Asking Those Critical Questions?

Over the past week and a half, I lead four different Composition sections doing a research based paper on whether or not violent video games increase aggression in college students. I’ve talked about the findings of the articles before, but what struck me during the past week was the discussions the students had.

Students that disagreed with the findings of the articles didn’t just right off the conclusions as wrong or false. They began asking questions about the method and sample size. They started looking for variables that were not controlled for and could affect the results. They were engaged and motivated in the assignment. If we can start students asking the critical questions now and thinking critically from the beginning… then they are better equipped to do so on their own. And that is a pretty good gauge of success.

The other key to student success in this research unit, is making sure they move beyond the point I just mentioned - and use the data from the articles. The students should critically analyze the information and question it, but they still need to rely on the data that was reported... and not their own opinion. The classes have done a pretty good job of pulling out the key data (and understanding most of it), but now they are off to write their papers and that is the real test.

As a class, we decided on a class thesis and outlined how they could set up their paper. Their thesis is a variation on this statement: Playing violent video games increases short term aggressive thought and behavior in college students.

This thesis still generated some debate among the students today, but as I told one student who approached me after class,

"The evidence is there, time and again, now the question is what do we do with this increased aggression? How and if we act on it is the test of our character."

And that is a much larger debate.

Why are you looking at me like that?

I’m feeling guilty about not posting too often last week. I was really on a roll this month, but things should pick up later this week as I head off to the LOEX conference tomorrow.

I spent last week running between teaching classes in the morning and working on my LOEX presentation (I wanted to thank Diana again for the help with the layout). Even this weekend I spent most of my time finalizing my poster, updating my resume and playing with my kids. With LOEX coming this week and some summer projects on the horizon, I hope you will stick around.

All in Knots

Given some of the feedback that I've received from my last post, my stressful week bled into the crabby post. I'm tense and feeling all in knots. I am pushing to get my poster presentation for LOEX finalized before the weekend. Thankfully, I have our administrative assistant helping me with the layout... she is currently working on her Master's of Communication so she's able to apply some of here coursework. Once the poster is finished tomorrow, I'll post it here for additional feedback.

Not much more to say, I'm back to finishing the poster...

When you hear "games" what do you think of?

Should there be a distinction between "games" and "video games" or even "computer games" for librarians? I often use the term "games" here, but I almost always refer to video games. A recent article on "games" makes me think twice about how we are talking about and using "games" in our libraries.

Earlier today I read the post on The Information Literacy Land of Confusion about a new article about "games" for information literacy, and now it is popping up elsewhere. While the article itself provides nice instruction sessions, I feel called to speak up about the articles use of "games."

While I am very thankful that this type of research, instruction and application is going on, I feel that it sets our sights so low as educators. Felicia's article does provides a handful of useful example games and positive student feedback to go along with them. But I feel that it falls into the trap of basing the genre of library games around what traditional librarians are comfortable with... not what are students are. Yes, doing a crossword puzzle on the computer, counts as a "game" and it is more engaging than a traditional lecture. But is it truly as engaging for students as it could be?

I am thankful that there are librarians developing information literacy games for all ends of the gaming spectrum. But I want to make sure that the more interactive and engaging end of the spectrum, those of video games, gets seen and heard from as well. For my instructional time, I would rather offer my students traditional lessons that incorporate gaming (video gaming) strategies that engage and motivate them. Traditional games do work, but we cannot just throw a computerized word game at our students and blindly trust gaming strategies to work.

There is a lot that video games can offer and teach our students, we just need to be willing to reach out and try. Granted if you are reading this, you know that already... we just need to keep spreading the message.

The article and image are from Library Philosophy and Practice 2007 and is written by Felicia Smith of Notre Dame. Games for Teaching Information Literacy Skills

Gaming as Pedagogy - podcast

Gaming as Pedagogy

I am catching up on my Educause podcasts and I listened to this interesting podcast while running today. It is a 2006 podcast (although only posted on 4/9/07) by the creators of an economics course game from The University of North Carolina - Greensboro. The game sets players in a fictional world where they are forced to make ethical and economic decisions based on economic, political and social situations. The podcast is about 50 minutes, much of which is spent listening to clips from the game, but there are a handful a useful segments:

  • The first five minutes discuss the educational aspects of games and why they are worthwhile for higher education.
  • The next seven minutes describes the technology behind the game and how it was created. This was useful from a technical standpoint to know why they made the decisions they did for the game.
  • At the 36:00 minute mark, they offer reflections on the development process and recommendations for others.
The course / game is first being used this semester and they have about 100 students enrolled in the course. So keep an eye out for some follow up discussion once this semester is over.

The podcast and gaming project is a great example for those of us who need some extra evidence to help convince a director or administrator about the viability for gaming in education.

Image via UNC-Greensboro

Librarians - Gotta Catch'em All

Pokemon releases in the U.S. this week for the Nintendo DS. Since Pokemon is a license to print money (there are over 500,000 pre-orders) there are two different versions; Pearl & Diamond.

Now I've already about the educational and literary benefits of Pokemon... and I'm not alone in that thinking. But in the honor of a game where the goal is to collect hundreds of unique creatures, train them and battle them against others, I wanted to throw out a marketing application.

