Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Teacher by Day, WOW Warrior by Night

By on November 3, 2009

My name is Morigold. I am a dwarf paladin from Ironforge. My traveling companion, Balrong, is a night elf who hails from Darnaccus. Now let me translate:

My name is Heather Wolpert-Gawron. I am a teacher and blogger who, once my toddler is asleep, plays World of Warcraft with my husband, Royce.

Yes, it’s true. I’m a teacher who plays WOW.

My history with Role Playing Games all started with my father. He told stories, luring me into the world of the swashbuckler, of the hero and his journey. I grew up understanding the plotlines of adventures, quests, and fellowships. As I grew, my passion for imagining the story became a desire to jump into stories themselves, of developing characters with real traits to travel along the path of the plotline. dice

With each chapter of my life, I sought out people who loved role-playing games too. But the effort to seek out like-minded souls doesn’t exist anymore because RPGs are now online.

Some teachers are using these RPGs to engage students in and out of the classroom. There are those using Second Life, for example, scheduling lectures and workshops on remote “islands” inhabited by avatars in order to continue the discussion begun in class or to help with homework after hours.

But it’s the social aspect of role-playing games that I find more authentic somehow.

The narrative you ride is like the moving walkway in an airport. The minute you log on, you can enter the story, as it exists. You login and begin your own storyline and along the way you get to meet other characters, and behind each character is another person, somewhere, sitting and playing their own narrative.

You speak to each other in caption bubbles, like a comic book. You talk about the game, about real life, about strategies.

Now, it seems to me that kids who play RPGs are actually reading the writing on the wall about their own future. Communication and collaboration are skills that they will need. I would argue with the myth that kids using online social networks are isolated. Rather, I believe that playing gives them an additional layer of social understanding then those who don’t.

WOW is actually known as an MRPG. A Massive Role-Playing Game functions on a huge scale. Did you know, for instance, that the number of people who currently play WOW is greater than the entire population of Greece? A person doesn’t play in isolation anymore, in a basement with a few buddies, but rather, they play with a global fellowship.

Now, I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be playing soccer or having face-to-face relationships. But I am saying that there is a place in a student’s life for online games.

And these friendships aren’t based on cliques or sports teams; they are based on a common sense of fun as a player builds friendships that are made up of people from different homes, different cities, and even different countries.

I remember when I discovered many of my middle school Mock Trial students played WOW. I asked them how they had time to play when we were also preparing to compete in the Los Angeles County Semi-finals round. It turns out that their characters were traveling around with a group of Harvard law students. So while traveling to different battles, their dwarves, gnomes, elves, and humans would talk about cases, possible objections, and common concerns about law in general. Well, heck. I couldn’t argue with that.

Frankly, online games make finding like-minded people easier to do. And for middle schoolers who don’t drive, whose imagination is off-the-hook, and who range greatly in their own level of confidence, games like WOW allow a social outlet personally tailored by that student. It allows a student to dip their toe into a greater social scene or simply find that one person to share the experience with. It’s like social differentiation.

My husband and I have just begun passing on the RPG tradition to our 3 year-old. We use the Lego Pirate Ship for our heroes (Star Wars figures), and our most recent adventure was to “Dinosaur Island,” so named because it was inhabited by various plastic reptiles both alive and extinct. We rolled dice and took on the bad guys together. One day, I suspect, we will introduce our son to online MRPGs, broadening his gaming world and showing him that there are others are out there, across the globe, who love it too.

My father always said, the definition of a friend is one who has been witness to a chapter in your life, and just because that friend may be a gnome does not make that any less true.

Note to Readers: Remind students to have a good time playing online, but as with any activity, they have to play smart. Remind them to use proper netiquette, keep personal information private, and as with any game at school or online, tell an adult if someone is bullying or inappropriate in any way.

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