While I was developing and teaching an marketing and business program at a high school, I was always looking for new ways to either introduce or explain concepts. I knew the students had about as much interest as I once had (and I grew up doing it), which opened my eyes to one simple fact: I had to find something relevant in the available material and make them connect to it. So what could possibly be relevant in agricultural marketing to a bunch of uninterested teenagers? Learning economics! How could I reinforce some of the basic principles? By using video games!
Wait, you’re doing this by using what?
I knew there had to be a way to connect with the students I instructed (or tutored, depending on the time of day) and that, despite a possible ten year age gap, I could connect with them if I really looked for similarities between us. Then it dawned on me! Taking the hint from University of Florida and other colleges, I remembered that it was possible to use video games as a form of education, including those not originally meant to be “edutainment.”
Thinking back to UC Berkeley’s StarCraft class, I figured there could potentially be a million more options for using conventional games to educate students in any topic. Are there game mechanics that emulate things we use in marketing and businesses? Could I present this to them educationally or would it turn into a free-for-all gaming fest? Would the other staff receive it well or – wait a second, I didn’t care if they received it well; I only cared if it worked.
Teaching marketing or business (or both, in my case) requires, well, some basic knowledge of economics. Aside from “you earn money legally or illegally” and “you spend it on stuff,” my students really didn’t have a lot of experience with understanding the basic principles. Many of them just weren’t as straightforwardly obvious to the kids, and many of them had never taken a high school economics class. “Well, that’s just great,” I thought. I’d never before taught high school economics.
So when the topic of supply and demand came up, there needed to be a new technique to explain it. They were bored listening to whatever I had to say, and I was boring myself to death with saying it. Showing videos wasn’t helping, and they enjoyed that about as much as a tooth extraction. So when I was idly crafting and selling nonsense on Vindictus‘ marketplace, the answer slapped me in the face: This is what I was looking for!
I started scouring through the market, finding examples of what would fit my classes’ needs. I searched through everything, looking for cases of decreased supply causing increased prices or increased supply that decreased prices. I hoped to find samples showing a lack of demand causing low prices. Every time I found something, I made a screencap to create a presentation and an accompanying packet later. The final product had only five pictures. (Note: I hate packet work as much as everyone else, but it sometimes helps. I guess it’s the organisational capabilities.)
These graphics made it easy to create my first assignment; I made a short (and sadly crude) packet and presentation combination using the screencaps from the game. (Note: You’re either incredibly lucky or clinging to your knees while rocking back and forth because I was able to salvage the packet [PDF]. I have no idea where the presentation is, which might be for the best.) It was short of amazing looking because I had to implement it quickly, and I would’ve rather focused on the material.
I spent the whole weekend trying to figure out how I could implement using this game, especially with a few minor problems. At the time I was doing this, I didn’t have a classroom. This meant that I had no computers. So I decided to move my class to the Tech Center. Now this would’ve worked brilliantly, but their computers were all Macintosh. Let me belatedly point out: Nexon only runs games on Windows platforms (sad, I know – there are so many Mac users who would kill to be Maple Story addicts). How did I resolve this?
I brought my laptop and decided that it would be a projection-based lesson. Instead of bothering another teacher, I quietly “borrowed” (read: took over) a vacant room to hold my class in for that week. Rather than allow all of the kids to try to use the game all at once, we would work off the items that I had spent time collecting (primarily easy-to-collect items) as I went over them. We would look at crafting recipes for equipment and other items to explain price changes, later looking to see the cost of pre-made equipment versus the materials to craft it. The experiment was to watch the markets change of the week, seeing how static or dynamic prices could really be. However, I did have to negotiate that the last five or ten minutes of class would be time to have “serious game discussion.” Personally, I was fine with that if it meant they were willing to listen and learn.
As I paired this lesson with our lessons in supply and demand, it gradually started sinking in. When they saw the prices of Chieftain Leg Armor increase but that the number available remained steady, they realised that there was a significant market for them; they understood that this meant “supply remained steady but demand increased, causing prices to increase.” As they watched the price of Black Kobold Hoods topple from well over the NPC Sell Price to well below it, they knew that “supply remained steady but demand decreased, causing prices to decrease as well.” The basic principles were becoming clearer to them.
That whole week may have involved MMORPGs, but we explored parallels in real life. However, I was scared to try explaining the prices of gold because, well… Most adults already have enough problems understanding economic bubbles, and gold is a fairly large one. That doesn’t mean I shied away from trying; it just meant I had to look deeper.
Overall, it was successful in explaining basic economic principles to my students. It was convenient that they already knew MMORPG jargon without me sounding like the crazed and game-addicted teacher with a day specifically for teaching gamer vocabulary, but it was even better that they were willingly engaged in learning and actually are continuing to use that knowledge (in game, but they’re retaining it somehow).
Which, of course, meant that I was able to jump up with one exclamation: Result!