Collectible Librarian Cards...
Hear me out here before you write this off. I know the librarian trading cards in the library world has already come and gone. It was hot for a while, but I haven't heard much buzz recently. I never really found the idea all that appealing... it always just seemed tacked on to pop culture. But what if the trading cards are tied to library services and there are rewards for collecting them. Here's my pitch:

  • Each staff member has a unique card, with abilities and description of the services they provide (a card for the inter library loan staffers, circulation, reference, acquisitions, etc.)
  • Students would receive a card when they used the related service (borrowed a book, checked out an item, asked a reference question, requested a new title, etc.)
  • There would be weekly drawings for prizes, where students would write their names on any collected card for the drawing
  • In addition, after a set period of time (4 weeks), there would be prizes for any student who collected a full set
This could be an interesting way to introduce students to the library during the first few weeks of a new school year. It would ideally encourage students not only to seek out services again and again for more cards (and chances at the prizes), but could motivate people to use lesser known services in order get a full set.

How have other libraries used "library trading cards," what examples do you have?

Images via Amazon

You take the good, you take the bad...

The Good: Our library received a large gift from our campus student government to purchase materials for recreation and enjoyment.
The Bad: After making it through two rounds of the approval process, the creation of core video game collection was rejected by the student government.

The Good: Today I met with our VPAA. He offered his praise and thanks for the work we are doing within the library. It was also an opportunity to offer suggestions and future directions for the library and the campus, including an expanded campus information literacy program. Even though our team of 4 librarians taught 373 information literacy sessions this school year, we are not as integrated as I would like. The discussion even provided an opportunity to discuss my video game research.
The Bad: More questions, than answers.

The Good: My director wants to discuss the potential for collaboration with the computer graphics department to work on an information literacy game. She is interested in the idea and my research, which gives me hope that I can get the project off the ground.
The Bad: A gaming project would not qualify for one of the mini grants our technology department is giving out.

... You take them both and there you have the facts of life. (photo via sitcomonline)

Video games increase aggression... when you are angry

This week as I've updated my literature search on video game violence and aggression, I ran into an upcoming article on anger as the strongest predictor in the increases in aggression from playing violent video games.

Then today I downloaded this week's Game Theory podcast tackles the topic of video game violence. They interview Patrick Markey from Villanova who has an upcoming article in Journal of Research in Personality on video game violence and aggression... the same author and article I found in my literature search. The interview is runs for about the first 18 minutes of the podcast and is well worth checking out.

Markey gives an engaging interview and calls both the gaming press and video game critics to task. Violent games do increase short term aggression, but increase is statistically small and is see in other violent media as well. Markey brings up a number of good points for gamers, educators, and parents alike:

  • Violent video games do increase aggression
  • Average correlation of increased aggression is only .15
  • Research shows violent games effect people differently (gender, experience, trait hostility)
  • Anger significantly increased the effect of increased aggression
  • Violent games as a catharsis is not supported by scholarly research
Both Markey's article and his podcast interview are a good addition to the literature and a reasoned voice in the debate. And since I'm a librarian, here's the full citation for Markey's forthcoming article:

Giumetti, G.W., & Markey, P.M. (2007) Violent video games and anger as predictors of aggression. Journal of Research in Personality, doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2007.02.005

Image from Patrick Markey's homepage

Violence all around, where are video games to be found?

I’ve been surrounded by discussions about violent video games over the past two days. With the tragic events at Virginia Tech people are searching for answers. And rightful so. Unfortunately, lawyer Jack Thompson drew a connection to video games on Fox News only hours after the event happened. Chris Matthews challenged Thompson’s claim that video games caused the situation on Hardball. Even Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Phil have weighted in on this topic.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families effected by this tragedy. The events of Monday gave the classes that I’m working with a lot to talk about. This week we started the violent video game research unit with 4 more English classes. The topic itself normally challenges the students, who are ready to provide anecdotal evidence on why violent games are not “bad.” But with the heightened awareness of this week (4/20 being Columbine’s anniversary), the students have a genuine interest in the topic. While some students argue that “of course they do” others are ready with story after story to disprove their claims. And proof is the essential lesson in this unit.

Using the evidence and looking at the proof, frustrates students who are used to having their opinion be enough proof. But I welcome that. I love their frustration and eagerness to challenge the topic. The focus of their paper is objective and evidence based. By hitting an emotional issue like this, it challenges them to remove themselves from the paper. The students are confronted with the hurdle of pulling their opinion out and solely focusing in a scholarly research. We are back at the process tomorrow and I’ll give you an update.

Photo by RichardAM

Video Game Design - Baby steps out the door

What is the goal of the video game?
What is the look and feel of the game?

Why would someone play the game?

What can the game do better than if someone experiences it physically?

These are all key questions (and baby steps in the game design process) I was asked yesterday about the creation of an information literacy video game. As I’m starting to explore my options for creating a game, I had a conversation with a graduating computer graphics student who is entering the game industry. I’m not really sure I have answers to all of these questions, but his questions have me thinking.

My broad goal is that students would find, evaluate and apply information to be successful in the game (pretty much the basics in information literacy). Looking through the ACRL Info Lit Competency Standards there are a variety of standards and outcomes that fit… but that’s for a future post.

I’ve thought only briefly on the look and feel of the game, because I’ve been operating on the assumption that modding a game for my educational use would be the most efficient. But after my discussion, any look and feel can work for most engines - it is just a matter of how long the design process takes. When I think about the look of a game, I think in a 3rd person perspective. A 3rd person perspective lends itself to more interaction and communication – which would be vital to a game about information.

While the perspective and setting “feel” of the game is important, I’m more concerned with the learning curve. I think that a 3rd person view lends itself to a smaller learning curve compared to a 1st person perspective. The important “feel” of the video game is that any student, regardless of experience, should be able to jump in and play quickly and easily.

The “why” someone would play is straightforward: 1) because the game is interesting and engaging, or 2) because they are forced to play for class. Obliviously, I prefer the first of the two choices.

What makes the game better than doing it physically? I hope that a game would be more interesting, engaging and provide a different application for the learned skills that could not efficiently be used outside.

