Monday, September 7, 2009

New Game

I've started a new game, called Where in the World is Carmen Sanfransisco? I think you can easily guess what it's based on (I keep hearing Rockappella sing that in my head). I've been wanting to do this for a while, and now that I'm ready to do it, I have to crank it out and have it ready for next week. Unfortunately, the class I'm designing it for has a record low number of students, but I always believe in starting small. They're also all Spanish majors, so I had to throw out the idea of making some of the clues in each of the three modern languages taught here.
I am excited about this and it is slowly coming along. You won't be able to see much from the link above yet because I haven't added much programming to the buttons. But I'll be working on this a lot over this week and the weekend and hopefully will have something functional very soon!

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week 2009 is quickly approaching. This morning, I turned all of my pictograms into individual posters and sent them to the print shop. I'm breaking down and sharing my favorite, but won't give away the answer.

I sent out an e-mail to all faculty and staff asking for people to "host" a poster and was overwhelmed by the response. I now must write to everyone who responded to let them know who is and is not getting a poster. The decision is entirely based on spreading them around campus as evenly as possible, plus I had fun tying some of the puzzles and plots into various people or what their office does. I'm looking forward to seeing how many people come out to play!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I think it is safe to say that our freshman orientation activity was quite successful. From where I stood, it seemed much less chaotic than in the past, and at least the girls seemed to have a lot of fun.

The only major problem that I know of was that a number of teams (mostly boys) did not want to go through all of the steps if they could guess the ransom note and find the dog. Some honestly thought the goal was to find the dog, others just didn't want to do it. Other than adding one more statement to the initial instructions that you have to do all steps before claiming the reward, I'm not sure how to get around this. I think in the past, these teams just copied other students' booklets. Our current activity does make it obvious if a team hasn't completed all of the steps. However, one of next years' goals will be to find a way to make this problem smaller.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Down with Plagiarism!

There's a timely discussion going on the ILI listserv right now about entertaining ways to educate students about plagiarism. My plagiarism game is just about finished, unless I'm notified there are any other problems. I'm quite proud of my little earthquake and avalanche at the end.

I posted the link to my game on ILI and have gotten two requests for the Flash file of the plagiarism game, and another for the It's Alive! game, along with a friendly suggestion on one of the questions where my information isn't really correct.

Other interesting plagiarism materials posted in the discussion include:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just around the corner

Our freshman orientation game is just around the corner. The materials are printed out and packed up in envelopes. We had 30+ freshmen football players test it last week and things went very well. They didn't follow directions all that well, but that happens. There was also a lot of chaos, but that also happens when you do something on such a large scale. The football players came in with a good attitude and thought this activity was much better than what they had. Yeah!

I have to say I can only take credit for the ideas and creating the tracks. My colleague has a more organized brain and did most of the legwork. I threw in a little of my expertise with technology, though the printer got the best of me yesterday when I was trying to print off the iron-ons for our shirts (yes, some of us are wearing clues!).

I will be launching the plagiarism game next week. My testers have really enjoyed the game and it's only taking them 10-20 minutes. They have only had minor suggestions, but I'm still trying to add feedback for the questions and some more sound effects. It will be done by next week, even if it kills me! I will be sending out a survey to the freshman class on Tuesday, then asking professors to help me get students doing the game a week or two after that.

In addition, I'm contemplating a game for the modern language colloquium I teach once each semester. I want it to be based on Carmen Sandiego, but haven't gotten that far. I'm thinking of having the 12 stars on the EU flag stolen, and they can pick up the stars as they work through the activities. I haven't decided if I want to build something in Flash or do it completely analog. I would like to submit something for Computers in Libraries, which is due September 15th, and this is the only idea I have for the moment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Orientation Testing

We had the library staff run through the freshman orientation exercise yesterday. We were hoping it would take them 15-20 minutes, it took them 25-45 minutes. I hope that when they're working in groups and have staff members all over the building to direct them that things will go better.

Here are some of the issues we ran into:

  1. Some had issues lining up the transparencies with places in the library. We're going to add some masking tape squares on the ground for optimal viewing areas.
  2. Terminology on the maps and instructions don't match. Unfortunately, it's too late to change the maps, so the instructions must change to some degree, even if some things aren't ideally labeled on the maps.
  3. Some places need a little more detail in the instructions.
  4. The fourth floor OPAC computer wasn't working.
  5. We tell them to find a book called Secret Empire and there are actually two different books with that title, but only one has the clue.
  6. They didn't realize that letters needed to be used more than once to complete the ransom note.
  7. Some were confused about our use of an equals sign when we say "Letter 3=Z" and just want us to change it to "is." BTW, there is no letter Z in our ransom note.
  8. The biggest suggestion, and one that should be easy to fix, is not making it clear what the point of this is. So we're adding a one or two-sentence statement in the introduction that this game will help them get to know where things are in the library, and when they get to the place that has the dog, there's a closure activity that reviews what is on what floor. The activity "unlocks" the dog, and while I'm not thrilled with it graphically, it works great and fits into the game well without adding much to what is required by time.

Overall, the idea was popular, but the mechanics need some work. They really like the "physical-ness" of the game. They kept using the word "physical." That's what Big Games are all about, so I like this description.

The head football coach is probably willing to lend us some of his non-freshmen football players to test it out during football camp. We're meeting to discuss that next week. We can hopefully get a few students in next week when we've done some polishing up with our feedback from yesterday.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Microsoft and gaming

Okay, so the connection between Microsoft and gaming isn't anything new. But my officemate forwarded a link a few days ago about Microsoft getting into creative uses of games. I haven't had time to look into this much, but I think they're using games to do user testing. I didn't understand what you were supposed to do, but I was trying to do it quickly and wasn't being patient. Still, it's kind of neat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

PRIMO, here I come!

I just received a notification that my It's Alive! game got accepted into PRIMO! PRIMO stands for Peer-Reviewed Instructional Materials Online Database, and is sponsored and hosted by ALA and I have been very impressed with the materials included in it. I submitted It's Alive! and my Secret Agents game months ago and forgot about it, so today was a pleasant surprise.

We've done some user testing for our freshman orientation game and have a lot of great feedback to work into the game. It is terribly difficult to simultaneously design 8 different tracks of the same game so that students can work in groups of no more than 4 people. Some of the feedback is significant, like utter confusion going back and forth between the directions they have in their hand and the ones they find along the way, and some are pretty minor.

I'm plugging away at my plagiarism game. This week, Flash is outsmarting me. I'm trying to add feedback to the questions, but it's not working the way I originally envisioned it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I got a Google Alert pointing to a blog on game-based learning. I hadn't seen this blog before and I'm excited to start digging into it. The post was about an educational BBC game called Questionaut. It takes you through a series of worlds and the game part is trying to figure out how to get to the questions. Each world is themed, one being biology, another English, another about angles, etc. I haven't played it to the end yet, but I plan to go back and do this. For each question you get right, you get fuel in your hot air balloon to keep going up. I think you're chasing your girlfriend's hat, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

So again this boils down to a quiz game, but the graphics and how the questions tie into the game part are unique and fun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Deep in Development

I am soo excited to be planning a Big Game!!! Things are beginning to click, and we've started mapping out the first track. Here is a picture of some of my notes and scribbles.

