Vs. Mode: GTA IV - round 2

Chad Boeninger over at Library Voice answered my question:
Is GTA a teacher or is it a classroom waiting to students to explore?
Chad makes some great points in his post and his comments make me look forward to continuing this discussion with further games.With his post over at Library Voice... here:

So Paul, my final answer is this: GTA is not a teacher, but a laboratory for experimenting and exploration. Learning occurs while the player mixes the right ingredients, probes the environment, and experiments with trial-and-error. GTA does not tell you what you did wrong if you fail but only encourages you to try again.
Onto round 2 of Grand Theft Auto IV Librarian Vs. Mode...

I agree with Chad that GTA is not a teacher, but a laboratory classroom for the player to experiment and learn. Most players of any GTA game end up spending more time experimenting with the laws, physics, and freedoms in the game world that the central story often takes a backseat to this classroom laboratory setting.

Since we are in agreement about how players learn through GTA, lets look specifically at some of the skills they are practicing and learning in this laboratory. I'm using ACRL's Info Lit Standards as a framework for this discussion because it provides a recognizable starting point and well, we are librarians after all.

1.1.f Recognizes that existing information can be combined with original thought, experimentation, and/or analysis to produce new information

Chad described this in his post:

However, upon rescuing my thug buddies, I now had to evade the police. Guess what? There wasn’t an indicator on my map telling me where I had to go to evade the police. After driving around for about 20 minutes, I got caught by the police. I repeated the mission, and then got caught again. And again. And again. Finally I figured there must be a way for me to hide my car, and I then remembered how to go get my car painted at the car detailer. I had actually learned how painting a car tricks the police in a previous mission, but I had forgotten about that while trying the evade the fuzz. When I finally figured out thats what I was supposed to do, I tried it.
The game already help Chad learn the skill needed in the mission, but it did not direct him to use it again. Based on his experimenting (driving around) and his analysis (still getting caught) he looked back on his existing game information and found the information he needed... it just needed to be applied to a new situation.

1.2.a Knows how information is formally and informally produced, organized, and disseminated

Players have a variety of ways to access and understand in-game information. They can construct it on their own as Chad described, "I learned that if you try to steal a black four-door sedan you’re likely to get shot. All the while I was exploring, I became more familiar with the rules of the game and the layout of the city."

Or they know that the solution is available online or in a print guide as well.

1.2.f Realizes that information may need to be constructed with raw data from primary sources

Again Chad writes, "The player learns by exploring, by experimenting, and by failing." Part of the learning done in any GTA game is in the exploration and experimentation of the game world. The player constructs this knowledge and builds upon it as the game continues to advance.

1.3.b Considers the feasibility of acquiring a new language or skill (e.g., foreign or discipline-based) in order to gather needed information and to understand its context

GTA: San Andreas did this specifically. The main character, C.J., could go to driving school or flight school to enhance in-game skills with driving and flying. Better driving and flying skills allow the player to complete missions more effectively and even open up new content. The player could also bring C.J. to the weight room to increase his strength and thus add addition skills to gathering and understanding information throughout the game. GTA4 creates some new potential for acquiring new languages and skills with it's in-game "friend" system. Niko can stay in contact with non-playable characters throughout the game, creating relationships and opening up new missions or skills in the process.

1.4.a Reviews the initial information need to clarify, revise, or refine the question

Every video game offers this skill. Was the player able to find the information they needed? Did they complete the mission? If not, what information is missing? If I do not have the correct information to complete the mission, I need to revise and refine my question? Maybe there's an alternative to way to deliver the hit on the rival drug lord. Instead of chasing him down in a car, maybe the rooftop is a better option, if so, then I need new information about the buildings and the target's route.

2.1.a Identifies appropriate investigative methods (e.g., laboratory experiment, simulation, fieldwork)
2.1.b Investigates benefits and applicability of various investigative methods

Chad made the excellent point that GTA is set up as an experiment and lab. The player is testing out the boundaries of the world, experimenting with what jumps, neighborhoods, and strategies work and which ones do not. This investigating helps the player reach their information goal (completing a mission). As players, knowing the costs and benefits of the experiment is important as well. Some players will jump online to seek a solution, while other will do the experimenting themselves.

2.3.d Uses surveys, letters, interviews, and other forms of inquiry to retrieve primary information
3.6.b Participates in class-sponsored electronic communication forums designed to encourage discourse on the topic (e.g., email, bulletin boards, chat rooms)

Sharing experiences (ie. Game knowledge) is just as important for the player experimenting in the world of GTA as the actual results of those experiments. Valued is placed on those experiences and others learn from the communication of it.

3.7.a Determines if original information need has been satisfied or if additional information is needed
3.7.b Reviews search strategy and incorporates additional concepts as necessary

Players use both their in-game experiences, online searching, and discussions to determine if they have enough information to complete their current mission. They will either re-try it or go back out in the world of GTA and experiment more – seeking out new or more complete information.

4.1.b Articulates knowledge and skills transferred from prior experiences to planning and creating the product or performance

Players share (internally or often online) how they went from trying one strategy to their new one that incorporates their additional skills and experiential knowledge.

4.2.b Reflects on past successes, failures, and alternative strategies

There is not a videogame played that doesn’t result in the reflection and analysis of the player afterward. Why that jump worked? How can I not get caught? Chad detailed his on-going reflection process as he continued to repeat a mission without success. Being GTA is not a teacher but a laboratory classroom, reflection and peer discussion is the most effective (and sometimes the only available) strategy.

5.1.c Identifies and discusses issues related to censorship and freedom of speech

Since we are talking about GTA censorship and free speech is a central theme in the general media discussion. Every person now playing Niko in GTA4, or anyone who’s spent time with any of the previous characters, has an opinion about on the GTA series and these issues. Regardless of what arguments used (social, moral, legal) the fact remains is that players are actively engaging in this discussion in person and online. Compare that discussion to any had in a classroom about the same issues.

With all these critical thinking and information literacy skills being practiced, the violence and destruction still gain the most headlines. The NPR story does address some of the freedom and exploration the laboratory classroom of GTA creates.

Chad are these skills real? Or am I just trying to make a controversial and violent game more acceptable?

GTA Box art from Global Nerdy


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