Twenty-first Century Chess
Ten years ago, the two jobs to which Sean Plott commits most of his time today—e-sports shoutcaster and host of an online daily devoted to the art and strategy of the video game StarCraft—didn’t exist. As a shoutcaster at events like the Global Star League tournament in South Korea, he has to draw on his deep expertise as one of the top StarCraft players in the world to create live commentary on professional matches. As host of DayTV, he mines his love of the game to provide tips and tricks to a community of players hungry to improve their craft.
StarCraft, a real-time strategy game from Blizzard Entertainment, has been labeled the chess of the 21st century. Marrying strategic problem-solving with fast reflexes has made players like Plott experts in a game that many feel takes years and years for anyone to really master. “I love StarCraft because you always feel like there is a way to improve, a way to get better,” says Plott. The sheer pursuit of expertise drives many players to stick with the game for years and to share what they know with others. Because of this, StarCraft feels like a game supported not only by the company that developed it, but also by a community of 21st century learners intent on leveling up their collective expertise.
While some players of StarCraft pursue competitive play through a ladder system in a game that matches players of relatively equal skill, others interact with the game through its robust modding community. Modding is a practice where players use tools to modify a video game, changing its look and feel, game play, or story. A wholly creative endeavor that requires players to either program their own tools or use those released with the game, modding provides players with a chance to play around with the game world to express their own ideas and interests. Many mod-makers develop deep technical skills in computer programming, as well as the collaboration skills required to complete ambitious designs combining artwork, audio, level design and programming.
For educators in the 21st century, online communities like those that have grown up around games like StarCraft offer exciting models of peer-based learning environments. Players can move at their own pace, can take advantage of a diverse set of resources created by other players, and are invited to contribute their own knowledge and expertise. And perhaps most importantly, they have access to experts like Plott who share their talents for free. “StarCraft is a space of inquiry in which to test yourself,” says Plott. “It is all about asking, ‘What works here?’ How cool is that?”