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