In addition to these 4 questions, we talked at length about the following issues:

  • Point of view for the player
  • The genre setting
  • Importing images into existing game engines
  • Creating dynamic dialog
  • Dialog that branches and is dependent on previous actions
  • Role of NPCs in the game
  • Mapping controls and actions

The computer graphics student also suggested a good way to start looking at the layout…

First – Overall goals, what is it I want to teach
Second – Based on these goals, what missions could accomplish them
Third – Within each mission there are one or more areas for the player to operate within
Fourth – The areas need to be populated with characters, items, and materials to interact with

I’m thankful for the engaging and challenging discussion with the graduating computer graphics student I had yesterday. I respect the student’s experience and knowledge in 3D graphic design and specifically game design. He’s given me more to think about. He’s actually in the process of trying to get an internship with Raven Software after graduating this spring. I’m thankful for his input and wish him luck in his job search.

Image via

Revolutions - Projections from Matthew Weise

Matthew Weise - Part III
Lessons learned from a commercial engine for educational games

Part of my long list of questions that I had for Matt was about educational gaming in general and any projections or suggestions he would have for others:

In additional to the game design and challenges, we spoke about the pitfalls to traditional educational games and how to avoid them. Matt knew that if the game was engaging, learning would come naturally through playing rather than in some cut-scene lecture. The game was not focused on learning, but on playing and learning through play. He described video games as the Trojan Horse for their ability to slip games and play into traditional lessons.

Weise cautioned not to make video games the “medicine in the apple sauce.” Simply importing traditional content into a game framework is one of the “stupidest things” to do for a educational purpose. Putting standard content into a game format does not make it fun or engaging for our students. For Weise, educational games are not about teaching bits of information, but they are about the process of exploration and reflection students undergo while playing. That is where the learning occurs.

Wiese offered some advice to other educators looking to use video games:

  1. Start with a broad focus – Allow the game engine to help determine the specific skills or outcomes it is best tread.
  2. Explore the engine - When analyzing an engine, ask “What can we teach with this?” Play with the game engine and see what can be done.
  3. Find the game - Once there is a broad pedagogy focus, and an understanding of what the game engine is capable of, then “find the game” based on the resources. At this stage, it is realistic to now set educational goals.
  4. Time – be prepared and realistic for the amount of time the project will take.

My conversation with Matt was very enlightening and really helped me think more about the potential for creating a information literacy based game and how we are using games in general in the classroom. What question do you have about some of the points Matt made?

In addition to these 3 posts, I'll post the transcript of Matt's answers later this week.

Revolutions - Limitations from Matthew Weise

Matthew Weise - Part II
Lessons learned from a commercial engine for educational games

The second part of my conversation with Matthew Weise, focuses on the limitations and challenges when using a commercial game engine. This is the main topic of Matt's session at GDC this past March. The slides of that presentation are now available for download... here.

While Matt felt good about the commercial engine choice, they still ran into a variety of limitations. The underlying rule set to the game created an initial problem. The game engine had a binary view of violence, it was either on or off. Players were not able to disengage from a battle and once a battle was started the players would battled until one died. While this makes sense in the context of traditional games, it presented a challenge to the design team. This was one of the problems the design team faced that took months to resolve.

Weise stressed that using an existing engine and modding saved the time of having to build one, they were initially limited in what they could do. It took about a month to work out how to remove the traditional scantly clad female clothing and replace it colonial clothing. Bioware, the creators of Neverwinter Nights, was responsive to the team and Matt was able to leverage MIT’s clout in getting assistance.

Photo of Revolution from The Education Arcade

Revolution - Reflections from Matthew Weise

Matthew Weise - Part I
Lessons learned from a commercial engine for educational games

It’s been about a month now since the interview, in fact I interviewed Matthew Weise on the night of Thusday, March 15th. While I've been slow to write up our conversation, it is still very relevant. I continue to return to my conversation with Revolution game designer, Matthew Weise, as I’m looking ahead to future applications of video gamed in library education.

Matthew considered himself a gamer and game designer first and approached the project with that mindset. He used his “gaming compass” to determine if the game was fun. The advantages of this approach are evident in the flexibility of the design and creation process used to create Revolution.

The initial proposal for Revolution came out of a class where the project was to create a game to help teach about the Revolutionary War. The proposal was void of any technical constraints or requirements. Matt considered using either a commercial game engine or using middle-ware. Given the time constraints, modding a commercial engine was a better choice. Matt looked a at variety of genres and role playing games, with there traditional conventions of exploration, dialog, and interaction, were a natural fit for a game about Colonial American and the War. Matt also considered Warcraft III and other engines before deciding on Neverwinter Nights. The entire process itself took about 3-4 semesters to move from the design to a playable build for schools. The team was made up of a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students.

The main goal of the project was to create a believable simulation of colonial Williamsburg. Learning did not come with content packaged and delivered in the game, it came through playing. Matt commented that video games help teach history, not as a narrative, but as a process. Learning comes through playing and experiencing the game. One of the key gameplay elements of Revolution is the social and communication aspect. This gameplay focus is a direct result of the strengths of the Neverwinter Nights engine. There is a social “echo” effect that is built into the game, where there are consequences for actions. How the characters react to decisions the player makes and how that information spreads throughout the town. Matt was able to center the gameplay around the oral culture of the colonial time.

Photos from the Revolution page on The Education Arcade

Spreading the "Good News" - one pastor at a time

Church pastor's have the ability to influence the members of their congregation, religion has a tendency to do that with people. But now I'm excited about a growing number of future pastors influencing their members in a positive way about video games.

