Vs. Mode: Our Gaming Dollar

I’m thankful to Chad for starting back up Vs. Mode (link) for this academic year. I was pleased with our discussions on GTA IV, safe exploration spaces, and interfaces from last spring.

Chad’s discussion about stretching one’s gaming dollar for personal enjoyment and value, but then turns the discussion to libraries with:

“The question as it applies to libraries is this: Should more libraries be circulating video games in an effort to extend the value of a video game? Isn’t that what libraries are all about? Don’t we buy books, movies, music, and other media so that more people may use them as often as they wish? Won’t our dollar go a lot further if libraries buy a game and have it played so much that it won’t play anymore?”
I subscribe to the logic of getting good value for your gaming dollar. Rarely have I paid full price for a game and pride myself on buying only 2 games in the last year and a half over $30. I’d be happy talk about my successes in finding games on the cheap, but I’d rather be talking about why we should be finding games in the library.

Chad’s question about the cost and value of videogames in library collections. I was fortunate enough to be formally at the Charles C. Myers Library of the University of Dubuque where we started a gaming (both board and videogame) collection. I feel very strongly that videogames should be treated by libraries as any other media. The artistic, entertainment, and educational value with videogames should be enough for libraries to consider adding them to their collections. I was pleased to see that my new public library, the Brown County Library, had already started a gaming collection with their system.

As I defended videogames in libraries in a letter to the editor in Dubuque, the same issues are true with Chad’s question. Just as movies and graphic novels have found homes in libraries, so too should videogames. Regardless of your rationale of choice (social significance, cultural importance, etc) videogames fit that role.

If the justification applies to other media we need to be advocating to our colleagues, administrators, Dean’s, City Councils, and voting public why videogames should have a place within our collections. If your library can budget to buy popular movies for entertainment purposes… then gaming collections are the next step. While the argument of the potential sizes of audience may have once held true, the gaming industry now is on par with the movie industry in the amount of revenue generated. The audience for games is no longer an isolated minority.

Now at academic libraries like my own they are not buying DVDs for recreational use. It needs to be tied to the curriculum. Videogame would fall under that same judgment. But if your academic library budgets for recreational movies for students and the campus, you should be considering videogames as well.

The University of Dubuque library spends some money and partners with their Student Government Association to provide additional money to buy DVDs for solely entertainment purposes. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. The Student Government initially turned down the idea of a videogame collection. What we thought was going to be an easy audience, was not. Fortunately, eventually, the collection moved forward and within two weeks of being on the shelves over 50% of the games had circulated multiple times. Their gaming collection was a success.

I hope more libraries of all types begin seeing the value of gaming collections and those providing the funding see the value as well. There are a variety of stories and resources out there.

The ALA's Gaming Resource wiki has some good talking points to get started. There are a number of other resources out there (including a few on the 100 Tips list) and I know that there are more being added to the ALA Gaming wiki... so add your thoughts and resources.

Since this is a Vs. mode, I need to send a question back to Chad. So if we agree that videogames have value and should be included in collections...

What does a core collection look like? How can we help others get started?

Connecting the Multiple Literacies: A Librarian Call to Action

Even though the work of Gee, Prensky, Jenkins, and others have addressed videogames value to literacy. And with the ALA focusing on gaming and literacy, drawing connections, and increasing our patron/students’ ability… students have still struggled on traditional evaluations. Squire (2005) suggest that the failure is not in the students but in the way our traditional education systems are structured. While the discussion of how our education system assesses students is important, it is not the focus of the post. The successful engagement of students in multiple literacies can start with librarians at every level. Continued documented success of these literacies will lead to institutional acceptance and value.

To work toward that end goal, understanding the multiple literacies students engage in is necessary. Our patrons and students are seeking text that have meaningful context within their lives. Videogames and other transmedia stories are shaping their expectations of what a story can do. A non-linear, multi-layered experience that rewards their previous knowledge is a way for students to flex their understanding and thought processes. This application is important not only for increasing students and patrons literacies but also their information literacy skills. We have the opportunity to seek out these multiple literacies and help students and patrons evaluate and responsibly apply their knowledge.

