Vs. Mode: Level Grinding in SRPGs as a Research Process

Library Voice's Chad added his thoughts about SRPGs and grinding. He's having a good and long experience (50 hours) with Disgaea, but his narrative progress has recently come to a halt. This has changed the game for him, but also opened up new gameplay elements for him, including the following:

However, once I got to Episode 11, I found that my Brawlers, Warriors, and Scouts (all traditional weapon wielders with swords, guns, and axes) would not cut it. As result, I’ve spent the last 5 hours in the game leveling up my new Mages and Clerics.

Now going back to the drawing board here might really frustrate some gamers, particularly after the amount of time invested in the game. Going back to a beginning level may seem pointlessly redundant, and I could easily become frustrated that I did not create the right characters in the first place. Some may find that leveling up can be a ridiculously boring process, since you simply play previous levels in order to strengthen the weaker characters. I initially thought I would feel the same, but I’m actually enjoying the process of level grinding. And believe me, it is a process...

...As such, I’m seeing and learning things about the game, and about myself as a player, a bit differently. In other words, I had gotten quite comfortable with how I was playing the game. The game shocked me out of my comfort zone at Episode 11, which caused me to stop, re-evlaulate, and play the game in a different way.

Chad's gaming experience translates well to a variety of learning situations, including research. His experience parallels that of an upper-division student I worked with earlier this week. She was very comfortable with the ins and out of EBSCO based databases, but moving her into more subject specialized databases opened up a new realm to explore and search skills to built. Obviously, some of the same skills and strategies still applied but new combinations of subject terms and other search strategies created a new and different experience for her.

In both cases, players and students relying on the familiar and understood skill set created a situation where they needed to expand their existing skills and knowledge base in order to progress. They were able to do a lot with a common set of tools (character classes & databases), but for true mastery and quality of gameplay they needed to add to that skills set- learn new techniques, practice them in a safer area to build them, and eventually apply them to the overall project.

Research can be a grind. But just as Chad has found satisfaction in the act of grinding and slowly advancing his characters, our students can derive the same sense of satisfaction. Granted, not all students are interested in a slow progression and quick results are sometimes needed. But framing a research project in the minds of gamers as a way of leveling up their work is a mindset worth discussing. Grinding research can be a rewarding experience, and one that doesn't need to take the 50+ hours players invest in video games.

Versions of Disgaea are available on the PS2, PS3 PSP, & DS.
Screenshots of the DS version are via RPG Fan

Story vs. Strategy: Grinding Your Way to Emotional Investment

Last week I wrote about the embedded narrative in Syphon Filter for the PSP.  Chad over at Library Voice followed up my post with an excellent one of his own.  He talked about the game and related some of the games’ experiences to library services.  The four points he made are not isolated to the Syphon Filter series but can be applied as general lessons that games provide for library services.

Chad and I are both currently playing strategy role playing games (SRPG).  Here’s a quick link to define what SRPGs are.  But for me, SRPGs have always felt like a complicated version of chess

.  The player moves each character around a map (traditionally a grid) with a set movement distance and attempts to clear (or take) the opponent’s characters.  I’ve played and thoroughly enjoyed a number of games in this genre including Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1, PSP) and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA).  Last fall I wrote about how the Final Fantasy Tactics series offers players a number of ways to practice their information literacy skills.  A large part of my enjoyment of the series is the numerous layers of depth and skills applied during the preparation and execution of each battle.

In addition to the Final Fantasy Tactics series, the publisher Atlus and developer Nippon Ichi  have also pushed the genre forward with games like Disgaea, Phantom Brave, and La Pucelle: Tactics.  Chad is currently playing Disgaea on the PSP currently.  I’m playing another SRPG, Jeanne D’arc, published by Level 5, that was released for PSP last year. 

Based on my post last week about the embedded narrative, I wanted to look at the narrative of SRPGs, but realized that I couldn’t without talking about the gameplay as well.  Often in SRPGs, as in traditional RPGs, there is a degree of grinding and character building involved.  Leveling up your character is important to being statistically strong enough to defeat the opponents’ characters.  Yes, with good tactics it is very possible to defeat an opponent at a level or two higher, but often grinding is a potential solution to a challenging battle.  The difficultly with grinding is it tends to delay the narrative of the game.

When a player needs to spend time leveling up, the central story arc takes a backset.  The political fighting of Final Fantasy Tactics or the magical interpretation of the Joan of Arc story slow to a crawl as a player spends time leveling their characters.  This past weekend, I was trying to push ahead with the central story only to continually get defeated in a specific battle.  The solution was clear – grind, level up, and try again.  Doing so I made the intentional choice pull myself out of the narrative and dive into the chess-like strategy of individual battles.

