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Processing New Knowledge or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Play World of Warcraft

Matt Harvey, Stanford University December 15, 2010

Are you one of the over 12 million players of World or Warcraft, or WoW? If yes, according to Dr. John Seely Brown, your game play may prove the concept of exponential learning.

For those not fluent in the online world of Azeroth, WoW is a massively multi-player online role-playing game, or MMORPG, that allows thousands of players to interact within an online gaming world, at the same time. Individual players form guilds that work as collective units to achieve advanced goals, such as going on raids within the fantasy world. The wildly popular game just released Cataclysm, the fourth expansion pack in the WoW series.

As an Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, and former Chief Scientist at Xerox PARC, Brown believes a major knowledge economy exists on the edge of the WoW ecosystem. He argues that so much knowledge is created within the game each day, without the collective guild structure, individual players would be compromised by the onslaught of information to process and learn from. On an average night within the WoW universe approximately 12,000 new ideas are created — a pace that outpaces even biotechnology, according to Brown.

Whether you’re a spell-casting mage or a healing druid, Brown claims successful guild members work together to process all these new ideas each week, and then distill this information into actionable ways in which to act in the future. High-end guilds even go a step further by doing after-action reviews following each raid. This form of play requires players to craft their own dashboards to measure personal performance, as well as comment on the performance of fellow guild members.

Watch the video for a deeper understanding of the knowledge economy within World of Warcraft.