Category Archives: Gaming

Game Up Your Unconference

Last weekend I was delighted to head down to the University of Maryland for THATCamp Games, an instance of the popular humanities and technology unconference devoted specifically to games in education. It’s been a while since I attended an unconference — my last one was LibCampNYC in 2009 — and THATCamp Games reminded me how much I enjoy the unconference format. Capping registration at about 100 people and eschewing formal presentations means lots of opportunities for discussion and conversation among the participants, and lots of opportunities for learning. At this particular THATCamp the attendees were highly diverse, from faculty and staff in higher and secondary education to educational technologists to game industry folks to students. While there weren’t a huge number of librarians there, I wasn’t the only one, and of course the topics we all discussed are relevant to academic libraries as well as other educational organizations.

I’m an avid gamer and have long been interested in games-based learning, though it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve begun to incorporate games and game mechanics into my own teaching. I’d like to use more games in my research and information literacy instruction, especially to leverage the research behaviors that are a built-in to so many digital (and non-digital) games, and I appreciated that the unconference began with a day of workshops called BootCamps which offered hands-on experience with thinking through and creating instructional games. I know of at least one library that’s used the application Inform to create a text-based interactive fiction game (Bioactive at the University of Florida), so I went to a BootCamp on Inform and had the chance to play around with the software, which doesn’t require much programming knowledge.

Two of the BootCamps discussed using ARGs — alternate reality games — in educational settings. I’ve always found the idea of using an ARG for education intriguing: ARGs are immersive experiences that incorporate many beneficial attributes of games, like asking students to take on a new identity, and scaffolding knowledge and skills. But many ARGs are long, detailed, and involved, and I’ve struggled with the practicalities of integrating something so time-intensive into my instruction, which tends to be mostly one-shots. During the two BootCamps we worked on specific activities that I found really helpful in thinking about strategies for my own teaching, one an example of a narrative puzzle, and the other an exercise in which we broke into small groups to brainstorm a subject-specific ARG. The facilitators emphasized that when designing an ARG the game objective and the learning objective must overlap completely, which seems like sound advice for designing any educational game.

I’m also interested in exploring ways that librarians can use games in collaboration with other faculty to strengthen students’ research competencies. During the unconference proper there were several sessions on adding game-like features to classrooms and courses. In a session on “Badges Done Right” we discussed using badges and other game structures like experience points for grading or other forms of recognition within a course. There was also a session about building gaming into the learning management system, with examples of both a commercially-produced and a home-grown LMS. There’s no question that the trend in “gamification” is complex, and we spent much time discussing the benefits of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. However, for faculty using game mechanics like badge or XPs I can think of lots of possibilities for librarians to collaborate. (“Wikipedia fact-checker” badge, anyone?)

Like any good conference there were lots of interesting-sounding choices at every timeslot (and a phenomenal number of tweets), so I’m grateful that a shared, public Google Docs folder was created early on. There are notes from nearly every session, and if you’re interested in games and education I encourage you to take a peek.

Play The Big Game At ALA In Anaheim

Sure, there is lots of game playing at ALA Annual, but now there’s a real game you can play – and if you like scavenger hunts – this one is for you. The game is for everyone attending the conference. It is called California Dreaming. Now, you can play the game individually, but apparently it works better if you get on a team. Here’s the good part. There’s an “academic librarian” team and it will compete against teams of school librarians, public librarians, special librarians, something called “Library Society of the World” (don’t ask) and students. C’mon. Do any of these other groups stand a chance against academic librarians? Of course not.

If you want to find out more about California Dreaming check out this blog post. You will get more details on how the game works, how to join a team and all that good stuff. And you thought that ALA in Anaheim wasn’t going to be fun. Guess you were wrong.

Serious Games

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blogger is Michelle Boule, Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Houston. Michelle was one of the planners behind Five Weeks to a Social Library and she is an ALA Emerging Leader. Michelle blogs as Jane on A Wandering Eyre.

I am old enough to remember the Atari, but I was too young to own one myself. The gaming console of my generation was the Nintendo. We played Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt, Zelda, and were shocked at the end of Metroid. With the introduction of Mortal Combat we were also the first children whose parents were concerned that all that spine ripping and blood in our games would harm our sense of right and wrong. Violence was not new in media, but it was new to have that much blood marketed to a younger generation.

Today there is a new movement in gaming that, while it does often focus on a violent world, its purpose is to raise awareness, instruct a new generation of good citizens, create new business models, train military personnel, or model surgery for doctors. These games are called serious games. Many of the military and medical games use 3D technology, the same technology used to build Second Life. The games that I find the most fascinating are the ones that are designed to create an awareness about a topic. Games for Change is a nonprofit group that supports individuals and organizations which are creating games that produce public awareness.

Darfur Is Dying is a video game that was created for a contest sponsored by mtvU and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation The contest asked students, game designers, and activists to create a game that would raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. The result, Darfur Is Dying, is an internet game in which the player becomes a villager in Darfur and then must try to forage for water while avoiding capture by the Janjuweed. When your character fails to escape, and failure is the usual outcome, statistics are displayed about the life of people in Darfur.

On a lighter note, Escape From Diab is a game that follows a healthy youth who becomes trapped in a place called Diab where everyone eats only junk food. It was designed to teach kids about healthy eating habits. Planet Green Game, produced by Starbucks, allows a player to travel through a fantasy city, finding ways to decrease the CO2 emissions, and creating an awareness of changes we can make to slow global warming.

Serious games take educational games to a new level. They go beyond Oregon Trail and strive to teach people about the world in which we live in an interesting and engaging way.

What does this have to do with libraries?

Libraries have long been agents of culture and the gateways to information. Today, most of us realize that information can be presented to people in many different ways. The idea of serious gaming can impact libraries in both small and large ways.

A game could provide models through which we could better understand how people search for information. Consider a game in which a puzzle must be solved or some knowledge must be gained. How will the player gain the knowledge? What are the options open to the player? A game that modeled information seeking behavior, like useability testing, would give us insight as to what people do when faced with particular challenges.

We could also build games that teach information literacy. If a game were to present a problem to users, sending them down the path of information gathering, various kinds of information could be presented. The player might have to choose between scholarly and popular sources, information formats, and then synthesize the information into useable answers to the problem. What would a 3D version of the information highway look like?

Building games from scratch is out of the realm of most library budgets and expertise. However, it only takes one school with some grant money and an eager student of game programming to create a game that could be modified for many different settings. We use games in Information Literacy classes already, like quiz games, that can be easily translated into online worlds. What about an information literacy quiz game that takes place in a Second Life environment? If your university has land in Second Life, does the library have space there? Information modeled in an online environment can become almost anything from a maze, to an amusement park, to a fully formed world and story.

Games can be serious. Games can change the way we think about things and they are changing the way we acquire knowledge. More libraries are beginning to offer different types of gaming environments for patrons, like equipment or space for game playing, but I think we should also consider what we can create that will foster better information skills in our patrons.