At church this morning, I talked to one of the students from the class I spoke with about video games. They had recently held a gaming night at their Seminary library for all seminary students to attend. Here are some of the comments from the gaming night, forwarded to me from the faculty member teaching the class:

It was very cool having a lot of people around playing. It was a good community experience.

I came towards the end of the evening, but I was glad I did. I had a blast with Wii. The last video game I ever played was Nintendo 64, usually Mario Golf, so this was a serious step up for me. It seemed everybody present enjoyed this opportunity to play the games.

We had a larger turnout than I think we expected, which was very good. I think most people had fun, too.

I thought it was lots of fun! I laughed until I stopped.

I had a blast! Didn't get a chance to play with the Wii because it was so popular, but enjoyed gaming with the people who came.

I'm very thankful for the work that Susan is doing (and grateful to be a part of it) in helping pastors break through gaming stereotypes and see the positive (both educational and social) applications of video games. This week they are looking at Second Life as a place for outreach and community.

Every new pastor with knowledge and understanding about video games, creates the opportunity to open more people to the idea and benefits of video games.

Ch - Ch - Ch - Changes

We seek feedback because we want to change and improve what we do, not because we are looking to pat ourselves on the back. The challenge with any type of feedback or assessment is to be willing to act on the results and change. While we are still getting good comments about the use of game strategies in our review, there are more people commenting that they feel it is too late in the semester for the review. We need to take this feedback and use it to change... even in the face of traditional librarian judgment.

I thought the activity was useful, however, it seemed to be a big review. I felt like I had been through the process that each group discussed many times before in my other papers. But reviews are always helpful–it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and I feel really confident in my research skills. :)
And another positive comment:
I thought the reviews were helpful and a good way to start with the paper. it aided me in narrowing a topic for my paper.
But here are the growing number of comments that suggest that while the activity is worthwhile, it would be more useful earlier in the semester.
It was a fun activity but we did already know how to find research since we had already done two papers.
I thought it was good information, but for the beginning of Res104, not the end. We should know by now how to research.I think the information was presented well by Paul, but I do think it would of been something that was more useful at the beginning of the class.
Last semester we started to get a few comments like this, but not nearly the same amount. Whether this is because we are doing a better job of preparing the students or they are retaining more information I'm not sure - I hope it's a little of both.

We didn't change this semester because we were stuck in a traditional librarian mindset. "How can we review if we didn't teach them everything?" The reality is, they are learning it and exploring enough on their own that they feel comfortable with their skills. Of course, being "comfortable" and being "proficient" are two different things. But changing the review to earlier in the semester would help allow the students to discover that for themselves. Our Info Lit team will break out of the traditional mold and realize that the librarians are not our digital native students.

Lessons learned in self-discovery stick around a lot longer.
Check out the full list of comments on the course blog

Photo from: Bowie, David. [Photograph]. Retrieved April 14, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

Jenkins: Violence, Video Games & Ethical Choices

This post continues the discussion of Henry Jenkins book "Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers"

Jenkins makes another good point in the same chapter on gaming that is often overlooked. It is the discussion of the meaning and impact of violence in video games when he refers to the meaning that many players take away from violent shooters:

“There are really two games taking place simultaneously – one the explicit conflict and combat on the screen, the other, the implicit cooperation and comradeship between the players.” (p.114)
While non-gamers may only see the violence on the screen, the players are not focused on it. They are focused on the strategy and the teamwork required to be successful. It is not a disregard for the rules and norms of society that is learned, but the rules of success and strategy of the game.

“Games do represent powerful tools for learning – if we understand learning in a more active, meaning-driven sense. The problem comes when we make too easy an assumption about what is being learned just by looking at the surface features of the games” (p215).

Jenkins rightfully contends that some opponents of violent games spend their time combating the surface violence of a game, when a more meaningful dialogue and education could had by discussing what the games have to say about violence (what are the costs or consequences to violent actions?). The Rockstar game “Bully” is a perfect example of this judgmental attitude. The game has results and consequences for violent action. Jenkin’s describes games as an “ethical testing ground” where a variety of moral and ethical character decisions could to tried and reflected upon. For all the negative press that Rockstar’s GTA and Bully games have received, the games to force a player to make moral and ethical choice and then react and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Rather than rallying against games like these, we as educators should be engaging them and the students that play them. Use the game experience as a gateway to a larger discussion about the role of violence in society and our lives and the consequences to choosing violence as an option.

This coming fall semester, I want to explore this idea of games being a moral playground with professors in the sociology department. Video games create a learning environment where the player can experiment with social situations like violence and see and reflect upon the results of violence and how the player fits that into their own ethical and moral decision making process.

Photos from the PS2 game "BULLY" from &

Fans, Bloggers, & Gamers by Jenkins

I picked away at Henry Jenkins book Fans, Bloggers and Gamers this week. There is one specific chapter about video games which brings up a variety of issues and discussion pieces.

Jenkins starts off discussing some of the legal controversy and challenges that violent video games faced in recent years. While it’s a little dated and doesn’t include of the state challenges and regulations, his point still applies. Jenkins points out the opponents of violent video games try to have it both ways. It is argued that; 1) video games contain no expressions and do not convey ideas and 2) the content and ideas within games are harmful. If games contain no ideas, then why are harmful? With an argument like that, it should come as no surprise that the courts continue to uphold games as part of protected free speech.

Games are unique in that they allow the player to create and construct their own events and meanings. Jenkins discusses how meanings emerge through the interpretation of the game and because of this each player can experience a different meaning based upon their own game experience. This personalization of a meaningful experience only makes it more powerful and more valuable for the player. For us as educators, this knowledge calls us to try to create these experiences within our classroom. Our students all enter with a variety of motivations and experiences, but video games and gaming strategies help us create a learning environment where those individual motivations are used and strengthened.

