Assessing the Potential of Games for Teaching

Karen Markey, School of Information at the University of Michigan

Back in December of 2007, I had a chance to talk with Karen Markey about her team's experience with their initial information literacy game. The following is Karen's GLLS session on her game, it's development, and the lessons learned from the assessment.


Team Members

Two faculty members Karen and Vic Rosenberg.

Fritz Swanson, lecturer in English wrote the script

Two programmers, one student and one former Microsoft programmer


There are a number of limitations with IL:

  • Expense of getting into the classroom, both time, space, and money
  • Disconnect with the content and library


Students chose the topic of the "Black Death." They used with the general to specific model developed by Kirk at Earlham

  • Web
  • Online encyclopedia
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Web of science

Defense of Hidgeon: The Plague Years

  • Online board game
  • Specific path
  • Players move space to space, using in game dice
  • Questions are asked that require them to use library database to answer the question.
    • Using existing sources to answer in game questions
  • Some events required students to go into the library to gain codes from librarians
  • Answering questions awards money (gold) and scrolls
  • Allows players to buy buildings when the answer questions correctly and have enough gold
  • Winner is the one with most land and gold.


Tested the game with a class of 75 undergrad students

29 signed up to play on 8 teams, 2 – 4 per team

When extra credit was given to players

49 students played in total

All player teams played together on same board. The winning team ended up owning everything


  • Game generated logs of playtime
  • Did 3 discussion focus groups
    • Those who played
    • Those that dropped out
    • Those that didn't play


6 teams met the incentive

7 failed to meet incentive

Most teams tested the waters of the game before committing large amount of time

The successful teams answered 51% of questions correctly

67% web

63% online questions

43% of book questions

Physical demands of going to the library


Students stated they had better awareness and familiarity of certain databases. But they did not get the broad to narrow process.

8 Premises for Guiding the Development of Games

  • Gameplay must contribute in a useful way to the coursework
  • Gameplay that gives mastery over 1 key concept is preferred to comprehensive
  • Gameplay must count toward student's grades

The other guiding premises are in the full report are available on the games' website

The report is available here as well 

Karen is working on a new game: BiblioBouts

  • Using zotero to create a shared bib
  • Students will play mini-games that add value to citations
  • Students will use these bibs in class
  • The new game will also find ways to evaluate source credibility

In addition, the game framework is planned to assess the relevance of retrieval and the audience's involvement. The amount of playtime and frequencies of play will be recorded in order to fully assess the experience. 

Play the Defense of Hidgeon at