Upon doing so, I instantly recalled where my emotional investment came from in previous  SRPGs.  It is not the game’s narrative that held me in the game’s world, it was my emotional connection with the individual characters.  Like many role-playing experiences, the enjoyment is derived from the expanded story and characterization created by the player.  Grinding has built up a camaraderie between the game characters and myself.  While the game’s attempt at developing relationships has slowed as I’ve continued to grind, my emotional investment with the characters has continued to grow.

As I develop a personal investment in the characters, my commitment to the game and the success of each character grows.  This isn’t a unique experience for video games.  And the debate over which is more engaging: an open ended user created narrative vs. a tightly channeled game narrative is one that fills message boards on a regular basis.  There is clearly a place for both.  And some games find a balance between the two (the 12  million playing WOW’s new Lich King expansion are an example).

Is one narrative experience more valuable than other?  

Or is it a matter of taste?  

I’m curious what Chad and others have to say.

Tomorrow I’ll come back to SRPGs and focus more on the tactics and strategies and how that can relate to our students’ searching experiences.

images via Gamespot

On a night just like tonight... Happy Birthday Wii & PS3

Cold. A brisk winter wind. A night filled with anticipation. Excitement both for the new gaming experiences and potential profit. Two years ago this week, the Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii were released within days of each other. 

Happy birthday!

On the most recent Gaming in Libraries podcast, I mentioned how I thought believe the Wii has expanded the acceptance of gaming in libraries. Clearly the Wii has expanded the gaming audience. The PS3, while it may struggle in sales, it is still an amazing piece of technology and will continue to help gaming grow and expand. The PS3's folding @home project may have faded from the spotlight, but it still is an important step in broadening commercial video game use.

I was out at both launch nights interviewing those waiting in line.

PS3 launch night discussions

Wii launch night discussion

Both posts are filled with comments from gamers about what they do when they are stuck. The interesting piece is that this same mentality can be seen at the reference desk. Students and gamers see asking for help as a potential weakness. With the Pew Internet study showing that 98% of teens play games, this mentality may not be going away.

So how we change that?

Can librarians can be the "in-game" tutorial during the opening level, more than the "cheat" when frustration sets in? Should we?

Confronting the Challenge: Gaming as Instructional Technology in School Libraries

Over the weekend, I had a challenging conversation with a elementary school librarian. He's plays video games with his children at home and likes the idea of gaming in libraries, but is struggle to see how it fits in at the elementary level. We talked about the challenges he sees with bringing gaming into their curriculum.

Our conversation was cut short, as our kids debated who was controlling who was controlling who in Mario Party 8. But I was able to bring up the excellent work that librarians are doing bringing in a variety of game experiences into their libraries. The work done by Chris Harris and Brian Mayer mapping board games to AASL Standards. The work of others holding Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) focused around classroom content. Made for good talking points.

I did give him the link to a good K-12 online presentation on educational gaming that could help support his points when talking with his teachers:

Games in Education: Myths, Realities, and Promise by Sylvia Martinez

While much of it is review for those engaged in the dialogue of games and education, it provides a good entry point for those in K-12 education. She brought up many good points including how traditional edutainment games fail:

“These games fail as authentic learning experiences and do nothing to change the way students learn.”

Martinez also spent time talking about how games in education cannot be isolated just to the game, but need to flow over into peer and classroom discussion:

“As you can see, the role of the teacher is extremely important in balancing gameplay with reflection on the experience.”

“As with many games, the playing is not the power, the learning happens as you analyze mistakes either alone or with friends.”

Martinez treats video games in education like any other instructional technology. Application and reflection are equally important parts of the learning experience. But she points out the same challenges that arose in my conversation with the school librarian:

“The question is: Are games useful in learning or are games useful in school? Right now, unfortunately, these are not the same thing.”

Finding ways to fit games with content and experiences with the existing curriculum as Harris, Mayer, and others are doing is the first step in a long process.

I'm thankful for the challenging conversation about gaming in school libraries. After spending most of my time talking about the educational benefits of gaming, being confronted with the challenging realities of school district pressures, curriculum conflicts, and tight budgets is good. I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation, bringing in other area school librarians, and hopefully (eventually) making some applications for gaming in their libraries.

Martinez's closing thoughts provide words of encouragement for my continued conversation with my discouraged school librarian friend:

“Games are a way to bring joy and excitement into learning, but they need adequate time, matching assessment strategies, and reflective extension activities to make them really worth it.”

Searching for the Story: Getting more out of video game narrative

Over the last week or so, Chad Boeninger, from Library Voice, and I discussed the game Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow for the Sony PSP.  Both Chad and I finished the game this week and spent some time talking about the narrative of this game and other games in the Syphon Filter series.

Without giving anything away (even if the game is over a year old), we both wanted more out of the narrative.  The game's story was written by novel and comic author Greg Rucka .  The game is full of plot twists, terrorists, and covert government agencies which feels right at home for the universe of special ops agent Gabe Logan.  These political / military thrillers are also right at home in the novels of Rucka.  This combination made me excited about the potential of the game's story.  And this anticipation also effected my initial impressions on the story.