We have settled on holding the Lyco Dog hostage. This is a trained Australian Shepard who wears a blue & gold bandanna and fetches the tee at football games. This way, the library mascot can still be dancing at the front door. The students will be given vague instructions and a ransom note with numbered blanks. Throughout the activities, they will get letters that will help them fill in those blanks. They will have to find out the names of the three public services librarians (each of our names includes one of the needed letters), retrieve a book, a print journal, arrange themselves in correct LC call number order, get a video clue in one of our screening rooms, and find several key items in the library to fill in the ransom note, find the picture of the hostage, and get their reward at the circ desk (a cool-pop).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gaming at Freshman Orientation

We're doing a big game for freshman orientation! We're going to hold something hostage, hopefully the library mascot, which is a stuffed snowman, but waiting for our director's approval on that.

I found a lot of inspiration from Ran Some Ransom by Erik Burke and Lynn Maharas, which was played in NYC at the Come Out & Play festival last month. We'll have a few places that use the transparencies, but other clues as well for getting the letters to spell out where the "hostage" is hidden. We're going to add more physical activities and teamwork into some already existing activities, like putting the books in the right order by call number.

We're applying a spy theme to the event, though not sure what that means as far as how we'll be dressing up. My co-worker is suggesting we dress up as Bond girls. I do have one dress that would work, but I'd have to think of something to wear over it so I don't freeze to death in our over-air-conditioned building.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Resources

Scott Nicholson's Gaming in Libraries class is now over. I gave a very positive review in the hopes that this will be continued in the future.

My article got pre-accepted in College & Undergraduate Libraries last week with some fairly minor revisions. I'm just having difficulty getting in touch with the professors involved for quotations to add.

I've stumbled on a few more articles and short bibliographies on instructional games in libraries. One is from the ACRL Instruction Section, called "5 Things You Should Read about Gaming and Learning," and the other is Lynn VanLeer's "Interactive Gaming vs. Library Tutorials for Information Literacy: A Resource Guide." These definitely contain information and sources that are new to me (though also some familiar ones), and I'm ready to start diving back into the gaming literature a little after taking a break to work on a literature review on plagiarism.

The plagiarism game is coming along. I've been working with an intern for two hours a week and we are happy with 17 of the 19 questions needed for the first six rooms of the game, so I plan to start adding those questions to the tutorial today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

University of Sydney

The Sprylibrarian pointed out these games from the University of Sydney. Other than me having trouble following directions, I think these are very well and neatly done. I hope they don't mind if I steal some of their general ideas for interactive activities...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Still alive

I haven't posted for a while because I moved on to some other things, though I keep coming back to my games. I have 8 or 9 pictograms for my Banned Book Week game. I'm dying to share them here, but can't let them leak out. I'm trying to find the Chronicles of Narnia on a major banned books list so I can use the map. Or Lord of the Rings, since there are also plenty of Middle Earth maps. I need to look them up in the print book Banned in the USA...

I ended up missing the Come Out & Play festival in NYC this past weekend. Between not finding anyone to go with me, and trying to get some family finances in order, I decided begrudgingly to stay home. I will work on something for next year.

I am continuing to listen to Scott Nicholson's Gaming in Libraries course. While a lot of it isn't relevant, much continues to inspire me and I really want to try all of these board games he mentions. He is currently talking about the five archetypes of games, which he calls SNAKS for Strategy, Narrative, Action, Knowledge, and Social games. I've been wanting to move away from trivia games, which is what my games are, though I don't know how to make my games educational without a trivia format. I want to look into Cranium games, he specifically mentions Hoopla, to see if they could be turned into something in the classroom.

He talks briefly about puzzle hunts, and how each piece points towards the next piece. I'm wondering if this would be a better format for my Banned Books pictograms than the two-sided map idea.

Today's topic was strategy games. I think this is what I would like to move towards since the research process involves a number of strategies. But that's as far as I've gotten with this idea.

One more tidbit of game news in my world is that our intern, Jessica, started yesterday. I am very impressed so far, and impressed that she seems to be getting into the game ideas. We're going to add the questions to the Plagiarism Game, then she's eager to help build one from scratch. She pointed me to a part of that has this cute Flash animation of kids raising their hands. It's not a game, but we're thinking of perhaps turning something like this into a game...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Gaming in Libraries Course

I have been following Scott Nicholson's Gaming in Libraries course this week and have been delighted with the material. I've only watched the videos, I need to go back this weekend and explore some of the online resources he mentions... and maybe get my hands on some of these board games! To summarize the course so far;

Day 1: talked about the class in general.

Day 2: talked about games and play. He boils the definition of a game down to a "form of play with goals and structure." He says the difference between games and simulations is the play part. A definition of "games" and the definition of what makes them different from simulations was troubling me as I wrote my first solo article recently, but this affirms and brings together my own nebulous conclusions.

Day 3: talked about analog games, a.k.a. board games. He points out that libraries have been supporting gaming for a very long time in this respect. He talks about several types of games, including Designer Games (a.k.a. Euro Games or Gateway Games), Bait Games, Role-Playing Games, Collectible Card Games, and Battle Games.

Day 4: talks about digital games, a.k.a. video games. Most of this section wasn't new to me. He points out that while video games are more exciting, they don't promote as much social interaction. Wii has a number of "party games" that are just silly group games. He also points out that digital games enforce the rules and often require responses within a certain time frame, where as analog games rely on the players and supervisor to enforce the rules, and rarely require a timely response.

Day 5: talks about hybrid games, or Big Games. This was so far the most interesting class. I had heard of most of the games he mentioned, but didn't understand how they were done. I understand a little better now. He defines Big games as the players being the pieces and moving within a physical space. Examples include:
  • Cruel to be Kind (I'm not sure how this is written) which boils down to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  • California Dreaming at ALA last year. Posters contained puzzles, as you solved them, you called into headquarters and the team captain would choose pieces of California to take over.

More information on Big Games can be found at Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) include ilovebees developed by Microsoft. They found the players were so clever, the game developers were working hard to keep up with the players. The TV show LOST did one of these, too, using a fake travel Web site. Blood on the Stacks used the actual library staff as possible suspects, and would count as a Big Game. Other libraries have done Harry Potter puzzle hunts. And finally, there is Live Action Role-Playing Games such as Vampire: The Masquerade. This fits into something called "interactive fiction" and you can find out more about it on LARPA's Web site.

So, my head is spinning with all of this new information, and new Web sites to explore. I've started talking with a co-worker about a games program, and she's into the idea. I guess I also need to get busy on posters for my Banned Books game. I want to mix the map game idea with pictograms of famous banned books... I'll probably have to wait to post the pictures until after the game, lest some student find it and have an unfair advantage!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Coding Victories

After being stuck on my plagiarism game for months, I have had one of those rare epiphany moments where the fates decide I have suffered long enough. I have found the answer to the two-part interaction where you click on a drawer to open it and expose the goblin, then click on the goblin to get asked a question... and when you get the question right, the goblin disappears!

I celebrated with two Hershey Kisses and will splurge on an ice cream sundae tonight with a friend.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I don't know how I got on their mailing list, but I got an e-mail today from a company called Kognito pointing to a new information literacy game created for the City University of New York. It focuses on business research. The page still says "coming soon," but it does include a Captivate explanation of the game, which seems like it could be kind of cool. So far, my only criticism is a good game needs a good title! Hopefully I will be able to find it live and play it for myself soon.

