamer son, while happy to be a sophomore at Grinnell, would have seriously looked at Vanderbilt had he known about this course.

I'm still not sure what LORTO is. That's OK, I don't really need to know, and I'm sure my son, to whom I'll email a link to this post, will tell me anyway.

And may Justin G. make the time to practice his cello. It's a struggle, but it's worth it, dude.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post about our course on narrative and online gaming. I especially appreciated your comments to Justin G. that he keep working on the cello! From what I know of this dedicated young musician, we should have no real fears on that score.

LOTRO stands for Lord of the Rings Online. After the first time, you accidentally changed the spelling to LORTO, which may have caused much confusion if you put that term in a search engine.

We chose LOTRO for our course because it allowed us to juxtapose a novel, movie, and game so as to highlight different features of each medium. It's great fun to see the different kinds of strategies storytellers have to use to achieve effects in such varied media.

Sign up for a trial on the Gladden server, and I'll be happy to show you around Tokien's landscape.

Jay Clayton
Vanderbilt University

Forgis said...

Great job raping Google for any mention of the word "cello." Now that is dedication.

Erin said...

Ah yes, I had to make that choice! I used to play quite a bit of World of Warcraft, to the point where I was co-running a guild of 50+ people (don't ask) and I had to make a conscious decision to stop. My cello playing was suffering terribly.

It worked out for the best though I think!

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