The outline of the story itself is really solid and the narrative arc flows well for the game.  My disappointment was in the lack of details and depth portrayed through the cut scenes.  Big events and twists would happen that felt out of the blue.  Alliances shifted and evidence was presented that moved the plot forward but lacked a clear explanation and rationale.  I wanted more from the story because I was so invested in the outcome.

After talking with Chad about the narrative and running theories and story gaps past one another, I realized what I missed.  The key to fully understanding the twists of the story came from the evidence I mentioned above.  Throughout the game you, as Logan, can find hidden evidence files in each level.  Sometimes these are appropriately placed in file cabinets or on computer desks.  Other times they are very "gamey" and hidden on high ledges or out of the way locations.  Regardless of where these files are hidden they hold the key to fully grasping the story.  The player has the option of reading through the files found in each level from the menu screen.  And it wasn't until tonight, when I went back to read through some of the files I found, that the holes in the cut scenes started to fill in.  Unfortunately, I hadn't found all the hidden evidence in each level to get all the details... but it is a game after all and it's encouraging me to come back and replay levels for more detail.

I've always enjoyed the Syphon Filter ever since its start on the PS1 in 1999.  While it never was as revolutionary as Metal Gear Solid, it had a narrative that continued to make sense across six different games.  The intrigue, twists, and action make it a natural fit for anyone who's enjoyed spy novels like Clancy and others.  My initial lack of satisfaction with the narrative was a result of being too caught up in the action and flow of the game.  I wanted to keep moving, take out that sniper, and rescue my partner.  I didn't have time to stop to read a file.  But that is where the narrative gets fleshed out.  And this is where games present a different way to experience a narrative.  A player does not get the full experience simply watching the cut scenes like a movie.  The player needs to be actively looking for, interacting with, and reading the extended narrative to gain the full story experience.  Henry Jenkins talks about embedded narrative where players flesh out the story by interacting with the game world.  Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow is a great example of this.

What's interesting though, is that I knew the Syphon Filter series on the PSP was a good example of it.  I've used it in multiple presentations talking about how video games are changing the way people interact with stories.  The truth is, I just got too wrapped up in the tension of the narrative that I wanted to keep pushing it forward.  But now I can go back, read through the evidence I found, search for more, and continue to enjoy the depth of the narrative even after my initial playthrough.  

I can no longer say I expected more out of the narrative of the game.  The story Rucka created and the way the game told it expected more out of me.

Taking the library out of information literacy games

Lisa Hinchliffe recently started Inspiring Innovation.  I've had the opportunity to work with Lisa as a member of ALA's Gaming and Literacy Expert Panel and I've admired her work in information literacy and library innovation for a while.  Lisa's post from her time at GLLS 2008 rasises a really interesting question:
I wonder if there is a way for students to play a game on a different topic that would enable information literacy skill development and in which success is dependent on high levels of information literacy abilities?
This is an important question that librarians looking a games for learning should be asking.  While libraries are the major advocates of information literacy on our campuses, we do not assume that info lit skills are only being practiced in libraries.  In fact we don't want to be the only ones owning info lit.  Libraries struggle with getting information literacy intergrated into the curriculum and forming partners with subject specific faculty.  Any review of the literature shows numerous articles on these topics.  Lisa question brings information literacy within games to that same level.    I replied with the following:
The next step to gaming within the higher education curriculum is to create games, as you said, "on a different topic that would enable information literacy skill development."  If we think of gaming and information literacy, than just like info lit, the more it is tied to meaningful content the more successful it can be.  

While I've been fortunate to help highlight the work of libraries creating info lit games, we are missing a larger potential.  We can remove the game out of a library context and still teach info lit skills.  And by removing the library context it is possible to remove some of the reluctance that Jenna describe.

There's a lot of work to do on that end, but it's work worth doing.
If we agree that games can help teach and provide practice of information literacy skills, then we should be looking at connecting information literacy to other games (both serious and COTS) that are being developed and used within education.  Librarians work to connect the value of information literacy to classroom content.  Taking a look at how games used in education are applying information literacy skills can help provide additional support for gaming, add value to an already rich experience, and gain some partners for future applications.

Thank you for raising the question Lisa.  I hope that others will join the conversation and continue to find ways to tied information literacy to video games.

The Adventures of Links: First week of November

After spending the last week wrapped up in GLLS 2008 and the election's joyous results, my RSS reading has taken a hit.  Below are some of the stories I missed from last week... maybe you missed them too.

Henry Jenkins has a detailed interview with the authors of the new book Changing the Game: How Video Games are Transforming the Future of Business.  I haven't read the book yet, but it was mentioned by some of the speakers at GLLS 2008.  As always, the thought provoking analysis on Jenkins blog is time well spent.

