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Play and Learn: Educational MMORPGs in the classroom

There is potential for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) to be an educational tool in promoting motivation and collaborative learning. With that, the implication and limitation of MMORPG games will be suggested for educational technologists to ponder.

Published onDec 07, 2020
Play and Learn: Educational MMORPGs in the classroom

Technology in the classroom has continued to grow throughout the years and it is again time to look and see what could be the next groundbreaking technology to be introduced into classrooms. When you look at the evolution of video games, we can see how games can be introduced into classrooms. Video games provide students with more engaged learning, where they are able to learn without even realizing they are doing school work. These games are able to collect data and provide players feedback to help them better understand the game and what they need to learn. They provide a more active learning approach with students wanting to engage in the materials and collaborate with others. Compared to situated learning with the traditions both somewhat similar, having a focus on collaboration and problem-solving. It functions similarly in the context of the environment it is used in and depending on the situation of what the student is learning. Compared to open online learning, they share some similarities but are fundamentally different. They both take place in an online learning environment, where students choose to actively participate. On the other hand, open online learning courses are less open about what they are able to teach, whereas an online game like an MMORPG has a lot to explore and many different challenges to complete. Open online learning is more passive in the way that it involves students listening to a pre-set topic versus games like MMORPG where it is active learning in the way that allows one to learn through experience. We focus on these MMORPGs and see the effect they are having and could have on the education system. Firstly, MMORPG stands for massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and they were introduced in the late 1990s and we will see the history of how they are started to be seen as a potential educational tool. Secondly, the focus on motivation and collaboration and the correlation between them is a key part of what makes an MMORPG successful in the classroom. Next we will look at the implication of MMORPG literature and some limitations of MMORPGs for educational technologists to consider. Finally, we will look at their potential future in education and how MMORPG can be a potential tool for educators to enhance students' learning. With MMORPG we will be able to see that the motivation and collaboration involved with playing these games helps strengthen students' engagement and involvement with classmates. The correlation between motivation and collaboration is a main instrument in MMORPG and the effect this correlation has on students in the classroom creates great learning outcomes.  


Figure 1

World of Warcraft cover. Retrieved from

When it comes to video games we can look through its history and see the classics such as Pong and Pac-Man that helped start society’s introduction into video games. Over the years, games started to become more advanced and we went from 2D games to 3D games. We went from Pac-man to Mario and Luigi to the introduction of sports games and then came along a new type of video game, MMORPG. The first MMORPG to be introduced was Island of Kesmai in 1985 and it cost $12 an hour to play[1]. The popularity of them has continued to grow to this day with games like World of Warcraft and RuneScape, from adults to children, people have become more intrigued by these games[2]. With all the popularity involved with these games and the number of children playing these types of games, many educational professionals see this as an opportunity to incorporate these games into classrooms and build the learning experience for students. Of course, children playing World of Warcraft do not have the educational needs to teach the children the learning objectives for their grade. The ideas from MMORPGs though are the basis of it being introduced into classrooms, and we have seen studies create games that incorporate the learning objectives needed while teaching them in a MMORPG. These games focus on a world where players need to complete quests and challenges usually with other players. Along the way, they are able to customize their character and develop a personal attachment to that character. This builds a player's motivation to keep playing the game while also building their collaboration with others as it is needed in the game. 


Figure 2

Students play computer games in class. Retrieved from

When it comes to learning for children, there are two important strategies to help promote engagement and more in depth learning, which are motivation and collaboration. The correlation between these two factors can lead to great learning outcomes. We will look at the effect MMORPG has on these two factors and how they correlate to each other with the use of MMORPG. Firstly, looking at motivation, we can certainly see that playing a MMORPG leads to intrinsic motivation as mentioned by Dickey[3]. Once you are in a MMORPG, you have to develop your own character who will go on missions and complete tasks, which allows you to upgrade your character to make it better[4]. With this, you develop your character and slowly upgrade them as you play. Eventually, you will get emotionally attached to them as you have put a lot of time and effort into it, resulting in the possibility that you will perceive the character as yourself. Therefore, when you are connected to your character and believe you are the same, it is as if you are role-playing your character, not only just as what you should do in the game but what you would personally do if the game was real life[5]. In other words, the player becomes entrenched in the game and grows attached with their new persona as this character, regardless if it matches their actual life or not. Another way MMORPG promotes motivation is in the challenges presented in the game where players must complete many different challenges and quests[6]. Specifically, players are motivated not only to complete challenges and quests to improve the character but also to do even more quests and challenges once players are able to beat them and become better at the game[7]. With this motivation, we could see children try and complete homework faster or even do more than necessary just because they want to get better at playing a game. Having students motivated to learn is a massive goal of educational professionals and being able to motivate students through a game that also creates collaboration between students is a game changer. With quests and challenges, usually, there is a need for teammates to help you along the way and that is where collaboration comes in with MMORPG. 