Jenkins briefly mentions the work of Gee and Kurt Squire. Jenkin’s discussion of Squire’s work is interesting not for the skills he is teaching, but more for the character that the games help develop. Squire’s game-based learning builds upon the existing beliefs and realities of those playing. In addition to the gameplay experience, the discussion, reflection and interpretation of that experience is just as useful as a learning tool.

“These kids are taught to explore their environment, make connections between distinct developments, form interpretations based on making choices and playing out their consequences, and map those lessons onto their understanding of the real world.” (p.214)
If you weren’t reading that quote on a site devoted to video games and information literacy, what would you assume the quote referred to?

Jenkins also talks about how games’ “open-ended structure puts the burden on the user to make choices and explore their consequences” (p.218). This is exactly the same video game strategy that our information literacy team is successfully applying to our information literacy program.. these are the sessions that I’ve been discussing this week

Feedback Loop

I just got out of a class session and we are having our students who went through the open ended gaming strategy review session leave comments about the activity on the course blog. It's only feedback from 2 classes, so I'll post more as they come.

Here are a few comments... follow the link for the full list of comments
Give us Feedback!

Here are 3 comments:

I found the activity to be helpful in showing the various ways to access
articles but more importantly it got everyone involved which is FAR AND AWAY
more interesting than being lectured to.

I think the activity we did was helpful in reminding us that there are different sources we can look at to help our paper.

I found the last meeting that we had to be somewhat helpful but at the same time I thought it was a little pointless in the fact that at this point in RES 104 we should know how to find information for a paper. I think that the time could of been spent looking at something else. Paul did a good job of presenting though he usually makes things interesting.

Snow Day... sliding through information literacy

A surprising snow storm brought with it a shorten day of class, but we still had two video game strategy review sessions. The review activity went well in both classes and the majority of groups were able to demonstrate some proficiency in their research skills.

Hurdles of the day

  • Library website navigation: "I don't know how to find a book." One student, who's made it through two rounds of info lit sessions, made this statement today. I've worked with this student during the semester, and he's sat next to me at the reference desk as we both searched for articles and books. The activity threw him into the search and forced him to try. Truth is, he knew how to search the catalog - he just didn't trust himself. The activity forced him to make that choice and live with the consequences.
  • Collection & location challenges - how to find where materials are by making distinctions between Educational Curriculum materials (intended for middle schoolers) and the general collection
Successes of the day
  • Critical thinking and evaluation of information, websites and reference material
  • multiple uses of resources - overview or focused, what type of information is provided by each resource (article/reference book)
  • peer assistance and peer led learning - some groups got stuck or didn't find what they hoped for and shared this during their presentation... rather than me as the instructor filling in the gaps, the students jump to do so.

A good day for our video game strategies and a good day to spent a little extra time playing with my sons.
edit: format corrections; 10:13 PM

Google Reader Backlog...links worth reading

With the long Easter weekend, I left my RSS feeder untouched. A dangerous thing to do. As I'm digging out of my RSS mess, here are a few recent stories that are worth checking out.

Peacemaker - The Game
I was just talking to a middle school student tonight about a social studies project about the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Here's a new game that allows players to experience either side and make some difficult decisions about a path to peace. As someone with a Political Science degree, I love the idea about allowing students to actually make these decisions and discover the results of them rather than just discusses them in class.

Serious Games for a Mental Workout
An overview of a few serious / educational games that are designed to increase a players attention, memory retention, and recall. Again it's another great use of expanding video games for educational purposes.

Serious Games for the Global Market Place
This is a very solid article on the current state of serious video games. The outlook may appear rosy with the increase of serious games into GDC this year, but Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, of Serious Games Interactive, suggests that the industry could take another downturn. He points to areas of concerns and opportunities for any of us looking at using games for educational purposes should be aware of.

Notes from a New World
Leading MIT scholar Henry Jenkins has the first of a multi-part discussion about the participatory culture and learning environments. I've been reading through Jenkins book, Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, and I'm interested in his work with games and learning. Jenkins is also a keynote speaker at this summer's ALA's Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium (registration is now open, if you haven't seen already).

Andrew over at library+instruction+technology sent me this link. I read Clark Aldrich's book Simulations and the Future of Learning: An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning last year. It's well worth looking at and he has two more recent books as well. His blog is a nice addition to his research and a working document for his ideas.

Strangers in a Strange Land
Susan Arendt from Wired's Game|Life wrote a fun piece for this week's issue of the Escapist about being an adult gamer, let alone a female gamer, and the stereotypes that people encounter. The Escapist and it's commentary on video games and game culture is a pretty solid read each with a few articles always worth taking time for. Enjoy

Photo via Manual of Civility

The long and winding road... a student's research process

It's getting to the end of our semester which means our research and writing classes are starting their final paper. Last semester I modified a previous review activity to incorporate video game strategies into information literacy. We are using the same activity this semester, with a few additions to avoid some past confusion. The activity uses the following video game strategies:

  • Encouraging inquiry
  • Open ended exploration
  • Context bridging from instruction to application
  • Scaffolding
  • Personalization
Over the next few days, 11 sections will go through the review activity and if the first two sessions today are any indication, they will provide a lot of insight into student's research process. Our first two classes had the disappointments of a group getting confused on newspaper articles articles compared to journal article and finding a source that broadened rather than narrowed their topic. But created good teachable moments for the class, and because of the structure of the activity the students helped to correct the errors as much as I did. The open ended freedom of the group activity created more student ownership over the end product.