Back at the beginning of October, Microsoft announced their funding and support of a new initiative.  The news was covered on a variety of sites including Serious Game Source and Grand Text Auto.  But now there are more details coming forth.   The post is a summary of a speech given by Katie Salen at Toronto's "Future Play" conference.  I'm interested to see how these projects develop and how the take advantage of gaming educational properties.

Ian Bogost over at Watercooler games had a post about the online game that National Geographic is running this week.  The game itself is based along the lines of traditional point and click adventure.  While it may not be the most advanced gameplay, it is a great attempted to add value to the expedition shows each night.  The shows provide additional clues that open up information in the game.  But the games themselves are decent discussion starters.  I've been reading The Magic Tree House series with my five year old son and all the locations covered in the game are ones that the book characters have visited.  I am going to use the game as a way to add content to his interest sparked by the books.

There is some good activity over at UNC's Games4Learning.  Chad Haefele over at Hidden Peanuts recently spoke about ARGs.  His post makes some important connections between potential ARG experiences and information literacy skills.

There is a call out for chapters for a book collecting educational games.  Design and Implementation of Educational Games: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives looks to be published sometime late in 2009, but the call is open until December 15th.

image from VC Reviews

Continued Advocacy: Personal Reflections on GLLS 2008

It’s been a week since I was standing in front of the GLLS 2008 attendees talking about videogames and learning.  While it was only about 15 minutes, it was a conversation that I built over the last two years.  In fact, most of my experience at GLLS 2008 was the summation of the last two years.  That culminating event really changed the tone of GLLS for me.  I mentioned during the “Gaming in Libraries” podcast from GLLS that the tone was different from the year before.  This year libraries are finding their stride.  Gaming in libraries is becoming part of library’s plate of services.

During GLLS 2007, everything felt fresh and exciting.  I felt that libraries and games were just peaking over the horizon and trying to stake a claim.  All the work that Jenny Levine did to put gaming and libraries out there, set the tone.  Henry Jenkins and James Paul Gee laid the groundwork for why gaming was culturally and academically valuable.  I know that I was na├»ve and wide-eyed in 2007, but in my conversations with people at last summer symposium there were many others just starting to seriously look at gaming.  I’m thankful for the many people in academic, school, and public libraries that were pushing gaming forward at that time.  And I’m thankful for everyone who’s joined in that effort over the last year and a half.

I had a chance at GLLS 2008 to talk about most of my projects: 

  • -          Mapping videogames to information literacy standards
  • -          Fantasy Football as information literacy practice
  • -          Applying gaming strategies into classroom instruction

I also had the opportunity to help highlight the work that other librarians are doing in creating games for teaching information literacy.

I am very thankful for the conversations I had with a number of attendees around these ideas and I hope that the ideas helped spark interest or applications.   There is a lot of work to do with gaming in libraries, but based on the work that the attendees are actively planning and already doing there is a lot of good to come out of the work we are already doing. 

My mission and direction out of GLLS 2008 is much different than GLLS 2007.  In 2007, I left feeling charged and justified in the work I was doing.  People were interested and there was excitement around it.  That excitement paid off during last week’s symposium and I’m grateful for the opportunities I had.  Now coming out of 2008, I am again recharged but for a different mission. 

Applying gaming strategies into education is useful as a teaching strategy and I will continue to talk about ways to apply gaming strategies to teaching.  Mapping information literacy skills to commercial off–the-shelf (COTS) games is important to communicating the value of videogames in libraries and information literacy.  I will continue this effort, expand it to include additional games, and work to formalize it in order to create a guide for others. 

The work that Chris Harris and Brian Mayer are doing mapping board games to AASL Standards and NY State Standards is the model for the next step for my work mapping videogames.  Making the argument that COTS games teach and apply information literacy in the blogsphere was the only place I could start.  But I am hopeful that through a variety of partnerships those arguments can be carried out and applied elsewhere.

It’s taken me a couple of days to sift through all the emotions created at GLLS 2008, but I am eager to pick my gaming advocacy flag back up and help move it into the next battlefield.  While that analogy may be more militaristic than it needs to be, it fits.  This conversation over the curriculum applications of video games is already well underway in higher education and education in general.  Other libraries are already engaged in the conversation too.  I am hopeful that collectively we can integrate gaming in the curriculum.

I perceived a tone shift from the excitement and justification during GLLS 2007 to service and sustainability during GLLS 2008.  While this shift has challenged me personally, the shift is good for the long term.   This shift in tone can lead to a shift in application and ultimately integration.  Games are already being argued for and applied within education.  The more libraries join and support that conversation, the more exiting GLLS 2009 will be.