Carmen Sandiego

I played Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego yesterday. I remembered how intriguing this game was when I was a kid, and I still find it so even with the awful graphics. I took a few notes on the things that I like about it:

  • Database-driven game, so you'll probably never play the same game twice.
  • Offers players a choice on what they want to do, look for clues, enter data to try to get a warrant, or depart for a new city.
  • Each choice has consequences as far as the time goes. While the player can take as long as he/she wants to make a decision, each decision costs a certain amount of time. Interviews cost time, but if you don't do enough of them, you'll find the thief without getting a warrant. You also may depart to the next city, only to realize you didn't go to the right place. All of these choices costs time.
  • Animations that indicate you being on the right track. Of course the graphics are awful and the animations take a long time to load, but they add a fun element to the game.

The database-driven part is too hard for me to do, but I'm going to think about how I can add some of these other things to my own games to make them more fun.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Article Review: Games, Motivation, and Learning: A Research Practice Model

Authors: Garris, R., Ahlers, R., Driskell, J. E.
Article Title: Games, Motivation, and Learning: A Research Practice Model
Journal: Simulation Gaming (2002). Vol. 33, p. 441-467.

I'm tying up the lose ends of my article and passing it around for review and criticism before submission. I hope that will be next week. I have found some great resources in the past few days, including this article that really helped me bring a few things together. First of all, it's a great literature review, with publication dates of material cited range from the early '60's to mid-'90's.

Caillois (1961) defined a game as "an activity that is voluntary and enjoyable, separate from the real world, uncertain, unproductive in that the activity does not produce any goods of external value, and governed by rules" (quotation from Garris et al., pg. 442). They later point out that the parts involving voluntary and unproductive make non-voluntary educational games problematic in theory.

They point to several articles that define the difference between games and simulations. Margaret Gredler also addresses this in a handbook chapter entitled "Games and simulations and their relationships to learning." Each explanation is different and confusing. I have made up my own simplistic explanation for my article.

They point out that, "The generally accepted position is that games themselves are not sufficient for learning but that there are elements of games that can be activated within an institutional context that may enhance the learning process." I think the institutional context is important. I strongly believe that students at a larger school would have higher expectations for graphics and technical splendor than my game has, plus if you sent students off into the stacks at a place like Indiana University or Penn State, those students would never, ever come back to the classroom.

It is also important to separate the effectiveness of increasing motivation and the effectiveness of increasing student retention of the material. These are two very different things.

Some, such as Young (1996) have equated the interest shown in video games to that of compulsive or addictive behavior. This is the flip side of the motivation games draw on. I don't think educational games will ever have to worry about this, but this is an interesting point.

Dekkers and Donatti (1981) found that shorter simulations were more effective than longer ones.

The best part of this article was the section on the debriefing. There is little evidence that pure discovery learning works, which means the debriefing activity is crucial for success. This gives players a chance to review, analyze, and reflect on the events, and to draw parallels between the game and the real world. This allows students and educators to "transform game events into learning experiences."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Belated Picture

After a number of technical difficulties and general procrastination, I'm finally posting the picture of my honorable gaming focus group. This picture deserves its own post, since no one is likely to see it if I just update the post I created after our last meeting. They have provided more information in our two times together than I have been able to process and have been such fun to work with.

Some new games

As I was collecting some more articles to tie my article on the Secret Agents in the Library game, I came across a PowerPoint presentation that points to some library games that I didn't know about. They are:

Bioactive is the first game I have seen that is about the same level of complexity as my games. I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be doing, which is probably partly because one of the first assignments is to log into the electronic course reserves, which I can't do as someone who isn't affiliated with the U of FL. I like the use of hotspots to find clues, and the way they have the student explore all of the floors.

I really like the story and use of video and MySpace in the Blood in the Stacks game. It was a scheduled real-world game, so I can only get bits of it from just looking at the site. I might have to contact someone from Trinity to see how it went and if they could share their materials.

Help Me Solve a Mystery has been taken down, but has an interesting "rabbit hole" and an e-mail address. Who knows if that still works, but it's worth a try.

I have seen the UNCG game before, but that was before I was particularly interested in gaming. I'm a little turned off by the 1984 graphics, but it is a relatively sophisticated game. I like how it lets you chose your avatar (even if I don't like the choices), and the questions are database-driven. I also like the board game format and the timer, which creates a since of urgency. Actually, I hate being rushed, but it does add an important game-like element. I think they have good questions and I have fun playing the game... though I'm too lazy to actually look at the Web sites they ask me to look at. They have a link on their site for people who want to use their game. I might try to get it so I can understand how it works and incorporate that knowledge into my own games.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Presentation a Success

My presentation yesterday at HACC Harrisburg went very well. I was most worried about timing, and I did go about 5 minutes longer than I wanted to, only leaving 5 minutes for questions, but otherwise I think I performed at my best. I got a lot of positive feedback, including one school librarian who said "you inspired me!" I hope people will feel free to e-mail or call me. The local high school librarian approached me about some type of collaboration, and I'm looking forward to that. Overall, I had some great conversations with various librarians throughout the day (not just about games), loved the food, and was very impressed by the quality of the other presentations.

I learned two days ago that a high school English teacher who is a Lyco alum and currently working on her MLS wants to do a summer internship at our library. My director asked if she could get involved with any of my summer projects, and I'm quite excited to have a collaborator for my games, especially one with a few years of teaching experience. I plan to have her help me complete the plagiarism tutorial, with her focusing on the pedagogical aspects of the game. And perhaps we can also start the Raiders of the Lost Journal game.

Finally, I just came across a call for participation at the Play with a Purpose 2009: Games and Simulations in Libraries in Rochester, NY. I just requested further information from Scott Nicholson, who promptly responded that there had been so little interest and such budgetary constraints that the event has been cancelled. Oh well, it would have been difficult for me to go anyway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Presentation Slides

I'm finalizing my presentation and handout for the HACC Information Literacy Symposium this Thursday. So far, my presentation looks like this:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three Types

According to Moreno-Ger et al.'s article titled "Educational Game Design for Online Education," there are three ways to use games for educational purposes.

  1. Add multimedia to activities focusing on content (edutainment fits in here)
  2. Use off-the-shelf games like Sim City and Civilization
  3. Something between these two extremes where a game is specially designed to balance fun and learning

According to their further description, my games are closer to the first category, and have been labeled as "dead ends." I think this is arguable. I would have a very hard time justifying a game that is only 20% educational to a professor whose class I was teaching, and non-gamers wouldn't like this format if there was a very high learning curve. Furthermore, development of such a game would be light years out of my budget and technical skill.

I don't know any games that could easily be used for the second category in library instruction, but I don't think games in the first category are necessarily that bad when played in class. At least a librarian can start small and build on experience, and it's certainly more fun for the students than a worksheet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Proposal Accepted

I was notified yesterday that my proposal to present at the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) in October got accepted. I wasn't expecting notification until next month, and I knew the competition was tight. I'm really looking forward to using this as an opportunity to spread the word about gaming and instruction.

I have found a professor who is becoming more and more interested in games as a way to engage student learning. She's interested in developing a game for library instruction to get them finding historical materials in the library in different formats. Perhaps we can do this as a themed treasure hunt, where we break them up into four groups, have each group hunt down a document in various formats and direct them to a specific word or phrase in that document. Those words will be put together in a phrase. We can then have the four groups put their messages together to lead to some small prize like lollipops or popsicles.