I was pleased to see students consistently evaluating websites on some criteria. Considering we had not covered up until today, the students are more aware than even just 3 semesters ago when we started teaching web evaluation.

The wide open, "there is no right answer" approach is as much of an experiment as it is a review. Watching students use "+" commands in Google when we haven't covered that yet with the IL program, seeing students struggle to find a quality website because of their own rigid self imposed criteria, and finding students jumping to Google to find articles rather than library databases are all a great window into their search process. I'm eager to see if these patterns continue and if so how we can use that within our own instruction.

If you more information about the review activity and the results from last semester, please check out these posts:
I get knocked down
Gaming Strategies in Action
The Winding Road
The Hits Just Keep on Coming

Knowing when to let go...

Wow, that could be the post for a dozen different self-help books. But today it was an important phrase to remember in instruction lesson planning. I spent some time this past weekend working on a public speaking instruction session about researching Supreme Court cases and the values contained within each case. The students select one case, research the case itself and the larger value that underlines the case, and creates a speech to explain both sides of the issue and advocate for the side they value. The students are able to find quality sources about the Supreme Court cases through EBSCO and Lexis Nexis databases. Given that they're looking at cases that made their way to the highest court, there is plenty of information about the case. The challenge the students are having is defining the larger cultural value in the case.

Knowing this weakness, I hoped to create some activity/lesson that was more engaging, provided opportunity for practice and feedback, and still allowed for the large degree of personalization that already existed in the assignment. I started trying to take the existing content in a power point and convert it into something based more around video game strategies, like my "Library Dusk" lesson. The more I worked with it, the more artificial the choices and paths began to feel. Helping students determine cultural values leads itself to more of a discussion rather than multiple choice. The discussion realization lead to incorporating small groups in order to discuss the potential values of their cases.

This is the direction I ended up going. After bouncing some of these ideas off my colleague this morning, we decided on creating small groups to discuss the values of the cases they found and then having the groups report out to the rest of the class on the values as well. The discussion, analysis, and sharing of case values should prove more useful for the student than my initial tutorial "ish" game strategy.

Knowing when to let go... for the benefit of the student. I teach because I want to help students learn. I use video game strategies because I know they help students learn and understand. I write because I want others to know how successful game strategies can be. But in the end, video games and game strategies are just another method to engage, motivate, and reach our students. Games are a tool in our instruction toolkit, but just one of many successful tools. Knowing when to use what... well I guess that's what they pay us for.

Video Game Core Title List

Happy Easter. My sons spent time today searching out Easter eggs in our backyard and I had some Easter fun of my own. I spent time over this weekend compiling a list of video game titles that would establish a video game collection. I used the video game collection at University of IL Champagne – Urbana as an initial analysis. In addition to the University of IL, I used the top 25 PS2 games from and and Metacritic and Gamerankings in order to create the core list. I also considered the following factors in creating the core title list: Relevance to curriculum; Historic and social significance; Social interaction / community building.

I would love any comments or feedback on the list. If there are other resources I should consider please let me know. Thanks for the help.


  • Activision Collection
  • Amplitude
  • Atari collection
  • Beyond Good & Evil
  • Bully
  • Burnout 3
  • Civil War
  • Dance dance revolution supernova
  • Dragon Quest VIII: journey of the cursed King
  • EA Sports Madden NFL 07
  • Final Fantasy X
  • Final fantasy XII
  • God of war
  • Grand theft auto III
  • GT3
  • GT4
  • Ico
  • Jak & Daxter
  • Karaoke Revolution
  • Katamari Damacy
  • Kingdom hearts
  • Kingdom hearts II
  • Lumines Plus
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
  • MLB 07. TheGAME
  • Okami
  • Prince of Persia
  • Psychonauts
  • Rez
  • Shadow of Colossus
  • Sly Cooper 2
  • SSX3
  • Tony Hawk 4
  • We (Heart) Katmari
  • Medal of Honor
  • Motorstorm
  • Oblivion


  • Cooking Mama
    Excite Truck
    Madden 07
    Rayman: Raving Rabbits
    Super Paper Mario
    The Legend of Zelda: TP
    Tiger Woods 07
    Trauma Center
    WarioWare: Smooth Moves


  • Amped 3
    Baseball 2k7
    Battle racing ignited - Burnout revenge
    Blazing angels: squadrons of WWII.
    Blue Dragon
    Civil War: a nation divided
    College Hoops 2k7
    Elder scrolls IV : Oblivion
    Forza Motorsport
    Gears of war
    LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth
    Madden NFL 07
    Mass Effect
    NCAA 07
    Oblivion: Shivering Isles
    Project Gotham racing 3
    Rainbow Six : Vegas
    Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
    Via Piñata
    Winning Eleven

Xbox 365

Can we do it? Yes we can!

While I started the week with some positive thoughts on the direction of library/info lit games (link), but with the stories coming out of ACRL about the troubles Cincinnati and GW are having; I am not surprised if your spirits are dampened about successfully using.

Librarians can use and create games that create educational experiences... at least with help.

There's not an easy answer. Some who I respect from the University of Iowa asked during my presention, "Is there something out there were we can jump in and create a game." I wish there was. As Cincinnati and GW are showing, gaming projects take time. Matthew Weise, designer of the educational game Revolution, said it took a group of 6-10 students at MIT over 3 semesters to build a game. Time is a major factor, but it shouldn't deter us. Yes, it's too bad the tech isn't there yet for an easy drop and play game. But the technology is there to Mod games and the resources are there as well... we work on campuses full of students who are doing modding and dabbling in game design on a regular basis. We can and should reach out to these communities to help create educational games. It's a win-win for both educators and students.