Relax, Play, & Learn: GLLS 2008 Speaker Reflections

After spending the second half of last week taking in all the election coverage, I've finally worked my way through the rest of my GLLS 2008 notes.  While I initially started posting the sessions during each speaker/session, I quickly got wrapped up in getting ready for my different presentations and decided I could come back to the posts afterward.  Regardless, you can catch all my session and speaker write-ups under the glls2008 tab.  In addition to the individual write up, I wanted to take time to reflect back on the keynote speakers and the symposium as a whole.  

It is useful to discuss the speakers as a whole because there were many themes that overlapped and while initially some of their content felt redundant, upon reflection it feels like multiple perspectives in the same debate.  Ultimately the keynote speakers combine to make the point that:
Games create learning opportunities.  Teens are already playing and not being psychologically harmed.  Libraries are supporting gaming and thus supporting these learning opportunities.  So play, have fun, and the learning will come through play.
There were about 10 minutes from Marc Prensky's opening keynote that really summed up his writing and thoughts on how "complex" games teach players a host of skills.  This series of skills was part of the impetus for my own thinking and writing about video games and libraries.   He talked about how complex games can help players learn:
  • Collaboration
  • Effective decision making
  • Prudent risks
  • Ethical decisions
  • Scientific deduction
  • Think laterally
  • System thinking
While those skills still hold as much meaning today as they did back in 2005 and 2006, it was disappointing to see that his discussion of them had not evolved since then.  Those in the audience that had not read Prensky before, hopeful walked out with these key points.  Unfortunately, it appeared that the distractions he created about "renaming the library" or trying to redefine librarians or even the suggestions of things to do (all of which libraries are already doing) were what many librarians took away from his keynote.

Prensky's keynote was followed by Amanda Lenhart from Pew Internet & American Life.  While I had read through the report and the questionnaire before, it was a wonderful piece to the larger message the keynote speakers created.  The Pew Study showed upwords of 95% of teens play games regularly (99% of boys).  If they are learning the skills that Prensky (and similarly Gee and others) have stated, then the current and coming generation is well prepared to think critically and apply a variety of literacies.  Hopefully, Chris Harris, Brain Mayer, and myself helped support this perspective by discussing how games (board and video games) can be directly connected to established learning standards.  Tying games directly to standards should help make advocacy for gaming in libraries easier.

Scott Nicholson's update on how libraries of all types are using gaming showed continued support for gaming not just as a one shot program, but as an ongoing service in libraries.  This growth and sustainability in libraries creates continued opportunities for the type of learning discussed and the type of civic community that the Pew Study found.

Dr. Kutner's keynote highlighted that the reported negatives of playing violent games are overshadowed by the positive experiences discussed by the other keynotes.  His research found little real evidence of increasing in violence based on violent video games.  Kutner stated players play violent games not because they are violent but because the experience is often engaging and motivating.  It is these violent and "complex" games that also lead to the learning discussed in the opening day.  Andrew Bub's GamerDad supported Kutner's data and findings, not through additional data but through antidotes and personal experience.  Bub and Kutner provided librarians with two angles in the common thesis of the impact and advocacy of video games.  Bub summed up concerns over video game addiction nicely, calling it "a page turner" and comparing engaging gameplay to a book "you can't put down."  When the medium is not vilified, then fears of prolonged engagement become something to celebrate and admire rather than fear and condemn.  

And finally, Jon-Paul Dyson was a wonderful summation to the symposium.  His point that games are play - play supports learning - learning is good - games are good.  The logic in his speech capped the arguments made by the other keynotes perfectly.  

The keynote speakers at GLLS 2008 can be summed up in the following statements: 

Games create learning opportunities.  Teens are already playing the games and not being overly psychologically harmed.  Libraries are supporting gaming and thus supporting these learning opportunities.  So play, have fun, and the learning will come through play.

What Every Librarian Needs to About Videogames and the Law

Mark Methenitis, Joystiq / Law of the Game blog

He started with a quick overview of copyright and fair use.

 Mark stated that in law school they stated that the key copyright is that it is a "bundle" of rights that exists. In addition to copyright, games not only content with copyright but also with EULAs (End User License Agreement)

Methenitis stated that fair use does not apply universally. There are two potential sources of restriction to gaming events copyright and the EULA. Both can be overcome, but at what cost or restriction. The "right of performance" is restrictive. None of the traditional exemptions to not apply to gaming and libraries. Which means libraries should be asking for permission. Permission in writing, physical or email. In a safe legal environment, libraries should be asking.

Do libraries need to ask every time or can they get a broader blanket?

Beth Galloway mentioned that Nintendo and Red Octane, producers of the "Guitar Hero" series, have both provided permission for use and were good to work with.

Scott Nicholson asked if working through the ALA to get a blanket performance rights by company. Mark stated that working through the ALA could be a successful strategy compared to hundreds of requests. He stated that it would still be on a case by case example.


I wonder how "fair use" plays into gaming at libraries?