The more I think about this game and its development, the more excited I am to collaborate with other people. I think the ideal situation would be to work with the professor closely in the game development, and in this case I would also want to collaborate with the librarian who usually works with this professor. Really getting the professor to buy into this model of instruction and offering their subject expertise is probably going to lead to the best game. I also always work best with other people to bounce ideas off of... I'm looking forward to the work cut out for me this summer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Article Review: Designing and Testing a Web-Based Board Game for Teaching Information Literacy Skills and Concepts

Article Title: Designing and Testing a Web-Based Board Game for Teaching Information Literacy Skills and Concepts
Authors: Markey et al.
Journal: Library Hi Tech, 26(4), 2008, 663-681

I've thought of this article often since I stumbled on it a few months ago, but apparently never posted my notes on it. This is an excellent article to read to learn about all the things NOT to do when building library video games. This game had a large budget with money for the game development and offering large cash rewards to the winning team.

The game was incredibly long and labor-intensive. Players could save their progress and return to it. It was built to be played anywhere, but required players to look things up in physical resources, so it really needed to be played in the library. However, when it was required that players use physical resources, the game input was multiple choice, which allowed players to guess, and even if they were wrong, they could still continue the game.

Interestingly, even when the rewards for the winning teams were several hundred dollars, it was only when extra credit was offered that a large portion of the players became involved. I think this is an important lesson. There is no game that we could develop that students would rush to the library site to play. Games must be either done in as a captive audience, or be kept very short with a specific goal. And even then, it's useful to promote it to faculty as something that should be required as homework.

I feel bad that so much money went into a project that seems poorly planned. It's still support for my argument that librarians should build small-scale games, see what works, and build on them through their experiences and student feedback.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: Digital Game-Based Learning

Title: Digital Game-Based Learning

Author: Marc Prensky

Publisher: NY: McGraw-Hill (2001)

I read this a while ago, but was so overwhelmed by the amount of notes I took that I haven't typed them up. I'm going to condense what I originally wrote. This is a very long book, over 400 pages, but jam-packed with useful information. No wonder it's one of the most cited books in the field. It is oriented towards games in the world of business training, but still focuses on games and learning.

Studies show that fun in the learning process not only makes it more enjoyable, but also more effective. While we're still learning how people learn, almost everyone agrees that engagement is an important part of the process. Datillo & Kleber (1993), Hastie (1994), Middleton, Littlefield, and Lehrer (1992) all show how fun increases motivation for learners. When a person is having a good time, they are biologically more alert and memory is stimulated.

Six key elements of games:
  1. Rules
  2. Goals/objectives
  3. Outcomes/feedback
  4. Conflict/competition/challenge/opposition
  5. Interaction
  6. Representation or story (it stimulates emotions)

Video games & other technologies have deeply and physiologically changed how younger generations learn. We no longer learn linearly; our brains are programmed for speed; we are image-focused; lack patience if payoffs don't come quickly enough; see real-life (work) similar to games (achievement, winning, beating competitors).

While our brains have changed, our education system hasn't. Current models focus on content and use the tell-test method. Younger generations see themselves as doers and creators rather than empty receptacles for content. Why have things not changed? Partly money, partly because we don't really understand what's needed, partly because of a it-sort-of-works-so-doesn't-need-fixed attitude.

Game formats with the widest appeal include detective games, adventure, puzzle and strategy games. The hardest thing to build into a game is reflection and critical thinking, which can be built into an instructor-led debriefing after the actual game. As is stated in other posts, educational games need to strive for fun first and content second.

Having outrageous and humorous examples and options in games are important when striving for fun.

Examples mentioned in book:

There is a lot more to get out of this book, but I wanted to boil it down to the best highlights for the sake of this post.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: Games that Teach

Title: Games that Teach: Experiential Activities for Reinforcing Training

Author: Steve Sugar

Publisher: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer (1998)

I was helping a student find some books on training last week and this book showed up in our catalog. Of course I couldn't resist, and I'm so happy I found it so serendipitously in our own collection! This will greatly help me move into purely real-world games. The majority of the book is a set of instructions for 26 activities that can usually be scored to move it beyond "activities" into the realm of "games."

In the introductory sections of the book, the foreword author talks about how much modern trainers are using games to reinforce training. Effective training games must be relevant, flexible, and have the optimum balance of chance and skill. Too much chance makes the game pointless, and too much skill "reduces the game to an anxiety-provoking test."

Because so much rests on the audience's reaction, every time you play a game, even with the exact same content, the game will be different.

Most of the games involve being asked trivia questions with either some non-educational event before or after to add to the fun of scoring.

Game 1: Best Shot
Set up a target and give each team a laser pen. Set up a shooting line. Have each team shoot towards the target, the one who is closest gets asked a question. If they are right, they get two points, if wrong, they lose two points. Another version is #13: Hoops, where two baskets are set up on near and far ends of a table. Correct answers are worth 1 point if player misses basket, 2 points in near basket, 3 for the far basket. Incorrect answers are always worth 0 points. A version of that is #7: Deadlines, where each team will estimate how many questions they will get right on a given topic. If they get at least that many, their final score will be the estimated number squared, if not, each correct answer is worth two points.

Game 2: Beyond Tic-Tac-Toe
Two teams take turns answering questions. Right answers let them chose a square. They can occupy the same square. At the end of the game, each team tallies up how many three-in-a-rows they have. Highest scoring team wins.

Game 3: Bumper Stickers
Give each team slips of paper and markers and have them come up with a slogan or bumper sticker based on what you just learned. Can vote on best if desired.

Game 4: By the Numbers
Give each team of 6 players a die and each player is assigned a number. For each question, have the team roll to see who will answer. The team with the most points at the end wins. This ensures the whole team is participating in answering questions. A similar game is #6: Conversations, where players or teams write their answers on the top half of a piece of paper, then put their names on the bottom half and turn that into the front. Leader draws these out and calls on that person or team to read their answer to the group.

Game 5: Classify
Read or provide statements that must be categorized. Put up at the front of the room. Reward team with the most correct answers. This game could be of use when we talk about popular and scholarly journals.

Game 8: Deep Six
Teams roll die, then answer question. Each correct answer earns the number of points shown on the die. When a six is rolled, team answers one last question and is done. Only a six loses points if they answer wrong. Set a time limit, like 3 minutes. Another version if this is #10: Gauntlet, where each team has a score sheet numbered 1-12, and rolls a pair of dice. They can choose to cross of the whole score or each number shown on the dice. If they get the answer right, they win that many points. Play continues until one team cannot complete their turn.

Game 9: Find Points
Have players find information in reading based on clues, some clues will be worth more points than others.

Game 10: Got a Minute?
Introduce four rules of brainstorming:
  1. Don't critique others' ideas
  2. Build on others' ideas
  3. Go for the greatest number of ideas
  4. Do get outrageous, it's easier to tone down than create anew

Leader reads prompt at front of room, team has 60 seconds to come up with as many ways to answer statement as possible. Results are compared, one point for duplicate items, five for unique items. Continue for the desired number of rounds.

Game 12: Headlines
Give teams a brief headline, then give them 10 minutes to write a story for that headline. They can use all available resources.

The second half of the games will appear here shortly, but I recommend getting the book for the additional instructions, game sheets and score sheets.

Games that Teach: Part 2

Game 14: Margin for Error
Have teams guess a numerical figure, such as an estimate of the population density for a projected test market. Give the team who is closest 10 points, the next team 5 points, the next team 2 points. Give them a minute to re-do their estimate and rescore.

Game 15: Message Board
Create a message board (sample on page 103) and cover it up with pieces of paper. Teams have two get an answer correct to remove a piece of paper. After removing one, they get a chance to guess what the message is. I guess this is a little similar to Wheel of Fortune.

