Raiding as a Genre
Well, the family reunion / retreat weekend from hell is over, and I survived. I played a round of putt-putt and got terribly sunburned, went swimming with nieces and nephews (not really; they’re first cousins once removed. I’ll explain that whole structure sometime if you don’t get it, as I don’t, really) who decided that standing and jumping off my shoulders was the most fun in the world (for them, of course. My shoulders disagreed), snuck out with my wife and had a nice lunch (you can decide if I’m being sarcastic when I say that or not), sat in traffic in the middle of a national forest that was precisely the same as NYC traffic (by mph), then found out there was no parking anywhere at our destination, ate a “lowcountry boil” (and this is not the first one I’ve eaten), went on a long hike to see a waterfall during which I probably sweated more water than I saw go over the falls, ate at a family style restaurant (which was not the first time doing that, either), followed my mother who drives like a bat out of hell up and down a VERY windy mountain road in the pitch black (keep in mind as you view that map that the elevation changes by about 400 feet three times, from top to bottom to top again), saw a landslide area where half the Interstate had fallen off the mountain, and avoided at all costs discussing politics with the venomous, entitled people who make up a majority of my family. There were high points, there were low points, but the main point is that it’s over.
Now that I’m back, I’m working my only “work” week of the summer preparing education students to take a basic skills test that’s required for entrance into the school of education at one of my former adjunct colleges (not the one that hired me full time, but I’d already agreed to it and wouldn’t leave them hanging). I’m teaching the “written” portion of the exam. Upon beginning my preparations to teach something I’ve taught for a decade across a variety of grades, I learned that the single most important piece of information I needed – the scoring rubric for the test – wasn’t included in my study packet. I looked around online and came up with nothing. I called the testing company and was told that they didn’t divulge their grading standards the to public. I asked, politely, why the standards that education promotes – letting students know how they’re going to be graded before they begin working – weren’t being practiced by a company that helps certify teachers, and was basically told to go to hell. Politely, of course, but the fact is that the privately-owned company that’s making a mint off of the state by offering its tests as the certification exam means they don’t have to tell me anything.
I did a little legwork, though, and did eventually find something that is a very generic explanation of the grading standards, so it’s something I can work with, but I know from having graded tests like this that there’s always a question-specific rubric, and since the company is selling “old” example questions with a sample answer and an analysis of why the sample answer is a good one, there’s really no reason not to include a rubric. The real reason, of course, is because what they say they want – quality writing that’s well organized, grammatical, and on topic – isn’t really what they want. What they want is far, far simpler, and when graded is usually summed up a topic sentence that answers the question and a list of supporting details. In other words, they want students to write a 5 paragraph answer that should be a 1 paragraph answer. If you don’t believe me, go grade an AP test sometime. There’s questions that are worth 3 points (most are 1-6 points) that students can (and have) draw a cartoon with a one-liner punchline and get full credit for. I kid you not.
The idea of “testing as a genre” permeates education now, and it’s very frustrating – particularly as an English teacher – to have such a line of horseshit dumped on you. Testing is not a genre. You don’t just define something as a genre and it becomes so. Genres grow organically, as one author experiments and inspires others who follow suit. It’s not a conscious movement to make something happen. Nothing is more inorganic than standardized tests. The fact that some teachers spend most of a year teaching kids how to take a test rather than how to think which is then measured on a test is quite sad, and, of course, something I will now loosely connect to MMO structure.
Testing as a genre is a lot like the gap between leveling and raiding. Educating students to pass tests is a lot like leveling. There are skills that can be learned about how tests are made, as there are skills that can be learned about how to survive when questing, pvping at low levels, or doing LFD. These skills are useful only in a small segment of a game’s duration (assuming it’s a long-term game and not a short-term dalliance). Upon reaching max level, a whole new set of skills need to be learned that often share no similarity with what you learned when leveling. Testing as a genre is the same; I can teach kids to pass any test you give me, but when all’s said and done, all they know is how to pass a test. There’s no critical thinking, creativity, or application to the real world.
I never taught testing as a genre. I taught my kids how pointlessly stupid tests were and how critical thinking and empathy could teach them to think like test makers. As a result, many of my sneaky-but-not-great-students kids scored very well on tests while my good students maintained. Hell, I was #2 in all of Brooklyn for a while. Still, my kids also learned to make decisions and find creative solutions to intellectual problems that often they themselves discovered.
That can be applied to MMOs. I’m not a developer or programmer, so I have no idea how hard it would be, and I’m sure it would be, but there’s no reason that leveling, particularly higher-end leveling, should be so incredibly different from the end game. There should be more challenges and less grinding. There should be class and ability specific quest solutions that teach players skills needed for raiding (how about a quest that requires some form of CC, dispel, or the like?). Consider the rogue-only chain for the legendary daggers. Why can’t we see more of that for everyone during leveling? It takes more work, but it’s more meaningful, too, and certainly prepares people more to play their class rather than just learn the math and mash their rotation while not standing in bad effects.
Stubborn (and working)