Engaging these multiple literacies through videogames is just on of the many possibilities and examples we can create. I recorded a podcast segment yesterday for the ALA Gaming podcast on fantasy football. My discussions on fantasy football are focused on more than encouraging libraries to use fantasy football to connect with users of their libraries (which is a good thing). My discussion and application here is larger and I believe ultimately more rewarding:

  • Seek out and create connections with existing interest (pop culture or otherwise) that students/patrons already value and have an existing knowledge base. Game stories that transcend videogames and move into graphic novels, novels, and other media involve our readers in deep and complex narratives that allow them to flex those multiple literacy muscles.
  • Our job can be to use these experiences and help students recognize the traditional, information, and other literacy skills they are currently practicing through their multiple literacy experiences.
I’ve used the bridge metaphor before and will continue to do so. We have the opportunity to bridge our students/patrons existing knowledge and skills in these multiple literacies to the traditional academic skills and literacies our educational systems value. Our successful bridging may be just the evidence and documentation needed to help create the changes and shifts that leaders like Gee, Squire, and others have advocated for so long.

The Adventure of Links: Week of August 11th

I missed my "Adventure of Link" links last week, although I had the links combined. A head cold hit me and I woke up out of the haze to realize that it is Thursday. Well, here are some links for this week.

Using traditional games for educational purposes:

Instead of making serious games for education, why not embrace traditional gaming to enhance kids' lives?
The concept and the discussion in the article are good. We talk about games having educational and critical thinking value, but we in academic libraries work to create games to our specific needs. If we looked at games that were out there and the skills they taught, we could not only use their strategies (an application I promote), but we could use the game itself to help teach. Problem puzzles deep in a temple of a Zelda game? Logic puzzle from a Telltale adventure game? Physics challenges and predictions from a FPS? Games provide applications of educational concepts that we could use. GameSetWatch also ran the article from Serious Games Source.

Which is it? A serious game or a simulation?
Clark Aldrich has a quick post talking about each on his site. I think it is easy to blur the line when thinking of what we want to create or what we want our students to experience. The line can also be blurred when discussing educational gaming with administrators. Clark puts it as such:
But what is also tough is when people confuse serious games and educational simulations. Now these are obviously much closer together in any taxonomy. But serious games are light experiences that are easy and fun to engage while building awareness, and educational simulations rigorous develop skills and capabilities.
Cerise weighs in on game cannon:
I've mentioned the quality work at Cerise before. This article looks at the ongoing debate of if games are art/expression or have value... what is the core group of titles. What is the gaming cannon?

Gaming on a grown-up's budget:
Mister Raroo drew criticism from some gaming libraries with his initial column, but his most recent one is a good read for any "grown-up" with a gaming passion. Sometimes our passions and our pocketbooks don't have the same priorities.

Managing my money:
Speaking of budgets, Future-Making Serious Games has an interesting story about a new educational game used to help teens manage their money, learn budgeting, and other financial skills. As someone who's taught money management to 7th and 8th graders, a game to do this would be a welcomed resource. Granted there are many games that apply economic issues, but this is a great use of teaching a process through gaming.

In Loving Memory: Luke Stempa 1994-2006

It was a two years ago today that my godson, Luke Stempa died.

Luke was a gift.

While I have few words to describe him right now, thanks to the tightening in my stomach and an overall sense of loss. After moving to De Pere, where Luke's family is, it is bittersweet. I wish he was here to share in Mario Kart races and Star Wars discussions. I know he would be excited about the lightsaber battling Star Wars: Clone Wars game and we could have logged hours in it together. But I am thankful to be closer to his family and continue to be a part of their lives... honoring those who are gone by loving those left behind.

Luke was and is an inspiration for me and my work on this site. Because of Luke's physical conditions he was limited in sports and other activities, but much of Luke's identity, and learning came through his life as a gamer. In gaming any physical struggles fell away and he was who he and those who loved him truly saw himself as; an intelligent, strategic, problem solver responding to multiple points of information and understanding it all. Whether helping others in Runescape or toying with the Dark and Light sides in KOTOR, he embodied what games could teach and how students could learn through them.

Here are posts about Luke and his continued influence in my life, one from a month after his death and another from this past spring. I know that he would love the work and discussions going on here.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family this day and everyday.

Luke, I love you and miss you. Thank you for the games we played, the lightsaber battles together, and the love we shared.

(Part of this post was first published last year on the anniversary of Luke's death. I will continue to post a reflection to Luke as a way to honor him, focus me on the educational aspects of games, and continue to work toward helping all students learn through video games and gaming strategies.)

Canadian Study on Video Games, Literacy, and Boys

by Kathy Sanford & Leanna Madill
Canadian Journal of Education (30), 2

Librarians are acutely aware of the literacy struggles of boys. These issues are not unique to age or geographic location. Studies in Europe, Australia, and Canada all have sought to address the complicated literacy practices that boys engage in across media.