I wonder how this discussion will evolve as the profile of gaming in libraries continues to rise. Gaming events in libraries may be considered public performances of the games, but most gaming events encourage players to play more of the game. Library gaming tournaments also require players to practice to be competitive. Again meaning patrons are buying more of the games. One of the reasons publishers may not be too aggressive on pursuing libraries is because there is a positive net result in their gaming profits.

Mark also has a really interesting post on intellectual property and Little Big Planet. As games formalize user created content, the debate over ownership and rights will continue to evolve.

The Power of Play Today

Below are my notes from the closing keynote speech at GLLS 2008:

Jon-Paul Dyson; Strong National Museum of Play; Editor American Journal of Play

Play involves passion. Because of this passion play is what we spend our time doing, or at least our free time.

The Strong Museum is working on a big exhibit coming next year on electronic games.

There are elements where games, play, and reading all come together. Jon-Paul used a Venn diagram to show the junction and also where they exist on their own. Used the quote "work is not the opposite of play, depression is the opposite

He posed the question of "what is play?"

  • Fun
  • Voluntary
  • Play is its own reward
  • Exists in a "Magic Circle"
    • Rule set
    • Emersion/absorption

6 elements of play:

  • Anticipation
  • Surprise
  • Pleasure
  • Understanding
  • Strength
  • Poise

The Benefits of Play:

  • Refreshes us, breaks from life, work, learning
  • Increases our flexibility
  • Learning
  • Makes us happier

Jon-Paul talked about how our play today is not new play. It is the same play just in a new medium. "A new way."

He gave libraries some questions to try to answer:

  • What is the role of the library?
  • Are libraries about books, about information, about play?
  • How do libraries engage these new forms of play?
    • How do libraries fall into the Venn diagram of games, play, reading

Do libraries provide play? Or do we promote the best play?

How can we do each?


Jon Paul's remarks provided a great conclusion to the symposium. Games of all kinds are enjoyable because we play them. Through play we can learn a variety of skills and concepts through the act of play. Playing builds community for both those playing and those watching. Play is worthwhile for the health of an individual and an institution. Gaming in libraries, in all its forms at GLLS, is a great way to reach out to various communities of all generations, provide services that build relationships and stimulate growth, and to come together in shared experiences of play.

IL Challenged? Don’t Blame Them, Game Them

Richard Glass, Marsha Spiegelman, Nassau Community College

Glass and Spiegelman describe their information literacy game in Second Life. The game, is a series of quests throughout different Second Life locations. While the content amounts to a traditional tutorial the interactive environment creates a new experience. Glass and Spiegelman have used the Second Life platform to create a game, rather than just simply existing in the virtual world. The game is a great idea that is still going through additions and just starting to be used. But as a concept, they've created a tool for a virtual tutorial that pulls the students out of a static webpage walkthrough, into a living world of Second Life. As community college faculty, the idea of a virtual tutorial for students is a great way to meet and adapt to their population's needs. Below are the notes from the GLLS session:

Students collect items in Second Life based around clues provided within instruction. They created a game within Second Life.

One of the challenges in the game is to evaluate websites. The links are provided within Second Life and the students then access those sites and return to SL to answer the questions. Some of the other questions scattered throughout the quest are adapted from Scott Rice's Information Literacy Game.

Other quests include going to "Mystery Island" to A.Christie's cottage to search for a book using the library catalog. The game has a specific set of outcomes, but incorporates a number of choices. Students will get extra credit for playing.

2 questions from the audience:

  • How long does it take to play through?
  • How much has been play tested?

A: Glass and Spiegelman are just getting the SL quest out to their students now so any student feedback was very limited. I'm interested to see how this advances and adapts as more people play through the quests. I plan to follow up with them at the end of this semester and see how things are going.

Hopefully glass and Spielman's ideas open doors to others to use virtual worlds as a place to create game-like experiences. Experiences that mirror traditional gameplay elements and the satisfaction players derive from them.

Glass and Spiegelman have a broader gaming and libraries article in the October issue of C&RL News. They been using gaming principles in other instruction sessions and the article discusses that in more detail.

"gaminglearning," American Library Association, October 07, 2008.


Lessons for History from Rome: Total War

Speaker Seann M. Dikkers, from UW-Madison GLS Group.

Dikkers who is a doctoral student who has also presented a GLS 4.0 this past summer. He has worked with Kurt Squire on his Civilization III research.

Total War publishers use historians on the game developers. Dikkers also said that the publisher was much easier to work with than Civilization's publishers. Total War publishers did not shy away from working with educators and welcomed their game as a potential teaching tool. Producer Sam Weinberg stated that one of the keys to historical thinking is to divide up historic into segments and periods

Shogun, Medieval, Rome all recreate historical eras and allow players to experience history and the impact that decisions had on events. Dikkers spent a little time going through the history of the Total War

As the teacher, engage with the players and ask questions. "Why use ladders when the gates are open?" If players do not have an explanation or rationale for their actions, then ask leading questions to help them discover the learning. Ask them to talk to each other, seek out advice online.