Game 16: Nothing Ventured
Very similar to Deep Six, but without ending when a team rolls a six. If they get a question incorrect, they lose the number of points shown on die.

Game 17: One Potato
Played in pairs. One player is "odds" and one is "evens." Before each question, each player will show one or two fingers, totalling 2, 3 or 4 fingers between the two of them. Correct answers will earn the team points, but more points go to the partner who is "even" if the team produced 2 or 4 fingers, or to the "odd" person if there is a total of 3 fingers. A variation of this is #18: Penny Wise, where partners are "heads" or "tails" and play with a cup and three pennies instead of fingers.

Game 19: Pop Quiz
Paper cup is placed in the center of the table where everyone can reach it. A question is asked, the "buzzer" is whoever can get their hand on the paper cup first. If he/she gets the right answer, he/she earns one point.

Game 20: Question of Identity
This is a form of 20 questions. There is a mystery object and players get a general clue. They then have to ask "yes" and "no" questions of the leader, who records the questions. Each question is worth one point, each guess is worth one point. Correct answer gets 5 points deducted from score, object is to have as few points as possible.

Game 21: Shape Up!
Each player receives a piece of paper with part of a shape. They have to find the participants who have the other pieces that complete the shape and are the same color. When they complete the shape, they have to start the task written on the shape. They have two minutes to complete the task. Example shape appears on page 140.

Game 22: Six Pack
Six categories of questions are posted at the front of the room. Leader rolls die to determine which will be read. Teams have a minute to discuss answer and give group answer at the end of that time. Correct answers earn one point, incorrect lose one point.

Game 23: Stretch Mark
Leader reads a problem statement. Teams have 3 minutes to propose solutions to the problem. The first solution is worth one point, second is worth two, third worth three, and so on. So seventeen solutions would equal 153 points.

Game 24: Test Match
This seems to be the exact same as #7 Deadlines.

Game 25: Tic-Tac-Two
Almost identical to Tic-Tac-Toe, but the center space requires two questions answered correctly. Stop when one team gets three in a row.

Game 26: Top Dog
Players asked to make a list (like Red Light Challenges on Cash Cab, or Family Feud). Each right answer is worth one point, the most highest-rated answer is worth six points. For example, what are the top-ten-best-selling U.S. magazines? They have one minute to answer. Sample play on page 164.

Reminder: The book provides tips on how to adapt each of these to the audience and more details than I am providing on each game. It also contains sample plays, instructions for players, supply lists, game sheets, and score sheets. The "index" has suggestions for games based on audience size and object of play (icebreakers, creativity, etc.).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review: Got Game

Title: Got Game? How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever.

Authors: John C. Beck & Mitchell Wade

Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2004

The focus is on the difference between the baby boomers and the gamer generation, how each approaches the workplace, and some suggestions on bridging the generation gap.

One has only to look at the impressive sales numbers to see how important gaming is. In fact, more children have regular access to video games than have computers at home. "Game Boy and PlayStation aren't just a faintly embarrassing part of the economic landscape; they are a central, defining part of growing up for many of millions of people (6)." When video games started becoming really popular in the early 1980's, it really changed the attitudes of the children who grew up with them. The gaming generation is people 34 and younger (and since this is 5 years old, we'll say people under 40). Even people of this age group who didn't play games heavily during childhood have been affected to some degree. "Video games ultimately grew so pervasive among and exclusive to youth that they became the defining experience for an entire generation (59)."

Traits of video games:
  • you're the star/center of attention
  • you're the boss of what happens, you're no longer a passive consumer, you can manipulate the story
  • you're the expert
  • you can experience violence without really getting hurt
  • you are encouraged to rebel, be a hero, and bond with people who share your gaming experience
  • there's always an answer
  • everything is possible
  • things are "fair"
  • trial & error are almost always the best plan
  • things are (unrealistically) simple
  • young people rule
  • the only real limiting factor is your willingness to keep going

Studies spanning between the mid 1980s to the present have found gamers had improved cognitive skills in visualization and mental maps; improved visual memory in children as young as four; process information in new ways (leaping around rather than thinking linearly). Few technologies have been more taken for granted and more ignored by older generations.

The authors conducted a large survey of those in the gaming generation and those who were older and found drastic differences in their attitudes about risk, achievement, value of experience, and their own capabilities. "[Gamers] really seem to believe that the world is their video game (45)." Our world is "interrupt-driven," so being totally immersed in a game comes as a welcome break. Games ask one fundamental question: "What do you want to do today (65)?"

Traits of gamers that affect the workplace:

  • They are committed to professional excellence. This often comes off as being arrogant. Gamers are more likely to say they are "knowledgeable."
  • Gamers believe winning matters and see competition everywhere.
  • Gamers are more likely to care about the organization they work for.
  • True multi-tasking probably isn't possible. Studies continue to show that the brain can only do one thing at a time and must switch between multiple activities. But gamers are used to switching a lot and can switch between tasks more quickly.
  • They're used to living in the "N-Dimension" (as opposed to a two-dimensional world), they love being immersed in data and this is valuable in many industries.
  • Gamers expect high rewards for the value they create (though it's not necessarily monetary).
  • Gamers are more likely to prefer pay and bonuses based on performance rather than a set salary (this increases in both age groups according to how much they report to play games).
  • Gamers are motivated by skill, competition, rewards, and sensory excitement.
  • They value heroism more than power, money, or even love. Monetary rewards are important, but secondary to serving the greater good, personal challenge, and playing an important part in the organization.
  • Games prefer learning and working through trial and error. Games, such as business simulations, can teach basic principles much better than a college degree in some ways.
  • The authors feel gamers have the potential to make great managers and CEOs.
  • They're global and self-educating, learn from peers rather than authority figures, learn needed skills usually right before they need it, and prefer hands-on training.
  • Gamers have a "relentless drive to make things better (160)."

To harness gamers' potential, managers should tap their instinct for heroism by framing tasks as opportunities and providing opportunities for public praise or failure. Don't judge gamers to quickly on their attitudes (in comparison to how baby boomers were judged by elders for length of hair or choice of dress). Use the game generation's "selfish" drives to inspire them to great performance by appealing to their pride. Don't dismiss gamers' ability to concentrate. Help your employees work together across the generation gap.

Gamers have learned that failure doesn't hurt. They focus on what they did wrong, what they could have done better, and how to get to the next level. They're not reckless, but they are more comfortable with the right kind of risks than previous generations.

The authors of this book are not of the games generation. They post the traits of gamers in either a neutral or positive light, recognizing the negative view that many older generations have of "them." It is a little strange as I am fully a part of the games generation and recognize many of these traits in myself even if I was not a heavy gamer growing up. Their research findings and conclusions are convincing and the writing is easy to read. Overall, I believe this is the best book on gaming I have read since James Paul Gee.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hero's Journey

I need to come up with a better title for this blog (suggestions welcome) because Google Alerts can't find references to this blog with such a generic title. But I have been alerted of some great sources that don't reference me. Today, I was alerted to the CALC Keynote speaker for 2008's slides on Slideshare. The speaker was Alice Robison of MIT and the presentation title was Videogames at the Library?! Using Games as Learning Tools. I regret that it does not include audio for the presentation, so I'm making as much sense out of the slides as possible.