This Canadian study looked at two research questions:

  1. "What success are adolescent males finding in out-of-school literacy practices"
  2. "What literacy practices are occurring when adolescent males participate in instruction and the creation of video games" (p. 439)
The adolescents were very interested and able to communicate how they were learning through videogames, but did not connect it to literacy learning (440). Librarians are in a position to make that connection for them and with them. I've been thinking more and more about this connection and bridge as our call to action with videogames and literacy.

The study found boys taking operational literacy (what to do in a process, how to do it) for granted. One subject said, "Only we need to understand it, if you can understand it - it's okay" (441). This mindset assumes a common set of knowledge and understanding. But if students do not have this knowledge base, communication and application will suffer. Sanford and Madill identified this as a potential reason that boys are less successful with traditional print literacies.

The boys studied wrote journal entries and sketched game ideas. This written and read communication was enhanced through verbal collaboration and social interaction. The verbal collaboration was seen as more successful by those studied. This type of interaction fits with the adolescent's multiple media literacies where they are communicating ideas and knowledge. Those studied found that this social community helped them develop skills and a greater awareness of written and verbal skills.

Sanford and Madill identified a speicfic concern that others, including myself, have raised before:
Unless taught how to notice and critque the social values and assumptions in a game, video game players are mostly unaware of the broader social pratices embedded in video game context (449).
If games are to have education value, then like any other educational technology there needs to be discussion and reflection on the experience and application. Any type of learning is not an isolated affair. It doesn't simply happen with one experience (videogame or anything else) learning comes from interaction during and after events and experiences.

Sanford and Madill lay the charge of learning through games squarely at the feet of educators:

Scholars need to problematize the seamless qualities of video game play and creation and create spaces where players can step back from the powerful, immersive qualities of game play and examine values (451).

We can create environments in and out of our libraries and classrooms that use videogames for play and allow for moments to step back have discussions and learn.

Revisting the past: Kurt Squire, Civilization, & the classroom

Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Game Enter the Classroom?
From Innovate: Journal of Online Education, August/September 2005

I had a chance over this summer to catch up on some reading thanks to long flights to and from conferences. After reading through this article from 2005, I wondered how much our dialog over videogames in education has changed? I think the scope and acceptance of educational gaming has increased since then. The amount and focus of scholarship has certainly strengthened as well. While the article is dated the findings and Squire’s analysis is still relevant today.

Even today, his introduction reads as an important overview for anyone concerning videogames and education. After the overview, Squire discussed his experiences implementing Civilization III into the classroom. Much has been written and presented by Squire on these experiences, but tracking them back to his initial experiences in 2004/2005 provide useful insight.

Like many educational applications of games since, some pieces of the game and the lessons attached to them connected with students… others didn’t. Squire discussed how some students opted out of the game from the very beginning and were skeptical of the educational value. This continues to be a challenging balancing act with video games in classrooms. Are they not “fun” enough to engage some students and are they not “educational” enough for students concerned with standardized test scores and entrance exams. The break from traditional curriculum turned off the high performing students . These students had “mastered” the traditional system and saw little value in something that broke out of the traditional mold.

I can understand the perspective of these students, since I was one of them. I choose a traditional world history class in high school over a teacher who used the original Civilization. I was concerned with grades and an effort was not made to explain how games teach process, not just events. It is often the process that sticks with us longer than the detailed facts of an event. I remember more history based on the long hours playing Civilization late at night testing out the situations and details I learned during the day in class.

Outside of students stuck within the traditional system, Squire found players with histories of lower educational performances did well with the games and gained meaning and understanding of events, situations, and processes from the game. Success in the game unit increased the students’ confidence and ultimately their success in the overall class. As Squire correctly described the situation, the game, discussion, and reflection created success in those who were failing school – or for those where school was failing them.

Squire points out that there is not a silver educational bullet, and today there still isn’t. But games and gaming should be part of the answer. He discussed how to create a curriculum that reflects on how people learn and interact, while opening it up to real world simulations and gaming experiences.

While the challenge of evaluating and assessing gaming in education is still a challenge as it was for Squire, the groundwork he laid and the work he continues to do provides examples and inspiration to those seeking to use videogames as a teaching tool.

Fantasy Sports, Information Literacy, & Your Library

John over at The Video Game Librarian blogged about using fantasy football for programming at your library. It's great to hear other people talking about this idea. I have talked with both public and academic librarians about using fantasy sports as instructional and community building activities. John's blog is great and I hope that it helps inspires others to give fantasy football a try as well.