Gameplay Mechanics include:

  • Settlement types
  • Financial Management
  • Family Trees / leadership
  • Guild Halls
  • Papal / Senate edicts
  • Technology Development
  • Diplomatic Relations

The game investment and enjoyment leads to further study and discovery. He suggests that when doing clubs and applying games, have multiple games to build through and apply. Using multiple games allows for more details, spend about 6 – 9 weeks per game.

Structuring Sessions:

  • Play – post details & handouts (45 – 60 min)
    • If there are announcements, post it – don't lecture it
  • Breaks – 5 – 10min
    • Teaching balance… How do you walk away from a game?
  • Add challenges
    • Do after/during break
    • "Who can find a strategy to beat the Romans?"
    • Can use as a teaching tool
  • Play (60 – 90 min)
  • Save – Quit
    • 30 seconds
    • No, "Right after this."
    • There are important events outside of the game
  • Critical Interactions
    • "I'm going to teach you how to take care of my lab"
    • Give them some responsibility
    • Use it as a time of reflection and learning

Continuing Challenges

  • Find a Strategy: What is the holistic process of strategies of success?
  • Game objectives
    • How does this help with literacy and learning

One of the key pieces that Dikkers discussed that is important for the successful advocacy is capturing examples of learning to provide evidence to those making decisions about funding and supporting these gaming and learning experiences.


While I have not played Rome: Total War, I have played some of both Shogun and Medieval. The historical accuracy in each game is amazing. The games are a great example of Bogost's "procedural literacy" concept. Total War players are learning about the decisions of historic leaders and how decisions impact the surrounding events. Dikkers did a great job of laying out the larger world that Total War includes and set up some excellent educational experiences. Just as Roper from the FAS stated in other session, the challenge is not if game will be used for education, but if they will be used well. Total War is a great example of games that can be used well with traditional world history curriculum.

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 www.storygameproject.org

Digital Gaming in Library Instruction: Exploring Academic Library Users Perceptions

Michael Robinson

Wanted to find out how students want to learn about the library and the content therein. The study was intended to see if librarians interests and forward thinking is actually in line with what students want.

Pilot study of 42 users in Fall 2006. Asked about two forms of instruction, formal instruction and informal orientation. In addition five technology based delivery methods were asked:

  • Paper
  • 2-d web
  • 3-d graphical interface
  • Audio only
  • Audiovisual presentation

Data Collection was focused on user's perceptions. User's perceptions of services shape their expectation.

Asked two questions on

  • Preference on Info Lit
  • Preference on Orientation of services

Each of the 5 services were paired up to create multiple combinations (x vs. y) the students then answered.


#1: Webpage 72,71

#2: 3-D immersive 68,59

#3: Paper

#4: Audiovisual

#5: Audio only


The pilot study led to more questions:

Why more interest in facility orientation vs. information literacy? Is it about spacial understanding in a virtual world?

This pilot is now being apply to his doctorial dissertation and expanding the survey. Michael's study is also going to be a forthcoming article in Reference & User Services Quarterly in 2009 that will provide a full write up on this study.

The study raises good question about users perceptions of how they want their undergraduate services. The results confirm library's continued adaptations and applications of user interactions in catalogs and online services. With 3-D environments ranking 2nd in both service preferences, it suggests the value of creating and trying new ways to create and teach our students. Unfortunately the results are very limited based on the size of the sample, but the results could help support others looking to try new ways to reach and teach their students.

I'm looking forward to following up with Michael as he works on his dissertation to see how the larger study turns out.


GISK & FAS Learning Technologies: Games for Classroom Education

Presentation by:

Ann Crewdson, Issaquah/Sammamish Libraries

Angelique Kopa, Harford County Public Library

Dr. Michelle Roper, from Federation of American Scientists

ALSC's Great Interactive Software for Kids Committee changed their game scope in 2007 to include console, mobile, and all games. The expanded scope and expansion of gaming has created both a much larger pool of games to draw from and a lot more work to evaluate them.