MMORPGs are a great way to promote collaboration among peers through exploration and interaction with the environment as well as testing one’s abilities to solve problems either as a group or individual. A major feature, as the massive multiplayer aspect implies, is the ability to collaborate and interact with individuals to either perform quests, raids or form a guild. Quests are scripted events that are offered to individuals either to gain a reward or as part of a story that the player can fulfil to learn about the lore within the game [8]. Players, depending on the type of quest, can either perform it alone or cooperate with other players for mutual benefit.

Figure 3

Players in a raid in the game Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. Retrieved from

There are many times when cooperating with another would be more beneficial to the players to either save time or when cooperation rewards are available. This stimulates communication between players as in many situations to complete these quests or raids, it is highly advised to strategize and collaborate with a group. This would require characters to interact with another and share information based on their experience and use what they know. This experience would also allow players to get to know one another and establish a bond. Players would be able to learn about one another either through the different customization aspects or roles they perform within the game. Exchanging information is another way for players to learn about another or the world around them. In this way, players can expand their knowledge by actively participating in social interactions, thus, enhancing one's understanding through communication and sharing ideas [9]. More than developing an understanding of oneself, players can grow as individuals by interacting with other players which can help them self-reflect and build on skills that are necessary in interacting with others. In this way, MMORPGs can be used in classroom settings by setting up events or quests that require collaboration from others to achieve rewards to promote students to work together. Quests can also be set up in a way that pairs random players together to complete a dungeon and solve puzzles, this would also help students to hear other perspectives as well as get to know others from their class thus, potentially motivate those who work well together to work together again.

The Correlation between Motivation and Collaboration

As MMOs allow the freedom of choice this allows players the flexibility of the game where they can either feel motivated to collaborate with another and not be constrained by certain social functions. This allows players to work at their own pace and possibly find other players of similar nature to collaborate with as they share common goals. As there is personal investment into a player’s character, players gain motivation to continue playing with the time and effort that was put into developing their ideal character [10]. This would mean for quests that either a player struggles in or requires multiple people to complete would encourage them to interact with other players for support if they want to continue developing their character. These forms of difficult quests and raids exist to challenge other players [11], and thus forcing them to collaborate with one another either by synthesizing strategies on how to make the most efficient use of roles in order to complete the quest or beat a monster. This encourages interaction and collaboration which also motivates players to make an effort. By collaborating with other players, if they are not pulling their weight, the quest or raid can fail.

People seek to belong somewhere or in a group and this makes them actively seek those of similar nature to them. In MMORPGs, a community can be established in the form of guilds that are usually a group of individuals with similar goals or mindsets about how they play a game. By joining a friendly community, players can feel a sense of belonging [12] which allows them to establish a meaningful relationship with other individuals [13]. Being able to find a community or a player that is willing to share mutual experiences with another, can help mutually motivate one another as it is not only them alone facing challenges. According to Zhong [14], meaningful interactions between others are created through how one is able to identify themselves within a group as it can influence the quality of experience. Through collaboration in an educational setting, it allows students to build rapport with one another which in turn, motivates themselves through personal investment and establishing a connection with peers. Building meaningful connections in the classroom would influence their learning but also challenge themselves through friendly competition with others.

Figure 4

A simplified diagram of the correlation between motivation and collaboration.

The implication and limitation of MMORPG for Educational Technologist

According to the literature concerning MMORPG and learning we gathered for this paper, there are two implications for future research in this area that can help educational technologists acknowledge a deeper understanding of MMORPG’s potential in being an educational tool. First of all, MMORPG literature should investigate how the development for future games, especially for MMORPGs, might foster an even deeper and more complex learning outcome model. It cannot be denied that MMORPG games could be further developed in their complexity and richness in terms of gameplay, customization, and many more, possibly in the near future, as technology is developing at a fast pace and widely spread. Therefore, investigating how these developments might foster more learning outcomes in other contexts rather than just motivation and collaboration within the classroom might shed more light on other important contributions that MMORPG games offer for students. For example, a few studies found that MMORPG games could significantly promote English competency for ESL students [15][16].