But I can't overlook the small successes. Incorporating video game strategies into our traditional instruction is beneficial and improves our teaching. While I'm starting to discuss and play around with developing and modding, I'm currently working on converting the content from a traditional power point slideshow into an open ended, branching path review.

Video game strategies work to engage our students in educational experiences both in the long term and the short term. As an educator, we can start big or small. But the reactions from those who are discouraged after starting big, suggest that small successes will be more successful in building the political capital required for the bigger gaming projects in our libraries.

Can we do it? Yes we can! And we should.

Let the brainstorming begin... Info Lit. Video Games

On Wednesday, I had a good conversation with Chad, from Library Voice, about the type of game that could be created to teach plagiarism. Given the struggles others are having, we talked about modding existing games. I think there is some real potential here with modding, but it is still not a quick project. Here is an summary of my ideas from our conversation, mainly on some very initial thoughts on information literacy video game possibilities. I'd love your feedback...


I've really been brainstorming about this for the past week.. as a few of my posts from Monday hinted at. I think it can be, but it depends on what you want to accomplish.

Information literacy is about being a life long leaner, being aware of what you are given, evaluating, using critical thinking, and being able to apply it... right? So... why does that have to be set in a library setting?

I'm been thinking about modding not for a library setting, but still using those skills. Game based consequences if you use wrong info or don't collect all the info. A plagiarism game where the player is tasked with some sort of retrieval or escort mission. There is a need / goal to discover the correct information to complete the quest, solve the mystery, whatever.

The player is tasked with exploring a few limited areas to find and bring back the info or person, but along the there are non-playable characters (NPCs) giving false direction and/or false information about what is to be retrieved. Some NPCs will give accurate info, but the player is responsible to evaluate the information based on their previous info and game context. I player could take that inaccurate / false info back and report it for an attempt at a complete mission, but it would result in failure or continue exploring...

Talking to other NPC would result in small inconsistencies in the information, suggesting it is wrong. The true answer could be found through the primary source... Maybe a craving on a wall, or the back of a photo (depending on the setting). Maybe it's the answer or sequence to a puzzle.

The more I've been thinking about it, I'm leaning to smaller more contained experiences. Maybe 15-30 minutes. Something inside a class or stand alone experience. This doesn't try to tackle too much and allows the creation of the game to focus on a limited scope. Smaller more focused experiences also would be applied to a variety of class situations and libraries. Part of the application comes in the reflection and the discussion afterward. Either in-class or through a brief set of reflection question online. If we can make the connection about the consequences
of not using your own work, not evaluating and trusting sources, and not giving credit where something came from (an NPC question about where the info came from)... then the lesson/game is getting at the underlying principles of academic honesty.

I know I've got a lot more reading on game design to do (and people to work with), but everything has a beginning.

What do you think? Please give me your thoughts, the more honest (ie. harsh) the better.

Let's get this party started... video game study breaks

Singstar and DDR for finals week stress relief? Is there a better way to burn off stress finals stress than dancing to arrows or checking your pitch against pop music hits.. ie. making a fool of yourself and loving it? I'm hoping not.

Our library is planning a couple of snack breaks during the days leading up to finals week. We planned on snacks, but the video games are a new addition. We started to plan a video game night this semester, but ran into a few roadblocks, but we've still had it in the back of our heads.

Lisa Hinchliffe's presentation at ACRL was just the push my director needed. Here is a description of a similar presentation that Lisa and the rest of her staff gave recently. Thanks for the push!

Next up - Building a core video game collection...

photos via Flickr

Thank you Ohio!

Ohio, land of libraries, comes through with some good info on the "Muckrakers" ACRL session that I was wondering about. On Wednesday, Chad from Library Voice said it sounded like the GW librarians were questioning all the effort of the project. That thought was support by a detailed write up of the session by Kate over at Adventures in Library Land Adventures

Muckrakers at ACRL

The goal of this project - the creation of an online game to teach research skills - was to "develop virtual instruction that encourages collaborative learning, peer evaluation, exploration, and critical thinking." They wanted to incorporate 3 teaching methods: Collaborative learning, peer teaching, and exploration and discovery.
Kate's added some good commentary on both the interesting applications and the disappointing struggles the GW team had. Since they still do not have a playable product, I wonder where this leaves library games for the rest of us. Will there be a lack of interest (or worse admin support) due to this pending failure? Or will it force us to make realistic expectations on resources and time? I still believe there are applications out there that can be successful.

Grabbing us and not letting go

After my initial thoughts a few nights ago, I have thought more about what keeps players playing and what they are learning in the process. So I’ve gone back over my notes and the discussions from last October when the McArthur Foundation held a 3 week discussion on video games and learning (it was actually one of my first blog posts over at Bibliographic Gaming. Here are some worthwhile quotes and thoughts from the week on game literacies:

Victoria Carrington: “Computer games are the site of some of these textual practices – practices that I think many of us would agree are becoming highly valued in relation to being able to effectively participate in our communities” (October 23, 2006).

James Paul Gee: “So…the question arises about what sorts of other bumps games make on people’s bodies and minds and what sorts of other effects players have on games and how these two are transcacted (October 23, 2006).” Games can often be more lasting and meaningful experiences, because they are just that – experiences.

Jay Lemke: “… we never use just one of these resource systems all by itselft. In real life we are always using several simultaneously, even if we are not paying attention to all of them (Oct. 23).” Sound like information literacy.

Lemke: “…game interactivity involves not just our responding to the game, but the game responding to us, in ways that were both meaningful and surprising, so that gameplay could be seen as a kind of dialogue or conversation” (Oct. 23). The experience of playing goes beyond simple button pushing.

