New Frontiers in Education: ‘Star Wars The Old Republic’ on Alderaan
One of my changes in position on public education comes not from the revelation that the labor unions have no respect, or desire to work with taxpayers over school funding issues—but in learning about changes in education methods that are far better than the traditional way of learning. To my mind first comes Rosetta Stone software which is completely changing the way that foreign language is taught to individuals, and is quite revolutionary. It is only a matter of time before math, science, and language arts is revolutionized in the same way. In fact, I believe that Microsoft Office is the most significant revolutionary step forward that any society has ever made, because it helps solve many of the basic language problems in communication with its powerful word processor and very excellent Excel Spreadsheets which I think are stunning in their conception. The Cell design in Excel is one of those very unique inventions that are having a major impact on our society, because it makes complex mathematical computations accessible to a mass audience. No longer is an accounting degree from college necessary to understand complex financial calculations. This fact alone has helped stoke the fires for the present “freedom movement” that is going on in The United States where everything is being re-considered and re-invented as the revelation that we have all been duped by the political class for many years with fuzzy math and flat-out lies has been easily revealed by Microsoft Office’s powerful, user-friendly programs. Excel by Microsoft has helped average people blow the lid off the truth that used to be concealed in the brief cases of politicians and understood only by accountants and lawyers.
Education based software like those mentioned above are the obvious signs of change that is coming on the forefront of learning. Along the same education lines, yet in the field of entertainment I have been playing a new video game from BioWare called Star Wars: The Old Republic that I have found to be absolutely stunning in its conception, scope, subtle ambition, visual articulation, and intelligence that is absolutely mind-boggling compared to the kinds of entertainment options that were available when I was a kid. The game is an MMO so you play with millions of other players from all over the world at the same time and interact with a storyline that is in essence an epic novel. In fact, that is exactly how my wife and I have been describing it after over 100 hours logged onto the game during the last two weeks. The Old Republic is a living breathing novel with sights and sounds where it requires the input of the player to advance the storyline. To date, co-opting with my wife playing as a Jedi Counselor and myself playing as a Jedi Knight, we have made literally hundreds of decisions along the way that have proven how education in the world of tomorrow should be. The decisions made have immediate consequences on the story so depending on how those decisions are conducted directly impacts the outcome of the story. For the designers at BioWare if I didn’t know better I would think that they were trying to “teach” society the meaning of democratic republics and the value of being “good citizens,” because the content is very heavy, and without doubt, most of the young people who share that cyberspace with us in that massive concept of a game probably don’t retain much of the vast amounts of data provided. But in watching them play the game, I have been impressed at how quickly some of them have advanced in the game managing many aspects of their characters with a complicated system of adjustments that must always be checked and dealt with.
There is a currency system in the game that is specific to over 17 different planets, plus the Republic itself has a kind of universal currency. A player must manage their crafting skills, their armor damage, the specs of their weapons, armor and those of their companions. They must also manage a starship of their own including the fuel to get from point A to point B, and countless other small little details that must be constantly maintained as the game is played. Not to mention there are many opportunities to play with groups of 4 to 16 players at the same time so you have to coordinate with all of them to achieve mission objectives. Most of the time my wife and I work as a team, I’ll designate that I’ll perform one task while she does another maximizing our efforts and it was during all this that I realized that much of what The Old Republic was doing is far better than the kind of things public education is trying to achieve in the old fashion way of teaching. No wonder kids are so bored in school and aren’t learning anything when they are playing games like these for fun!
I had managed to curb my enthusiasm for the first 70 hours of game play by telling myself I only liked the game because it was new, or because we had to spend several thousand dollars to play it at the level I wanted to. But after we visited the planet of Alderaan, the planet that was destroyed in the first Star Wars film A New Hope I realized that I was not only playing the best video game I have ever played, but was witnessing a revolutionary new way educating tomorrow’s youth. Alderaan graphically and politically is absolutely magnificent. The reason we spent money on buying new computers just to play The Old Republic were for moments like the environment on Alderaan, with snow-capped mountains all around the major cities that even have mist drifting in front of them. There are windmills generating power off in the distance and everything is very lush, green, and advanced. For those who know me, my favorite amusement park in the world is Epcot Center at Disneyworld, and Alderaan in the game The Old Republic is like a living breathing city of Epcot design with very complicated politics that must be unraveled by the game’s players. It is extremely intriguing and really mind-blowing how vast that world is. We tried for over an hour to get to the edge of the map world, (the programmed content of just that planet) and couldn’t do it. Alderaan alone in The Old Republic is bigger in size than most video games that might be programmed for Xbox or the PC, so in relation to the other 17 planets in the game, it is difficult to comprehend how BioWare pulled all this material off. There had to be mountains of scripts, dialogue performed by actors for many, many hours and large teams of programs just to create all the substance—but to connect it all with a storyline is baffling. To stand on Alderaan and take it all in, and look at the mist forming and drifting across the mountains in the distance it had the same kind of look as the Smoky Mountains, the Colorado Rockies, the Canadian city of Banif, or the Swiss Alps—BioWare pulled off what I would consider an impossible feat with just this one environment—the illusion of reality. Once a player is in that reality, they are open to be taught in that environment. That is why The Old Republic is so superior to any other game experience I’ve personally ever had, but also sets the stage for education in the future. This is the way education should be handled with all America’s youth. No politics, no exploitation, none of the funding issues that are plaguing modern public education with inefficiency–but instead the kind of productivity that is evident in The Old Republic that encourages a player to learn, and rewards that learning with gratifications that are remembered because they are fun to pursue.
Needless to say that I am impressed beyond measure with The Old Republic, I get the feeling that I’m involved in the start of something truly revolutionary. I remember how educators and scholastic purists had a negative reaction to the pocket calculator in the 1970’s the same way they are resisting Rosetta Stone software today for foreign language use. Many will resist too the notion that a game like The Old Republic can replace much of the current education structure with a more efficient type of learning that is far more powerful than the type of collectivism found in public schools. The Old Republic is the first of its kind and is heads and shoulders above anything else done to date—not just in the combat system, but in the story and what it teaches the player. It is gigantic in an attempt that is utterly successful and it makes me wonder what the future holds if there comes a time where The Old Republic becomes considered graphically simple as a standard that gamers today look back on titles like Pac Man and Pong from years past and shake their heads at how far we’ve come. The world is changing, and The Old Republic is evidence that not all of it is bad. The lessons learned within the context of the story are valuable, morally sound, and players can see immediately the consequences of their actions in a way that life has a way of molding over many years. On The Old Republic players can see those actions within the context of 200 hours of game play instead of 20 years of hard living. In that way The Old Republic is the best form of educational entertainment I have ever seen, and I am proud to live in a time to see it developed into a reality. I simply love the game and am a very proud subscriber, and will be for a long time. It is a miracle of everything that is good about our modern times mixed with the power of myth, which is the backbone of every culture that hopes to survive into the future. It takes more than math, science, and language arts to make a flourishing society. It requires “context” to apply all those skills, and without that context, education only succeeds in creating mindless drones. What The Old Republic does successfully, is provide “context” in a story which allows players to develop skills that are directly applied with quick and frequent rewards. That is why The Old Republic is so revolutionary, and is the first step into a much, much larger world.