One interesting thing she points out, and that I just recently found in the book Got Game I'm currently working through, is the idea of gamers seeing themselves as a hero on a quest with obstacles, puzzles, and problems to overcome. This is something I am pondering for use in the classroom. I may put together either a presentation or a game that presents the researcher as a hero on a quest for next year using images from popular video games. This may be a good way to bring games into the physical world. I could provide the story to the entire class, then present each obstacle and let them work through that in groups.

Another thing that Dr. Robison points out is that gamers are willing to seek help through forums and walk-throughs, and are willing to share what they know and tutor others. This is something that is a frustration for nearly every reference librarian. If we could somehow use games to get students to ask questions from "experts" in addition to learning from each other, this could be a major breakthrough in reference.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Activity" vs. "Game"

As I read about games in the virtual and physical world, and ruminate on my upcoming presentation, I started to wonder what determines if something is an "activity" or a "game." Most good instructors come up with great activities for the classroom, and some of them are very engaging. But what pushes an activity that extra inch to become a "game"?

Just as I clearly formed that question in my brain, I came across Jesper Juul's definition of a game in Karen Collins' Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. His definition includes:
  1. Rules
  2. Variable & quantifiable outcomes
  3. Player exerts effort to influence outcome
  4. Player feels emotionally attached to the outcome

I think the first three parts could describe an activity or a game, but it is the last one that distinguishes between the two. Engaging students mentally is one thing, we should all try to do that. But sometimes I think we will want to engage them emotionally, to make them feel a strong desire to do well. And that makes a game.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Focus Group - Part 2

Last night I invited my gaming students to come back to the library to talk some more about games. This time I made them crepes rather than a whole meal, and that seemed to be a good incentive. I took a picture of the group, which I will upload here soon.

One of the students was a writing tutor, and spends a lot of time at the Academic Resource Center on the 3rd floor of the library, which currently houses our print periodicals collection. She says she sees many scared, bewildered students who wander into the tutors' space to ask how to find an article or journal. She proposed having an online game just for finding journal articles and using ILL. They got excited about this game having an Indiana Jones type of theme, and it could be called "Raiders of the Lost Journal" or some play on the movie.

They suggested having a game for each of the major intro classes, esp. intro to psychology, and intro to sociology.

One student lamented the fact that other librarians (nationwide) weren't getting into this. He's in a program where his professors bring him into the library for every class. A game would make it more pleasant for those students who already know all of the resources, while at the same time, bringing other students who don't know this up to speed.

We talked a little bit about (live) Zombie Tag, and they suggested I play the video game Left for Dead. In this game, you can choose to be human or a zombie. (I've since learned that they play Zombie Tag at Elizabethtown, a librarian at a workshop I'm currently at has said she'll put me in touch with the head zombie tag person).

I told them that the Freshman Dean is interested in this idea of Big Games to use for orientation. So we spent a lot of time talking about orientation, though they focused on the library orientation moreso than the entire campus. I will point out right here that freshman orientation in the library is not my project, but I didn't want to put any constraints on their creativity. Even if the other librarians are not interested in turning orientation into a giant, silly CSI spoof, I could use this for classes.

They remembered library orientation as being full of chaos and confusion. They were completely overwhelmed and didn't learn anything because of it. One student suggested splitting the activities over two days, or pushing it back a week or two away from all of the other orientation activities.

Then we got into the murder mystery theme. What if each group of freshmen come into the library and see a body outline in masking tape on the floor. We can say a librarian got killed (the librarian part was my suggestion, but I have got to think of the implications of that) and they have 15 minutes to solve the murder. Then we started bringing in CSI themes. During the instructions, a student could do a Horatio Cane spoof, saying in a deep voice, "A picture is worth a thousand words... unless it's one word... murder." This is something he had done and posted on YouTube, complete with The Who playing at the end.

They were all very eager to be a part of this as we were brainstorming. They want to come back to school a day early to volunteer.

We agreed the sillier, the better. In the end, we thought an encyclopedia could be the murderer. We could bring in a video element as a clue, have it play in the screening room. Perhaps it could be a security video. We talked about ways to make a Web site be a witness. Three or more people could be in a line-up, with signs or t-shirts labeling what type of site they are. Some would be databases, others places like Wikipedia. The students could then interrogate them and determine their credibility. The basement could be the morgue. There could be some kind of anatomical puzzle that when assembled, forms another clue.

They really want a campus-wide event to celebrate National Library Week. They know it can't be this year, since it's in a week, but we could organize something for next year. I brought up Banned Books Week. I asked them if they would be interested in a game where I hung pictograms around the campus, I'd probably have to provide some type of map, and each pictogram's solution would be the title of a banned or controversial book. All of the correct answers could be entered into a raffle for a small prize. We had a great time imagining a poster of a bunch of grapes with a face, on it's knees in agony (Grapes of Wrath). We could get English and education students involved.

They suggested I talk to Geoffry Knauth who is a computer science teacher, about some Flash problems I'm having. I really need to find a go-to person for Flash and ActionScript who would be willing to answer questions in exchange for home-made food. Geoffry may or may not know anything about ActionScript, but he might know people who do. The also suggested checking out some popular developers' forums and e-mail the creators of similar Flash games online.

They brought up the idea of getting the librarian at the reference desk involved in the real-world part of my video games. This is something I had already been planning for next year, so I was happy to hear them mention it. I asked the one student who had been in an actual class where I used my monster game for instruction if it made students feel any less likely to seek me out at the reference desk. He didn't think so, but that triggered a discussion of why students are afraid to approach librarians. The students felt personal relationships with librarians are really important, and will make students feel more comfortable asking questions. At orientation, perhaps we could share silly facts about each librarian, and have them match up which of us fits each fact.

They suggested for my plagiarism game (I forgot to have them give me a better title for it!) to change the mouse cursor to cross hairs since you're trying to kill the goblins. They think it's okay that it is essentially a trivia game because the packaging of it is so much fun. They're really excited about this one.

Some other games they recommended I check out are Syberia (probably not spelled like that), which is Myst-like, and Dracula's Last Sanctuary which was available at Wal-Mart. The Dracula game sounds less complex (Myst is over my head), and I like vampire stories, so I think I will check that one out next.

Overall, it was a very productive night. I think the information I got from this group will not only be helpful for my games, but for other aspects of the library as well.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Big Games for Orientation?

We had a Teaching Effectiveness meeting last night, where the Freshman Dean said she would welcome any new ideas for freshman orientation. After the meeting, I told her about Big Games. I still don't know the mechanics of how this would work, but she was very interested. I just sent her a few links about them, and we'll see what happens. Perhaps we could even do something small/short this coming year and see how it goes.

The new director of career services is also interested in the idea as a way to get freshman and sophomores thinking about careers early. Hopefully I will find someone who wants to witness Come Out & Play with me in June!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Discussion Questions:

I received an e-mail from Paul Waelchli of Research Quest while I was in Seattle a few weeks ago. I've been meaning to respond to his questions ever since I got back, but all of my time has been consumed with getting caught up at work and getting over my cold/sinus infection. I'm still not caught up at work, but I'm over my cold. I have carefully read Nicholas Schiller' response, and Christy Sich looks like she plans to respond soon.

1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?
I'm still pretty new to the field. I have been toying with games since last summer, but have only been reading about them since October. My impression is that not very many academic libraries are using games for instruction, but that many academic librarians are interested in it. I agree with Nicholas that academic librarians are willing to listen, particularly when assessment proves that something works. I have seen literature about some large projects that failed, but I believe they started out with some bad assumptions about students.

