October 22, 2007

The video game-inspired law school.

BBC reports that businesses are restructuring work to take advantage of the mindset workers have developed playing video games:
[S]ome companies have turned work groups into guilds, rewarded staff with experience points when they complete tasks, giving out titles and badges when a guild finished a project and portraying objectives as quests.

Some were also considering using a virtual currency as a reward system allowing workers to cash in their savings for benefits or extras for their office space. The top performing guilds also get to do the best projects.

None, so far, he said, were tying wages to how people performed in the quests and against other guilds.

"Mapping levels and points on to wages is the most extreme application," [said Stanford education professor Byron Reeves, whose company, Seriosity, applies game elements to workplaces].

Companies were adopting game mechanics for several reasons, said Reeves.

Partly because workers were so familiar with this structure, he said, and because people become powerfully motivated when they know how they compare to their contemporaries.

The main reason was for the transparency it gave to the way workplaces were organised and for revealing who got things done.

"It exposes those that do and do not play well," said Dr Reeves. "There is a leader board and you know the rules."
Hey! I finally thought of an answer to TaxProf Paul Caron's question: "What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?" Set the whole thing up according to the principles of a video game.

I'm not kidding. When I went to law school, I did not know what the hell I was doing. I was undereducated — having majored in painting undergrad. I had a rebellious, alienated attitude and had no friends or family who had gone through the experience who could give me any sort of advice. Somehow, I hit upon the device of thinking of law school as an "athletic contest." I devised a set of rules and imagined myself to be playing a game. I didn't do this because I was very competitive. I considered myself an artist. (I still do.) I did it because I thought everyone else was competitive, and I'd be overwhelmed by them. My conception of the experience as a game gave me pleasure, serenity, motivation — and success.

But imagine a law school where the whole thing was openly structured as an elegant game, designed to absorb and hold everyone's attention and to yield motivating rewards along the way.

ADDED: I want to emphasize that the "game" of law school would be played in person and not on line. Students and faculty would interact in a real workspace (according to various devices and principles taken from video games). I would put the faculty inside the game. Perhaps alumni could integrated and it can work to bring donations into the school. I wish I understood more about video games so I could try to spin out some more detail here. I'm just working off the BBC article. If we're going to get serious, we can call in Seriosity.


Donald Douglas said...

Well, in my previous life I was a top SoCal amateur skateboarder (Tony Hawk was a little tyke then). When I got back to school I applied the competitive mindset myself, kind of like your example here.

It was a good model, since all of my vapid Ms. PacMan years didn't seem to help all that much...

Trooper York said...

Yes, we can change the name of Brooklyn Law School to Super Mario Cuomo University.

John Kindley, said...

I've got a less hip but better and more realistic idea: Set the whole thing up according to the principles of a law review. All students are on "law review" and must produce a publishable article (i.e. comment or note), and help edit other student articles. Articles must be geared towards subjects of actual interest and value to the legal profession. Everybody gets published in a fully-searchable online edition of the law review. (See my own online Wisconsin law review article geared towards the med mal plaintiffs' bar by following the link from my profile or blog.) The best articles make it into the print edition. Faculty's main job is to guide student research and perhaps lead seminars on related law review topics. That's all the law school is. One intensive year or at the most two (rather than three) should do it. Students would thus feel that they're doing something productive while learning, rather than just jumping through hoops. Big firms will have to find another way, on their own dime, to sort their particular brand of wheat from the chaff.

George said...


Do law profs still require students to buy those gigantic 5 inch thick texts?

If so, why? Aren't all the cases on-line?

Fred Soto said...

If they'd done that when I was in school, I wouldn't have had a reason to play World of Warcraft during class.

MadisonMan said...

I know several people who are very non-competitive, but they excel at what they do. I wouldn't call them the forgotten plodder that makes everything work when it comes down to it, because I don't think they're exactly forgotten, but ...

If law schools want only the uber-competitive to succeed, a video-game inspired method would appear to be the way to go. Are all brilliant lawyers ultra competitive?

Synova said...

I don't know how World of Warcraft is on the crafting and industry end of things but EverQuest is heavily into player production, not just quests and adventuring. There is a market, a broker system, tradeskill areas, and a whole lot of buying and selling. People do a great deal of repetitive work for specific and ongoing rewards and promotion. Guilds have levels and some tasks can be applied toward guild levels. Not all members contribute but there's a lot of teamwork to reach group goals (and rewards). There's money and buying stuff (think Sims) for status houses and items. A friend made me a sofa and chairs. ;-)

But what is most important, I think, about these games and other MMOG's, even the shooter types, is that players organize and assign different cooperative tasks on the fly without top-down direction.

I'm often impressed with how my kids will get on some shooter MMOG with a group of random people from anywhere in the world (my daughter telling her friends she's got to go now and a very young and decidedly British male voice replying, "You've got to do no such thing!" was... decidedly weird) and arrange themselves, assign roles, and carry out a mission.

The organization happens. It's not simple because it's a game. It's actually quite complex and, IMO, highly sophisticated.

It's led me to wonder if Historically games reflect skills needed by adults or if skills developed in games are incorporated by adults after the fact.

LawGiver said...

I recently attended a presentation by Dr Daniel Schwartz from Stanford concerning innovations in technology and education. He talked a lot about guilds and mentioned the millions of people who daily play World of Warcraft, how they interact, learn, and create social groups that facilitate learning. It was fascinating to say the least.

Teachable agents are another technological innovation currently being investigated. If you have any interest in education, this appears to be the way we are heading. Computers and software are definitely seen as educational force multipliers.

Fred Soto said...

*high five* Syn:

I was a guild leader in Everquest and I assembled one of the few uberguilds to reside on the Test Server between 1999-2002! (pats self on back)

Funny thing, I hadn't considered applying to the University of Wisconsin Law school, except one of my paladin's (a Doctor of Oncology and Professor at the U.W.) asked me to visit.. he said I'd fall in love with Madison and not want to go anywhere else.

He was right! Now, I feel like a dork, but what are ya gonna do, technology IS changing the way we live. As for whether this kind of system only benefits the "competitive," maybe the best way to encourage such a system is by assembling the groups based on personality types. No more than one dominant / type A in a group! :P

Tim said...

"It's led me to wonder if Historically games reflect skills needed by adults or if skills developed in games are incorporated by adults after the fact."

As an casually ad hoc amateur anthropologist, I'd suggest the former, as most of the early athletic games seem to mimic hunting or warfare, or depend upon skills used in hunting or fighting. As for the non-competitive, well, some were always left behind, weren't they?

Ron said...

I noted on BoingBoing today, that more people are playing World of Warcraft than are engaged in farming in America.

Mark Daniels said...


Mark Daniels
Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Danels

Pogo said...

Certainly, a game could be arranged, and it might be appealing.

Making explicit the actual underlying competition might serve the same purpose. Althouse figured out to play a game, but may not have realized that she was playing the game, the one that runs continually and unmentioned in every adult organization. Hence, it often not only goes unrecognized, but its very existence is denied by some.

The trouble is, you must play, whether you want to play or not, and even if you are unaware of the rules, even if you are unaware there is a game. Then, you're just the patsy.

Why the game and its rules remain sub rosa is quite the mystery.

Trooper York said...

(the Marios try to escape in a police car]
Mario: Where's the starter on this thing?
Luigi: I got a feeling about this, Marioroni...
[figures out the strange controls to start the car]
Mario: How do you know how to do that?
Luigi: Cuz I been sitting on my butt all day playing video games, that's what.
(Super Mario Brothers 1993)

Christy said...

Isn't there some theory that language developed from the play of children?

Trooper York said...

Mario Mario: Excuse me, do you know where we are?
Pedestrian: Yeah, you're in my way.
Mario Mario: But I used to be governor of New York
Pedestrian: Yeah, so why didn’t you run for president?
Mario Mario: Well, my father in law was a capo in the Colombo family.
Pedestrian: Yeah, well you’re still in my way.
Mario Mario; That’s exactly what Bill said when he mailed me a meatball hero in a bullet proof vest.
(Super Mario Declines To Run For President 1990)

Trey Tomeny said...

I think it's quite possible that all of education will soon be a video game.

Sit your 3 year old in front of the computer and 15 years later he/she will be more educated than any high school graduate today, and will have enjoyed the "Educationquest".

Jeremy said...

Michael Scott: I know 'grumble grumble', but you would follow me to the ends of the earth grumblin' all the way. Like that uh dwarf from "Lord of the Rings".
Dwight Schrute: Gimli.
Michael Scott: Nerd. That is why you're not on the team.
Dwight Schrute: Just tryin' to be helpful.
Michael Scott: Oh ul, I'll ul. Dragon Slayer. Ten point power sword.
Jim Halpert: That's him.
(The Office, 2005)

Synova said...

Fred Soto,

Oh, wow, that was the "old days" of multi-party mega-raids with no coordination functions written into the code.

You are a god.

These modern times are... kinder and gentler. ;-)

Smilin' Jack said...

Video games are for wusses. I'd like to see a law school patterned on the WWF. Especially the Steel Cage Match--"Two lawyers go in. One comes out!" That would really motivate them and hone their competitive instincts. Plus it would benefit society as a whole, because...well, because two lawyers go in, one comes out.

Blake said...


Tim may be right historically but these days I think the ability of video and computer gaming to expose one to ideas (in action) that one would otherwise not be exposed to tends to influence how one behaves in the working world.

John Kindley, said...

"Somehow, I hit upon the device of thinking of law school as an "athletic contest." I devised a set of rules and imagined myself to be playing a game. I didn't do this because I was very competitive. I considered myself an artist. (I still do.) I did it because I thought everyone else was competitive, and I'd be overwhelmed by them."

Actually, that really sounds like you were plenty competitive in your own right without anybody's help, artiste or no. Of course, the system sets us up for that, do or die, but looking at it expressly like a game or contest with winners and losers makes it seem more rather than less brutal (which is why I like my own "everybody's on law review" idea above). You sound like you were a lot less clueless than I was coming into law school about the reality of the competition around me. Sure, I wanted to do well and didn't want bad grades (until my growing sense of the farce of it all made it harder to care), but I wasn't thinking in terms of how my grades stacked up with others, and somehow it just didn't dawn on me the doors that would close if I didn't beat out 90% of my classmates. I was top 10% after first semester, but those grades slipped as I got more engrossed in writing and improving my law review article, which seemed much more worthwhile than all the outlining and other machinations that law students like to use to squeeze out a higher grade in some course. (Of course, more outlining probably would have been more worthwhile than all the drinking I did, but that's neither here nor there.)

I remember during plebe summer at the Naval Academy starting to question whether I was in the right place when our upperclassman squad leader half way through told us to rank from first to last the twelve members of our squad and submit those rankings to him confidentially. I thought, they're trying to instill between us that level of competitiveness, among people whose lives may someday depend upon selfless cooperation? I ranked myself last, and was reprimanded by the squad leader for doing so. Nevertheless, somehow I wound up getting ranked first.

John Kindley, said...

Good to see you again smilin' jack. You're one of the best!

Edgehopper said...

Law School already is structured like an MMO. Sadly, the MMO is Eve Online:

* You progress in level not through achievement, but by sitting and waiting for time to pass

* While waiting for time to pass, most people engage in pointless time-wasting ways of increasing their status. In this analogy, C&Sing is like Eve Online's asteroid mining.

* A select few motivated people care enough about the game to find more interesting ways of improving their status.

* By the 3 year point, most people leave to do something almost completely unrelated--in the law school case, practicing law.

Richard Dolan said...

I was under the impression that law schools are already highly competitive environments, and that there are more than enough built-in factors in the LS experience (e.g., law review, clerkships, summer positions with major firms, high paying jobs) to ensure that law students are highly motivated.

If the idea is to improve the educational experience, I think it might make more sense to make the LS environment less like a video game -- a reality show might be the better metaphor -- than it already is.

As for Ann's statement that she "hit upon the device of thinking of law school as an 'athletic contest'" as her recipe for success, that sounds like 90% vortex and only 10% autobiography. At the law student level, "success" is as much a function of acquiring a certain glibness in using a new vocabulary and concepts as it is about anything else. Bear in mind that "success" here is largely determined by a first year student's ability to excell on a 3-hour exam, where the point is to spot and analyze issues quickly using the right buzz words. The exam format just doesn't lend itself to much more than that.

So, if that's the context, what was Ann's imagined sport in her virtual "atheletic contest"? My guess is that it was neat (at least readable) speedwriting, perhaps with an illustration or two thrown in to pique the professor's interest. Try to imagine Ann's drawing illustrating the Rule against Perpetuities.

BJK said...

If the UW Law School had been inspired by video games....then I wish someone would have clued me in on the cheat codes. ;)

cold pizza said...

Like most FPS* games, you even have various "boss" enemies to fight. You've got your TA, the Asst Prof, the Prof, the Dean, the ultimate boss being the thesis committee (or the bar). Game over, dude. Would you like to play again?

In the corporate world, you've got various levels of management and minion trolls from finance. Hey! I just gained a level! -cp

*If I have to explain, I lose geek points.

mythusmage said...

The term you want is LARP, "Live Action Role Play". Less structured with more possibilities than a video game. In the law school LARP one would play a law student at a law school, with rewards for performing well. Once one had earned enough points one would then advance to the law practice LARP.