Sara Holladay (The Fantasy Football Librarian) and I presented a LOEX of the West back in June on this topic and you can access our slides and handouts here. If you are looking to find ways to work in fantasy sports into your library this is a great place to start. I'm hopeful that these resources will soon be on the ALA's gaming resource page which should make them available to a wider audience.
If you are looking for additional resources and fantasy football analysis, The Bruno Boys Fantasy Football Cheatsheets are a great place to start. The Bruno Boys are only a few years old, but their quality rivals that of more nationally know sites. They also do a good job of providing background on their writers for users (and librarians) to evaluate their authors. Sara has also contributed to this guide. As a free, 112 page resource, this is a great value and in-depth resource for anyone interested in fantasy football or looking for resources to support a library program.

We Fiit? Excer-gaming studies on Wii Calorie Burning

While I've missed my first goal on Wii Fit, I continue to play at least a few days a week. I'm closing in on my new goal and more importantly I'm still enjoying the workout. With exercise, weight loss, and videogames on the mind, I wanted to highlight a few recent studies on active Wii gaming.

MTV's Multiplayer Blog discusses the recent findings by the American Council on Excercise. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Excercise and Health Program found that actively playing individual Wii Sports games only burned about half of the calories compared to playing the actual game. You can find the full study here. The results themselves are not too shocking, actual physical play burns more calories. While this study finds Wii Sports is a poor substitute for traditional excersice, it does burn more calories than traditional videogames.

The American Council on Excercise has begun a study on Wii Fit as well. More information on the upcoming study can be found here. Wii Fit, like DDR before it, is being study for exercise and health benefits. DDR has continually been shown to increase activity and is currently being used in a wide variety of schools. John Rice details some addition exer-gaming studies on the Wii, DDR, and some new applications in North Carolina schools.

As for me, I'm back to Wii Fit and working toward my weight loss goal.

Bogost's "Persuasive Games" pt.2

Continuing my kitchen project and my summary of Bogost's book, here is a more detailed discussion of some of Bogost's specific arguments within his book.

Bogost’s discusses the political application of procedural rhetoric with games that force choices on a player or limit the interaction the player has. This choice or limitation helps create associations of a political message. The message may be success in a field of gray choices without a clear right direction or an intentional failure. This forced failure helps the player experience the limits and struggles of an given political situation. Bogost’s application of the “rhetoric of failure” extends beyond serious political games to political satire games and satire in other disciplines. Examples in both advertising and value focused games emphasis games as satire and a means to present a subversive culture. Games can teach a process by showing how the process fails or how the system breaks down intentionally creating a negative view of the policy, product, or decision.

Some of the examples used in the book are very overt, while others are more complex and challenging to understand. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing videogame and the online flash game McDonald’s Video Game is critiqued and the messages and materialism are discussed. The satire and subversiveness in the McDonald’s Video Game is apparent as the player slaughters cattle for burgers amidst disease and feces. But in Animal Crossing, which is targeted to a younger audience, is the satire of materialism and how some game characters work against it apparent to the players? Without further discussion and guidance do players see or understand the social and cultural criticisms? This lack of application and active discussion is an area Bogost treads lightly around. His focus is not on how educators, activists, and others can apply videogames as persuasive communication. Bogost does not provide practical guidelines or “how to” recommendations. The book’s focus and intent is on providing a framework and explanation of how and why games can influence people and ideas. Not how to create games to do so.

Bogost’s analysis of games with social messages is not unique. Barrett (2006), Murray (2005), and others have critically analyzed Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in the past as both a commentary on society and a contradiction in race relation. Bogost applies his theory of procedural literacy to this previous work to discuss how GTA: San Andreas is effective in achieving this social and racial commentary by actively requiring the player make decisions about what to wear or eat, and who to spend time with. Bogost also builds on the work of others in his discussion of licensing games and products. His discussion of Harry Potter and licensing is similar to the research done by MIT’s Henry Jenkins (2006) on transmedia. Bogost describes how the Quidditch World Cup game, published by EA , created a larger experience in a licensed world. Through the gameplay, players experienced events beyond the books and movies. Andrew Burn’s research (2004) describes a similar relationship between children and the cross media experiences of Harry Potter. Bogost does not build on the work of literature scholars, but as was his method with Grand Theft Auto he provides a procedural explanation of why the videogame experience influences the player and enriches their experience of a licensed world.

