So, as I was writing this article, all proper and grown-up-like, something extraordinary happened. And by extraordinary, I mean freakish and traumatizing. There I was, working away when I chanced to look up and see Buckminster, the cat. Now, it wasn’t the cat (or his name, shut up) that was freakish or traumatizing, but what he’d brought with him, which in this case was a dead squirrel.
Right there on the carpet, big as life except no longer living, was a dead squirrel. A DEAD SQUIRREL. Keep in mind, as a long-time cat owner, I’m used to seeing deceased rodents in the house, but this is so far beyond the usual mouse or shrew that I was completely unprepared. Logistically, I mean, one just doesn’t deal with a squirrel the way one deals with a shrew. The latter can be scooped up with paper towels and whisked off to eternity with a discrete suburban Viking funeral*. The former… well, let’s just say I had to improvise. And let’s also say that, for the sake of argument, “improvising” means scooping the little brute up with the dustpan and catapulting it off the back deck and into the woods. Hypothetically. Sort of.
Maybe it’s really my own fault. Maybe he’s just seen me play too many MMOs and decided, “Hey, I can has quest!” Maybe he took that whole ‘kill ten rats’ idea a little too seriously. Strangely, though, the Day of Dead Squirrel (as it will now forever be known, mark your calendar) actually has some bearing on my article this week. (Oh, Serendipity, is there nothing you can’t do?)
Anyway, the idea this week is that I would love to see an MMO or two that teaches basic life skills, for example:
1. Finding a Job
Look, we have flight simulators to train pilots and patient simulators to train surgeons, but why not a simulator to train potential job seekers how to apply and interview for jobs? Sure, there are thousands of articles out there about what to do and what not to do, (most of them contradictory) but no bit of text is going to prepare you like simulation and role play. And just think of the PVP possibilities!
2. Getting an Apartment
One of the scariest, most obscure quests real life has to offer is the one where you have to prove your personal worth to strangers, that you might not be homeless. In a way, this can be even harder (and more daunting) than finding a job.
3. Paying your Bills
When I was fifteen, my Sophomore math class taught us how to file a basic tax return**. That stands out as the most useful thing I was ever taught in High School. Second to that in usefulness would have been learning how to deal with creditors and to pay bills.
4. What To Do In An Emergency
MMOs have already covered such life-altering events as the zombie apocalypse, but what about personal one? Does every teenager know what to do if one or both parents are in an accident? Does every 20-something know what to do if a parent suddenly dies and they are left to deal with the funeral, or deal with the estate?
5. How to get DEAD SQUIRRELS out of your house
You know, without having to catapult the little blighters, from a dustpan, into the woods. Okay, maybe that one would just be for me.
Now, I can already hear some of you complaining. Yes, I know you play MMOs to escape real life, so do I. But nobody says that these hypothetical MMOs would have to be boring, the pixel-based equivalent of florescent lighting in a grey room. And nobody is saying that in order for there to be games that teach skills, other games must vanish; there’s room in this world for ALL the games.
I’m serious here. Too many basic skills are never taught, because it’s often assumed that by the time a person reaches a certain age, they’ll just know these things. The reality, though, is that’s just not true. Or maybe they do have those skills, in a technical sense, but have yet to put them into practice, because they haven’t had to chance to practice first. Never doubt the destructive effects that a little performance anxiety can have on everyday life.
MMOs, as a medium, can allow us to accomplish many things, from dragon-slaying to world-saving and beyond. And if they can do that, there’s no reason why MMOs can’t also relieve a little collective stage fright, by teaching and allowing for some basic, real world preparation.
Sound crazy? Maybe it is, but I think the MMO platform has so much more to offer than what has been tried so far. Also, seen through the MMO lens, I suppose moving from shrews to squirrels could be seen as the cat equivalent of leveling up. In any case, what do you think? Drop a line in the comments!
*Wrap creature in ceremonial paper towels. Stuff reverently into the garbage. Piously deliver garbage bag to dumpster, thus facilitating deceased rodent’s journey to the afterlife. Amen.
**They also taught us how to balance a checkbook, but almost nobody uses those any more.
For more of Lisa's thoughts on gaming, narrative and the world at large, try:
All animal images are my own work.
Paperwork image: By Pizarros (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons