Sunday, January 08, 2012


So this is the fifth combat game I've played that includes a talent tree that allows you to make choices about the talents you want your character to acquire. Generally speaking I run healers, casters, or melee toons. I have never tried to be a tank. Well, okay, once, if you count Dragon Age games. I did enjoy that but really in that game you're in control of several player types at once. Anyhow...

Now in SWTOR I am leveling four classes (a caster/healer and two melee and one ranged dps). SWTOR is new, and though I played beta I am still figuring things out.  ... Or am I? I have been selecting specializations within trees, and selecting talents within specializations. I've been nervous about it. I put some serious thought into the always difficult balance of leveling and endgame. There hasn't been much around to look at for support from the SWTOR community because the game is so new.

Today I found some spec'ing info., and what struck me was that I was dead on. Now it shouldn't surprise me. I've been dead on before, in other games in the recent past. I find expert recommendations and discover that I'm pretty much completely in line with the model build, with a point or two differentiating us. In those differentiations it's largely acknowledged as 'depending on what you like,' i.e., options. I was pleased to realize I had acquired some expertise. I understood how the game is played at a sufficiently deep enough level to understand the mechanics of my toon as solo and as a party member, and sufficiently deeply to make reasoned selections.

Now, I'm going to go all Vygotsky on your ass and suggest this happened through the zoped and external to internal to external dialogue. Its pretty obvious. As a beginner, I leaned on existing advice from WoW players through forums, blogs, and wikis, to figure out the best build for a huge variety of characters (I played that game a looooong time). Each source offered not only a visual display of how to spec, but more importantly, a verbal analysis (text or movie). In the beginning, it didn't always make sense. I could understand part of it, but what, for example, did they mean by gear dependent or mitigation? As time went on and I made more characters and the game devs changed talent trees requiring whole new conversations in the community about talents and choices, I started to pick up the reasoning and the language. Those changes required experts in the community to explore with each other, to argue and eventually to converge on advice. Their interactions were laid bare in the community (thank you CoP access to expertise).  Eventually I found myself not particularly concerned with what the community advice was. I could have that whole dialogue in my head as I spec'd. This was evident when I moved to a new game with spec'ing. I tended not to seek out information unless I was having trouble. To me trouble meant I was missing something, some interaction between choices or between choices and game play mechanics. Aha, new expertise.

Oddly, this echoes the expertise trajectory in a combat card game like Pokémon TCG (or Magic or whatever), in which you first learn to build and play a deck, where the deck embodies choices of talents and mechanics. At some point, after getting better at deck building but still losing, you realize that you don't just play your deck, and in fact you don't play your deck. You play against the other deck. That is, you need to think about the interaction between choices you've made and the game mechanics and choices other players have made. A real BGO every time (blinding glimpse of the obvious).

So here I am, plaiyng a new game, with new talent trees and a slightly different group mechanics, and I'm doing a good job of figuring things out with expertise I wasn't really aware I had acquired. I thought that was worth mentioning. It also gets me to wondering about other learning circumstances in which learners might not be self-aware of their own developing or developed expertise. So, in a way, what a good assessment/test should do is give learners (not teachers, not administrators, not legislators, not the tax paying public) the opportunity to realize through use/externalization what they know. In there somewhere is a really valuable steal from gaming (instead of that lame ass 'badges' shit).