Bogost continued his creation of a procedural rhetoric by setting up a theoretical framework in a variety of disciplines. He did so in his discussion of the political, social, cultural, and educational applications of persuasive videogames. His discussion of educational games begins with a detailed review and application of educational theorists. Vygotsky, Dewey, Piget, and others all are applied and related to videogames and learning. The argument that procedural literacy creates learning is easier to make for Bogost, since much of the text describes what people are learning and experiences in games. Procedural literacy creates educational experiences where the player learns through action, decision, and consequences. Videogames like Civilization, SimCity, and Flight Simulator have actively used process to teach players experiences and put them into real life roles for decades. Bogost sees this procedural learning as the key of what games can teach. To this extent he levels criticism at Gee (2003) and Beck and Wade (2004) for being too limited in their discussion and application of what games can teach. For Bogost, games can do more than simply serve as a metaphor to create a new ways of thinking and problem solving. Games teach specific relationships and put players into experiences they can directly connect to life. Bogost’s analysis of the educational application and connection to videogames gives further support to those looking to create serious and educational games. The learning done in games is more than just a metaphor, there are specific skills, processes, and relationships that games can teach.

Bogost's "Persuasive Games"

I received a final review copy of my book review for the International Journal of Gaming and Computer Mediated Simulations a few weeks ago. Since we are getting closer to the release of the journal and I'm spending the weekend working on a kitchen project... Today and tomorrow I'm going to be posting part of my initial draft of the book review. The actual review has changed a little, but the content here is still a good summary of Bogost's book.

Bogost’s thesis and theory are ripe for a mainstream discussion, the emphasis on traditional theory and the creation of a theoretical framework limit the book’s accessibility. Bogost’s thesis that videogames use processes to effectively communicate ideas and persuade those exposed to them (procedural rhetoric) is a critical explanation of how and why videogames communicate ideas in a variety of settings. While the focus on theory may put off those who are interested in Bogost’s theories after his 2007 appearance on Comedy Central’s Cobert Report, his work is significant to those in the field and academics in various fields.

Bogost’s is an assistant professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology, and his communication scholarship is evident in this work. He begins the text with a discussion using his discipline to set up the theories around rhetorical communication. This foundation in communication theory establishes his work as a scholarly discussion. Bogost uses his communication framework to launch a discussion about how videogames can not only teach and influence, but also to create a rhetorical domain (procedural literacy) to analysis and discuss games from. Bogost’s focus throughout his survey is the creation, application, and importance of how games influence player by putting them into a process and experiencing the values and choices of the results of that process creating procedural literacy.

Bogost’s contribution in this text is a framework to discuss games as not just simulations, or art, or metaphors, but as works of communication that can express specific ideas through gameplay. This communication can be overt or subtle, but the messages, experiences, and learning the player engages in make videogames a powerful tool.

The Adventure of Links: A Week in Review

As I've spent time catching up with video game and education game news over the past week here are a few key links that are worthy of revisiting.

Literacy and Learning in the 21st Century
Over at Mark Wanger's Educational Technology and Life blog he talks about some of the audiences responses to what literacy is and how it is changing. With the announcement of the ALA and Version's grant for Literacy and Gaming, the discussion of how videogames help shape and develop literacy is important. The more we expand our discussion and involve the wider scope of education and educational gaming, the better we will be able to address and shape our patrons and students multiple literacies.

Seven Things You Should Know about... Wii
I hope many of you follow the various resources out of EDUCAUSE, but they released a "7 things" list for the Wii. This quick list is a great resource to those still unaware of the details and specifics of the Wii. It also would function well as a resource for adminstration, boards, and other organizations to help them understand more of the educational possiblities of the Wii. The social functions of the Wii are well know and easy talking points... this list targets the educational aspects to go along with the community building.

ESA Essential Facts 2008

The Electronic Software Association 2008 statistical report has been covered on a variety of sites, but if you haven't downloaded, printed, and started using them for talking points.... here's another chance. I've read through the report a number of times and the findings provide a number of excellent talking points, many of which I've used in the past in presentations and media interviews. Know them.

Educational Games Research
John Rice continues to provide resources on videogames and their educational uses. In July, he discussed the educational uses of the Wii and the top 5 platforms for creating educational games. John has talked about the top 10 free educational games before, but his post on engines to develop games on is a great jumping off point (and testing ground) for people looking to try their hand & ideas on creating a game. Most of these are not new, but for people looking to get started, it's a good introductory post.

This "week in review" should return again next Friday to highlight some of the educational gaming news of the week.