Life has been quite the interesting experience. While I must admit I haven’t yet completed it all in its entirety (about a quarter into my first run through), I feel fairly qualified to speak on my personal opinions about the game so far.
From providing practically no tutorial to assigning quests with rather vague instructions (still don’t understand what they mean by “get some maidens, bro”), life tends to force you to make your own decisions and discover every part of your player’s build. It’s an ambitious project, though not a perfect one: While I appreciate the message of autonomy, life has trouble striking a balance between too many and too few choices — a paralyzing paradox and deceiving illusion. Allow me to expand.
For a game that preaches freedom of choice (at least on the servers that I play on), there are an awful lot of decisions essentially made for us. Exhibit A: the decision to play at all. As far as I’m concerned, my parents shoved this game down my throat like nutrients through an umbilical cord (meta humor +1). Character archetype — my race, class, and all other arbitrary attributes — has also been, in part, determined without my knowing. This wouldn’t be such a bother if these traits didn’t so greatly influence my enjoyment of the game. But they do, and here’s the point that I’m trying to make. Life presents itself as an open world adventure, free for you to explore in all of its opportunities. Underneath this veil, however, is the costly prerequisite of success, and there are very few paths to success. Even availability to certain paths is only unlockable to those of fortunate spawn points, leaving the vast majority with only two options: pay for the university bundle or play the free trial until it expires. To us, school is all we’ve got.
But to the developers, university is nothing more than a cash grab that massively underperforms its ungodly membership fee. The principles of the education industry do not align properly with the interests of its consumers, and must be reassessed.
It is not reasonably possible for every student to leave their lecture hall with a full understanding of the taught content, nor is it a realistic expectation to have all students learn at a singular pace. Learning is a subjective experience, and therefore an independent one. It should then not be the university’s responsibility whether we learn, rather to provide adequate resources for us to learn, collaborate, and integrate ourselves in the fields we choose. The aim is to assist in our becoming self-regulated learners, not force us into rigidly standardized environments. Such behavior is like planting seeds under the concrete and expecting them all to grow — some may break through the cracks, but the rest will suffocate underneath.
Pushing this idea further, is it not just as unreasonable to assess student understanding with a single, standardized number? The initial purpose of grades was to record one’s progress, but its effects seem to cause more detriment than benefit, as much of the research surrounding it suggests. Quantitative grading is often associated with increased levels of cheating (reported for hacking) and has been the center of attention in the conversation of student mental health (that green “happiness” meter you can find at the top right corner of your screen). Many players view grades as a reflection of their worth, which is a sentiment that is unfortunately not too far from the truth.
GPA (found in the “transcript” section of your bio) is a deciding factor in the opportunities that your character is offered, and has consequently become a main incentive to learn. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, relying on such extrinsic motivators encourages students to meet the bare minimum for a satisfactory enough mark. How often do we mindlessly zoom through a massive pile of work just to get back on schedule? Or even skip assignments simply because our grades could afford it? This approach to learning undermines the intention of grades as both an incentive and an honest evaluation of student comprehension. Every semester feels like a zombie horde of assignments that just don’t stop creeping towards you and chipping away at your health.
A final flaw that I see in the game’s current grading system is its one dimensionality. When one looks at their GPA, they see nothing but an average, absent of any productive feedback. What it should provide, instead, are two key points: a diagnostic and a prescription, the former being a precise detailing of what the student did not display an understanding of, and the latter being a guided suggestion of what the student could do to improve. This brings clarity and direction to the player, allowing them to better grasp concepts that they must set time practicing and to generate their own feedback, thereby creating a student-run system of improvement for everyone.
This is what education must strive for — not a cruel punishment for those who don’t bend to standards, but an uplifting reward to those eager enough to progress. Learning may be difficult, but it should not be overwhelming.
I would love to continue imagining life as a video game; where one complaint posted on a forum could bring developers’ attention to unfair mechanics; where leveling up was as simple as grinding mobs and spending gold; or where I could play endlessly until I no longer want to play anymore. But life is not so forgiving: Life is an immalleable organism run on unjust systems, unavoidable in-game purchases, and unskippable cutscenes. So while we dream of rebuilding the world from the ground up, there is a delicacy with which we must approach this sensitive being that we call life, starting with the way we are taught. We are not children holding hands, pushed along at the professor’s pace, nor are we professionals fully qualified in our respective fields of study. We are students needing to be both guided towards a foundation and trusted to learn on our own.