2) What are some of the factors to that current state?
Among those who are interested in implementing games in instruction, I think factors that keep them from trying are intimidation, risk of failure, lack of technical knowledge, and the idea that they have to start with a huge and expensive project. I am sure that at some libraries, administrative environments prevent radical changes from what has been done in the past, though that is not the case in my library.

I also second Nicholas that we need to focus on the learning aspect of games rather than the medium, even as the games should focus on fun rather than learning. Teachers at all levels are coming up with more and more creative ways to engage students. Games are another method, which can be incredibly effective teaching mediums when done correctly.

3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?
Progress needs to be made locally and as a profession. As a profession, we need advocacy of ways that instruction librarians can try out games in baby steps. This can be through turning classroom activities into games or it can be small-scale video games like the ones I am working on. I think it is important to encourage librarians to try something, see how it works, adjust it, and then make it bigger. This fits into Jenny Levine's "gamer ethos" and it is the only way to efficiently create effective games that fit the culture of the local institution.

4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those "next steps?"
Advocacy requires those who are doing games to publish and present their work to the profession. It also requires editors and committees to accept literature on instructional games in libraries. My experience at ACRL tells me that librarians are interested in instructional games, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of literature out there. This literature needs to focus on how games can help students most effectively learn what we think they need to know, and how to most effectively engage students into wanting to learn what we have to teach them. I think there is great work out there that isn't being published. I think there's an audience for it if authors and editors will get it out there.

5) What do the finical and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?
While financial constraints do mean that librarians have access to fewer financial and staff resources, hard financial times are also can be a good time to shake things up. You don't have to get a $15,000 grant to start gaming in libraries. Your games don't have to hold their own next to Grand Theft Auto in complexity or graphics. Games don't even have to be on the computer. It takes no technical skills to bring gaming elements into the active learning exercises most of us already do. I haven't yet been successful with bringing "big games" into the classroom yet, but I hope to come up with some plans for this over the summer. Librarians don't even need to bring games into the classroom, but just read about the gaming culture and what games can teach us about how people learn. Then use what they learn from this literature and apply it to their existing instruction programs. So I believe hard financial times can be an excuse to not trying something new, but not a legitimate one.

6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?
I don't know yet. I think we're just scratching the surface of the potential of games, and that I'm just scratching the surface of what has already been done. I hope this will develop into a network of people who share interest in games so that we can learn from each other. I do have an agenda with my games- I want more people to work with games and instruction so I can use some of their ideas!

Gamer Ethos

I just read another article from the September-October 2006 issue of Library Technology Reports called "What Librarians Can Learn from Gamers."

I have tangentially heard of the phrase "gamer ethos" and wanted to know more, this article helped me understand what is meant by this a little more. This article focuses not so much on the how-to's of bringing games into libraries, rather the atmosphere required to do anything new and creative in libraries. Librarians should embrace the gamer ethos. This involves an atmosphere where they can implement, evaluate, and improve new services through trial-and-error. Where there is no punishment for failure, knowing that failure can sometimes turn into success (probe, hypothesize, reprobe, think). Where librarians turn to others with expertise when needed (including patrons), and are flexible to adapt to changes. They absolutely cannot buy into the "status-quo" culture that prevails in so many libraries.

This is interesting because I just attended an ACLCP (regional association) meeting about fostering creativity in the library. This included instructions on shaking up the status-quo, brainstorming correctly, and focusing on what you're doing right rather than what you're doing wrong. Much of what we have to learn from gamers was covered in the presentations, though not in the context of video games.

George Needham gave a speech at Gaming in Libraries in 2005 that offered librarians suggestions on "adapting to the world of gamers." One suggestions intrigues me, and that is to "provide shortcuts (like a strategy guide) rather than just training." I definitely want to come back to this suggestion in relation to bibliographic instruction. If we could only familiarize ourselves with the walk-throughs and cheat sheets that gamers write for each other and model our class handouts after them... ideally getting students to create such things for each other (even more ideally, with the same kind of enthusiasm). I'm not sure how much different these walk-through-like handouts would be, but perhaps it could make all of the difference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Big Games Article

While trying to figure out why not all of Jenny Levine's gaming articles from Library Technology Reports show up in EBSCO, I stumbled on a great article called "Broadening Our Definition of Gaming: Big Games" from the April 2008 issue. Here are some of the juicy tidbits from this article:

Storytelling is a big theme in librarianship that I haven't yet had time to follow up on. I think the story is a key component to making a "game" and making "work" seem like fun. Really, so far my games are little more than a worksheet loosely set to a story. There was a poster on digital storytelling at ACRL and I hope to look more closely at her poster on the Virtual Conference and maybe get in touch with her to learn more about storytelling.

"Big Games" can also be called "pervasive games," "Alternate Reality Games" (ARGs), "Live Action Role Playing games" (LARPs), or "location-based games." They often use some sort of technology, esp. for communcation or verification, but don't usually rely on technology the way video games do.

Companies exist to create custom-made games for people. Such companies include area/code, 42 Entertainment, and GameLab. Their Web sites are worth a visit.

There is an annual Come Out & Play festival that takes place in different cities. The 2009 one in NYC is coming up June 12-14. As we are only 3.5 hours from NYC, I'm contemplating a visit to at least witness this phenomenon, if not get involved. Anyone want to join me?

Eli Neiburger at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) turned part of their annual staff in-service day into a Big Game. He called it Dewey Dare, and was inspired by Greg Trefrey's You Are Not Here (the map game I am so interested in) and Jane McGonigal's Reverse Scavenger Hunt (I'm not familiar with this). In Dewey Dare, players gathered in teams to take a picture of an Ann Arbor downtown business with its address clearly visible. They then had to find a book they could thematically connect whose call number matched the address. For example 332.04 Retirement on a Shoestring and 332 S. Ashley: Red Shoes Boutique. The entries were judged on the best connection. Teams could also take photographs of other teams out on the town to steal their entries.

ALA Annual 2007 had Cruel 2 B Kind which was part of the Come Out & Play festival of 2006 in NYC. It was a kind of zombie-tag game where teams hunted and were hunted using random acts of kindness (I can't imagine what a naive bi-stander experienced that day!).

Come Out & Play 2006 also had a game called Hot Books where books are attached to players, and players have to find those books and a keyword that will help them detach the book. Part of it involves players finding books they like and identities for the book.

The article was published before ALA Annual 2008's Big Game. It promises information on the details of the game so that people can adapt it to their own libraries, but I haven't been able to find this yet.

So here are lots of examples to examine. I am really interested in how these can be used in class, for fun (yet sneakily educational) programs that students will actually come to, working with career services to have some kind of catch-'em-early program for freshman and sophomores, and of course for freshman orientation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Home from ACRL

I've been overwhelmed this week after returning from ACRL with a nasty cold, but hope to post a series of thoughts as I reflect on my ACRL experience. I haven't yet sat down to write the follow-up e-mail I promised the people who came to see my poster, but may also do that tonight.

