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More wired than a Roman Internet café

PMOG: the Passively Multiplayer Online Game. This is a game you play while browsing the internet, going about your daily internet related tasks… think webquest with mines, treasure chests, and quests.

You play the game by adding an extension to your Firefox browser. This browser lets you ’sense’ the game world, the activities overlaid on the plain old mundane net. Then, in the words of the game’s creators:

“This unconventional massively multiplayer online game merges your web life with an alternate, hidden reality. The mundane takes on a layer of fantastic achievement. Player behavior generates characters and alliances, triggers interactions in the environment and earns the player points to spend online beefing up their inventory. Suddenly the Internet is not a series of untouchable exhibits, but rather a hackable, rewarding environment!”

So what does this have to do with internet research skills? Well, it occurred to me that I can tell my students over and over again what constitutes a ‘good’ site versus a ‘bad’ site, but if I’m not there watching them, it never sinks in. Given that a lot of my teaching is done via distance, this is a problem.

But what if, as a class, we were all PMOGing? I could imagining setting a question the students would need to research in order to write an answer - maybe leaving their responses on a wiki somewhere - and then sending them out into the net with PMOGed enabled browsers. The game’s stats would instantly record how much work online the students were putting in, and if I set mines on all of the lousy sites I can find - the ones they typically go to, like the wikipedia page on Julius Caesar - and treasure chests on the good ones (like say a page from the British School at Rome, or from an online journal) they’d soon learn the difference. I could also set up quests that would take them to a number of good sites, or sites with opposing points of view, and require them to go to pages supporting or contesting the views… and of course, students could leave their own mines and treasures, and so hindering/helping their peers…

It would be quite neat, actually. Almost like laser tag in the library, capturing-the-flag…

So I signed up, and tried it out. Most missions I’ve gone through so far are more like tours of thematically linked websites, although there are some notable exceptions that require the player to deduce the next site from clues placed in the first - obvious educational possibilities.

I gave it a try, which you may find here: Awww Sir, how can I find out anything about that?

The idea here is a mix of straightforward take-you-by-the-hand tour of places to go to answer one student’s question about research, as well as one little (simple) puzzle to find the last step. ‘Puzzle’ is too grand a word, but I was trying to work out the mechanics of setting up a mission. The next one will be more involved…

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