Figure 5

Potential neural mechanism of Massive Multiple Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs’) effect on foreign language (FL)/second language (L2) learning. AI, anterior insula; FO, frontal operculum; VWFA, visual word form area; IFG, inferior frontal gyrus; SFG, superior frontal gyrus; VS, ventral striatum.
Retrieve from Language Learning Enhanced by Massive Multiple Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) and the Underlying Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms

Another important implication for educational technologists is that they should expand their investigation to explore the impact of MMORPG’s elements on the brain. Specifically, since the brain is the center of the learning process, whether it is academic, social, emotional, or practical, it is substantial to investigate how MMORPG games might stimulate a certain part of the brain in relation to learning. For example, Zhang and colleagues [17] found that several brain areas related to language, such as the left anterior insular/frontal operculum, and reward system such as ventral striatum, were found to be activated while playing MMORPGs. Also, despite some disagreement with the importance of the game’s graphic appearance [18], educational technologists should investigate how high-performance graphics in commercial games could neurobiologically relate to the certain area of the player’s brain that might connect to their motivation to play. Nonetheless, the neurobiological knowledge might shed light on educational MMORPG design that can encourage students to keep learning effectively.

However, educational technologists should carefully consider some limitations of MMORPG games before it can be fully implemented within the classroom. The first limitation of educational MMORPG is the inaccessibility of the appropriate technology for the educational games’ requirements, such as having a computer. While technology and computers are widely used worldwide, some schools still have difficulties accessing the appropriate technological tools due to insufficient funds [19]. In other words, it is possible that not every school might have a tool to proceed the successful implementation of educational MMORPG games. This implies that educational technologists should investigate the alternative approach to implementing educational MMORPG games within the classroom, besides using the actual game itself as the primary tool. Specifically, educational technologists could explore how to develop a game-based learning classroom that can have the elements of MMORPG in a different form. As Childress and Braswell [20] mentioned, several face-to-face cooperative learning activities could also foster similar results on collaborative skills as MMORPG’s element. Similarly, Akcaoglu[21] also mentioned that the lack of some MMORPG elements within the game-based classroom can still foster great learning outcomes to some extent, and it was possible to change the elements into something else to be compatible with the typical classroom environment. In other words, it is possible to deconstruct the elements of the original MMORPG games and recreate MMORPG-based classrooms with different forms or representations other than using the ‘game’ itself.

In addition to the limited accessibility of technology, another concern of MMORPG games is the belief that video games could lead to aggression. However, as Sublette and Mullan [22] discovered, the increased aggressive behavior and other negative consequences would present only if the players demonstrated addicted behavior to the games. Nonetheless, educational technologists need to further investigate the risk factor for players to become addicted and a potential protective factor of such negative consequences to design an appropriate educational MMORPG for the classroom. For example, Stavropoulos and colleagues [23] found that having a higher number of MMORPG players within the classroom (i.e., having peers with a common interest) can decrease adolescents’ likelihood of having Internet addiction symptoms. This implies that there is a possibility of preventing children from becoming addicted to video games.

The last concern of MMORPG games is that the character customization was embedded with a potential social exclusion. According to Pace, Houssian, and McArthur [24], the character creation process of some MMORPG games implicitly reinforced certain social values such as giving the most customized options for human and human-like races than others, preferencing white human race to associate with a certain job class, and stereotyping of masculinity and femininity in the description, body types, and associated job class. While these social values might not be intentional, it implied that there is a potential risk for players to be reinforced with an invariable ideology of race and gender. Thus, educational technologists must be aware of such prospects of character customization to develop a more inclusive approach for educational MMORPG for the classroom.

 MMORPG Future in classroom

After exploring the possibility of applying MMORPGs within the classroom, we found that MMORPG games can nourish the motivation and collaborative skills through their unique elements such as opened-ended exploration, character customization, interactive community, and challenging quests, resulting in the possible greater learning performance for students. Therefore, educational games that are designed to include these elements of MMORPG games are a potential tool for educators to foster students’ learning. In addition, as Marc Prensky claimed, students nowadays and in the future are considered as digital natives, which refers to generations that think and process information tremendously and fundamentally different from previous generations due to their exposure to technology and internet innovation since birth [25]. This observation and this paper’s analysis implied that education and schools have to pick up the pace to follow the fast technological development of modern society, and integrating some of the aspects made salient by the games into the classroom was an impactful approach to consider, especially the elements of MMORPG games. To do so, educators or teachers should be open to try implementing the technology within their classrooms. They could either utilize the educational MMORPG games invented by educational technologists as an instructional method such as the use of Cube World, Second life, Atlantic Quest, etc. or integrate some elements of MMORPG into the classroom environment such as adjusting the current assessment to be similar to the immediate feedback and assessment while playing of MMORPG games. Another interesting way to integrate the MMORPG’s elements into the classroom is the autonomy and freedom of students to proceed with their learning as well as the opportunity to express their uniqueness through the task or their learning environments such as their own table and locker. Nonetheless, regardless of the form they are used, we hope to see teachers and educational technologists work closely together to find an appropriate way to implement educational MMORPG into the classroom and promote students’ learning experience and performance effectively and happily.

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