Last Friday morning contained two programs on gaming. Here are the notes I took from those sessions:

We’re Not Playing Around: Gaming Literate Librarians= Information Literate Students
  • Games also have outcomes, curriculum, pedagogy, …
  • Look at the Theory of Fun by Ralph Koster:
  • Generation M. never really has had to work alone, in MMPORGs, they expect to get and give help. How does this translate into learning research?
  • In gaming, there’s no central authority
  • In MMPORGs, they get answers within 32 seconds
  • Students trust their peers
  • They want student-created resources to find information
  • They learn through scaffolding
  • Worksheets they gave students will be added to the virtual conference materials

Percolating the Power of Play

  • Champlain College focuses on professional education and has an Emergent Media Center
  • Their library instruction program focuses on the Inquiry Method, and they see all students every semester
  • They got two students in the computer design program to develop information literacy games. The games aren’t quite ready for public viewing yet, but should be available soon.
  • Gaming is a very good petri dish for information literacy learning
  • They strive to make an learning environment students WANT to be in
  • “Hero’s Journey” game model can emphasize key thoughts and feelings during the research process
  • Their games were called “Dustin King in Locked & Literate” and “Searchlight”
  • How does this fit in with their instruction program? It provides an approachable place to test out what the students have learned in traditional bibliographic instruction.
  • One activity they do to get them to understand keywords and synonyms is to have them describe a normal can of soda. It forces them to think critically on something they already know very well
  • It focuses on information literacy rather than bibliographic instruction, and on students rather than the library

Friday, March 13, 2009

First night of ACRL

I have been having a great time in Seattle visiting my cousin and a friend from grad school who is now a teen librarian in a public library an hour north of Seattle. She showed me her library and we spent two days catching up. This is the first time I've really gotten any kind of feel of what it would be like to work as a public librarian.

Much of what she does is programming aimed at teens. She gets attendance numbers upwards of 130 for some of her programs from gaming nights to murder in the library programs. I realized that academic librarians who are interested in bringing gaming aspects into the instruction room and orientations could probably learn a lot from the teen librarian literature. Maybe some of you have already looked at this and found it didn't work, but it is something I really want to look into when I get home.

Teen librarians have the same disadvantages as academic librarians when it comes to engaging a generation we are not part of (some of you may be, but I've realized recently that even at 29, my college experiences were so different than our students). They have the added disadvantage of the teens having less of a connection to the library than our students do. They aren't even physically near it on a regular basis. They have to create and market programs that make the grumpiest age group WANT to come to the library. We've often got captive audiences, but they don't necessarily WANT to be engaged by us.

Granted, many of the programs that teen librarians put on have nothing to do with education or navigating the library. But some do. Even if they don't, we might still be able to find something we could turn into an educational experience. She said they had a treasure hunt activity where groups were given a picture of items in the library, like a part of a sign, and the groups had to run around and find it. Learning the parts of the library wasn't the main goal of this, but the students would learn.

I'm wondering also if I could get more ideas for "big games" from board games. I went to the game night at ACRL and played Don't Stop with a librarian from L.A., one from Syracuse, and a friend of the librarian from Syracuse. I took a picture, but will have to wait to post it. I had never played this game before, but there's something about it that is similar to the kid's game Red Light/Green Light. There might be something there that could be used for library instruction, but I don't know what yet. I also played Dance Revolution (I think) with Jenny Levine. I stank and I don't think there's anything I can use for instruction, but it was a lot more fun than I expected!

Monday, March 9, 2009


I am currently in Seattle having a great time doing non-work-related things, but still anxiously looking forward to ACRL. I guess that proves I'm in the right profession when I can look forward to work-related activities!

This is going to be a really quick post because I'm on an unfamiliar laptop with no mouse and I have other things I want to be spending my time doing, but I wanted to share two pieces of news.

The first is that I submitted a proposal to a regional information literacy conference that will take place in Harrisburg, PA in May. The proposal is on the same game that I am presenting at ACRL, but I will be talking more about digital game-based learning in general and the "hows" of starting these games locally without large budgets and fancy programming. It got accepted as an hour-long presentation! I feel this is quite an honor and I'm really looking forward to this.

Secondly, I have recently been in contact with Paul Waelchli (sorry Paul, I will link to your info when I get back to my home computer!) who is trying to get a group together of academic librarians who are working with instructional games. This would be some time of virtual discussion group. This is another thing I am really looking forward to. I really want more people to be working on these games so I have more ideas to work with. If this ever takes off, I will quickly be left in the dust as far as programming goes, but I think the best games will always be locally-made.

So I am off to try and figure out what bus to take to meet a friend and hopefully I will have some notes on games from ACRL presentations (there are two on Friday morning!).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lost notes

I found a folder of notes I took a few months ago on Big Games and promptly forgot about. We have a new director of career services who seems to be very interested in some of my gaming ideas. We are thinking of putting a "big game" program together this summer. It would be aimed at freshmen and sophomores and the goal would be to get them to learn a little big about career planning, and to meet key people. I don't know what any of this will really look like, but I'm excited to try it out!

So now that I have a more concrete context in which to think about Big Games, here are some of my lost notes.

Silliness is an important part of Big Games. You can see that displayed in the Pac Manhattan pictures. Players had to gather materials in a neighborhood while being chased by ghosts (a.k.a. people wearing colored garbage bags). Some other successful programs were live Pong and using aspects of children's games like players being frozen if they're hit by a ball. The whole city of Minneapolis got involved in B.U.G., which had a goal of getting average citizens to notice urban planning.

Along these lines, Juniata College has a campus-wide Monopoly game where teams of players dress up as pieces, the dice are huge and made out of foam, and everyone communicates over walkie-talkies. It was probably fun to play, though not terribly fun to watch if you didn't know the people involved.

I don't really understand alternative reality games (ARGs), but they keep popping up in my reading. One example is The Beast which was part of the promotional campaign for the movie A.I. Wikipedia has a very nice explanation of this particular ARG under the Plot heading.

Journey to the End of the Night was a version of zombie tag. The proof that you went to the places you were supposed to was taking a picture of yourself there.

Find normal activities and give them goals. Come up with simple ways to track progress (like the pictures I just mentioned).

Article Review: From Game Studies to Bibliographic Gaming

Branston, C. (2006). From game studies to bibliographic gaming: Libraries tap into the video game culture. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

A 2003 Gallup Poll found that 69% of teenagers play video games each week, 1/4 of which play over 11 hours per week. She stresses the need to focus on the entertainment factor and gaming experience rather than the educational aspects. Game-based learning goes against the "point of need theory" but she feels the two can compliment each other.

It is important to get the players involved at every stage of development. Strive to make the players lose track of time. If a game fails, it is most likely because the game is not fun. In games, "the learning is completely interactive and immersive."

Gamers often do "secondary research," looking up information on strategies, tips, hints, fan fiction, and Web sites devoted to the game. Bibliographic instruction can use gaming literature in a BI session to show how the skills they already have transfer to academic research.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sounds & Games

The student computers in the library classroom were not equipped with speakers for obvious reasons. I have made most of my games without sound effects, which does help when trying to limit the file size of the games. However, sound is a critical part of the gaming experience. I have been struggling to give visual clues to students when an answer is right or wrong, but it interferes with their activities, which is a big no-no in game development. They should not have to wait for the "Correct!" image to fade before they can click on the next item. A simple bling or gong sound would allow them to know immediately if they got something right or wrong without interrupting their progress.

We are in the process of ordering some relatively cheap speakers for those computers specifically for my games. I hope they will arrive soon, though it's too late to use them in classes this year. This morning, I started putting sound into my plagiarism game. I am getting most of my sound effects from The Freesound Project. I don't think I'm going to go so far as to put music into my games, at least not yet. However, I found a great juicy-sounding splat noise when an answer is correct since the player is supposedly killing goblins, and a nice water noise to play when the player clicks on the courtyard's fountain.

Everything I have read has stressed the importance of the gaming experience to make the learning part less noticeable to students, and sound is definitely important to the experience.