Gee: “One thing that interests me in video games is that `reading` (taking meaning from the game/text is a form of `writing` (producing meanings). (Oct. 24).” Very similar to some arguments Gee makes in his books.

Brian Thompson: “…most highly motivated, highly skilled players are trained to reflect upon… whatever game they are playing” (Oct. 24). Games provide continued opportunity for critical analysis and reflection.

Lemke: “Authoritarian approaches to learning are counter-productive because they inhibit the playful attitude of experimentation… this kind of play is essential to learning” (Oct. 25). The idea of play is something that can be created in a variety of lessons, not just games.

Linda Polin: “The types of attitudes that make an effective game player require risk taking, an active role in creating the meaning, non-linear navigation and attendance to multiple cueing systems and of course, problem solving and lateral thinking” (Oct. 25). Really, who doesn’t want students that are able to do this?

More gaming reflections from ACRL

I need your help. If you have read or written any reflections/blog posts/summaries on last Sunday's presentation on the "Muckraker" game by the librarians at George Washington University - I would love your comments. I've spent time over the past two days digging around on the internet and continue to come up short. They haven't posted anything on the ACRL/TLT Learning Times virtual conference site either... does anyone?

As I've dug around, I found this nice post on Gaming Presentations at ACRL from Wake Forest University. It gives a good summary and analysis on the University of Cincinnati's game presentation, the lessons and struggles they went and are going through.

Also if you haven't checked out Scott Rice's work on his information literacy quiz game, he has posted his materials from the ACRL poster presentation here.

In addition to the quiz game, Scott's Library Games blog is also now listing other libraries that are developing information literacy quiz games:

Forsyth Technical Community College
Ivy Tech Community College
University of Portsmouth
University of Wales
University of Waterloo
University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse
Washburn University
I'm going to contact the librarians at each of these colleges and try to get more information on what they are developing, so stay tuned...

Gaming at the heart of learning

We fill in information gaps. We help students find, evaluate, organize and hopefully use information. We usually do this with an academic (if not always a library) setting. But our hope is that the students can take those information literacy skills and apply them in a real world setting.

If that is the case, do we need to create games that are locked within that library/academic setting? The Fletcher Library’s Game Project does a nice job of setting up a fictional real life situation of a medical outbreak on campus. The students are applying are variety of information literacy skills to resolve questions around the disease. It’s a great project and I’m looking forward to hearing more next month at LOEX.

But couldn’t we go further (and wouldn’t it be a little easier too)? Does a game have to be set in a library? College campus? Why can’t we create fictional narrative spaces set in real life situations or even fantasy realms? Why can’t we create fictional narrative spaces that engage our students through gameplay? Some commercial game engines are well suited to creating these game environments.

I’m starting to look at a couple of commercial game engines that could be modded. I want to find something that allows for information seeking and evaluating as part of the gameplay. Instead of spelling out the academic educational content, I want to use the game experiences to draw comparisons and have discussions on how the skills required to be successful in the game, also make you successful in research and work. We are in a nice position with our core educational content since information literacy is a life long skill. There are a variety of potential real life situations where we can create gameplay situations that require exploration, communication, and evaluation of information in order to be successful.

Okay so I’m starting to bite off a lot here, but I’m going to develop this idea/outline/application over the course of this month and I’d love your input.

Can we learn through play, rather than play to learn?

I deal in information. I help provide, evaluate, and organize information. I am all about “filling in the information gap” (Johnson, 2005). I am a video game. Switch “provide” with “find” and now I am an information literacy librarian. It’s our job to help students identify and fill in their “information gap.”

This past weekend, as my son played Dora the Explorer on the computer a few ideas started to fall into place. Dora the video game is the same as Dora the TV show. But written more accurately, Dora the TV works because it is the same as a video game. Stay with me here. Dora has a quest (to find her grandmother or get to the baseball game, etc) and there are a series of goals to accomplish along the way. Regardless if it is the TV show or the game, Dora continues to ask for the user’s input to accomplish each goal (whether through a mouse, controller, or simply their voice). Dora works (at least at certain age levels) because it requires the user the “make” choices. My son does not see the game or show as educational, but it is in the exercises required to progress where learning takes place. Learning happens for my son and the player through playing and enjoying, not because they are playing to learn.

As I’ve read through people’s reflections and reactions to the University of Cincinnati’s presentation at ACRL I realized the same thing. Cincinnati’s game, similar to others in education is focused around learning not play. Granted, this is not a bad thing and it still creates worthwhile gaming projects. But since as librarians we deal in information, couldn’t we focus on the game and let the learning happen through playing? Can we develop games that are not seen as overtly educational (granted our students are smart enough to know they must have educational use), but provide an educational experience through playing?

What do these games look like? I’ve got a few ideas, what ideas do you have?

Dora image via Amazon

Catching up on ACRL conference blogging

Here are a few posts from the official ACRL conference blog

The University of Cincinnati's session on the game(s) they developed.
Cincinnati's progress and lessons on their gaming efforts
It turns out that they had to start from scratch do to time constraints and staff changes, this brought out some new ideas including some Google tools applications.

Here's a comment from a blog post from the session Lisa from University of IL - Urbana gave.

"Presented by librarians at the undergraduate library at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne. They have been investigating the use of gaming in their library. They discussed the difference between the old tutorial type games versus games that actually have an educational value based on the users’ interaction with the game. The ability to learn from the game and not just quiz yourself."
So very important! We cannot just assume "games" will be engaging and good learning experiences. Create a game based on gaming principles not of content, let the content come out of the game.

I love this one. I wasn't at the conference, but I'm excited that I even get a mention!!!