The speakers walked criteria for Evaluation:

  • Content is enhanced by the graphics: like a picture book, graphics need good content
  • Games should be user friendly: easy to get into, understand and play
  • Ease of use
  • Educational and entertaining
  • Age appropriate: this criteria goes beyond ESRB to the skills and development of games and players
  • Collaborative play: both for learning and experience

A number of games that met the Standards for Excellence were discussed:

  • Komnami Kids Playground (PS2)
    • "Alphabet Circus" and "Dinosaur Shapes & Colors"
    • Practice of motor skills and refinement
    • Letter knowledge, beginning literacy skills
    • Recognition of primary colors
    • Reinforce letter, color, and shape recognition
  • Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree
    • Puzzles both visual audio
    • Thinking, memorization, computation, analysis, and identification
    • Challenge friends
    • Socialization
  • Animal Genius
    • Produced by Scholastic
    • Vocabulary building, life-science concepts, sorting/matching/categorization
    • Grades K – 2 recommended, but speaker talked about using it with her 2 year old
    • Life Science skills applied
  • Nancy Drew PC Series
    • Based on the books
    • Active problem solving
    • Nonlinear and higher order thinking
    • Develops sequential, logical, reading, organizational skills

For libraries looking for educational uses:

  • Look for partnerships
    • Public / School libraries
    • Vendors
    • Researchers

Michelle Roper from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) talked about how the FAS has looked at learning technology. They just received founding for a learning technology center. Discussed the potential from studies that technology assisted teaching to bring people from

6 Roadmaps + Executive Summary

  • Instructional Design
  • Question Generation

Games make new learning tools possible

  • Highly motivational
  • Embedded assessments
  • Scaffolding
  • Question Generation and Answering
  • Simulated environments that allow players to build, experiment, operate equipment, and explore
  • Collaboration

Dr. Roper discussed the goals of their game design

3 FAS Learning Games:

  • Immune Attack: basic immunology education; formal learning; $2 million invested into the game
  • Discover Babylon: classroom and museums for learning, targeted 8 – 14 year old; informal learning; over $500,000 invested in Discover Babylon
  • Mass Casualty Incident Responder: decision-making; workforce implementation

(Use slides to show screen shots and details of each game)

Immune Attack has been downloaded 6,000 times since it's release two months ago. Results show gender equity with girls gaining more science understanding than traditional instruction.

"What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us" – Roper made the point that it is important to understand gameplay and user expectations is important to be aware of during a game's development.

"It's not whether or not games will be used, but if they will be used well."

This is an important challenge to educators. Games are already teaching, although they may be teaching outside the curriculum. Our challenge as educators is to help find and create games that support and compliment the curriculum. And above that, games that students want to play. Using a game well is not just having good content, it is making a game with good content that is a game… not an electronic worksheet.

Gamers ARE Readers

The following are notes from the GLLS 2008 session presented by Lindsey Wesson & Lori Easterwood. The session follows along on the same lines as Kelly Czarnecki's Booklist article from 2007. [Czarnecki, K. (2007b). Books for teen gamers. Booklist, 103(13), 78-79.] Their session is a natural extension to the article. Lindsey and Lori treat games like any other entertainment medium and use those experiences to help patrons find other reading experiences they may enjoy. Their session gave an overview to each of the many different gaming genres and suggested types of books for each genre. But beyond that, they made the important point that gaming is a valuable experience for librarians to understand and apply in their service to the public. Thank you Lindsey and Lori for treating video games like just another valid entertainment medium.


The presentation focused on tying gaming with reading. Just like talking with a patron about the books they enjoy, librarians help them find books that fit their interest. Librarians can take the same approach for pairing games and books.

There are similar elements in games and books:

  • Choices, key moral choices that impact character arc
  • Puzzles / challenges
  • First –person perspective
  • Realism (historical fiction)
  • Historical settings
  • Literary hook
    • think of games as text
    • What are the key plot points

Simulation: Terry Pratchett's Nation

Action / Shooter: Artimus Fowl; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Adventure / RPG: most fantasy novels work; "Horns & Wrinkles" by Joseph Helgerson; "The Inferior" by Peadar O Guilin

Reader's Advisory Skills for Gamers:

  • Prepare
    • Familiarize yourself with gaming lit/press
    • Teen Ink.com
  • Discover a core collection of books for gamers
    • Gamers are readers wiki
  • Create displays for gaming books
  • Conversation
    • Don't wait for them to talk to you
    • Don't wait for them to tell you are a gamer
    • Don't treat it like a reference interview, it is a conversation
  • Find a fit
    • Aim higher rather than lower
    • Listen to what they've been saying
    • Bright and shinny
    • Books with gaming plots

Teen reads.com

Gaming Plot books:

  • Epic & Saga
  • Discordia
  • Brainboy and the Deathmaster
  • Heir Apparent
  • Gamer Girl

"The 39 Clues" intersection with books and online interaction

"Cathy's Book" written by game designers

  • Contains phone numbers or websites that add in more content to the overall experience

Lori and Lindsey stated in their opening that they've given this presentation (or versions of it before) and I'm thankful for that. Their mindset that video games are just another entertainment medium is wonderful. The argument is not "books or games" but "books and games." Connecting books to games is a good step in acknowledging that games are just another collection and service we can provide.


Grand Theft Childhood

Dr. Lawrence Kutner spoke about his research with children and their parents about the effects of and reason for playing violent video games.

Kutner started off with the historic tradition of moral panics over video games and other mediums, like the paperback novel. He discussed the scandal of 1873 with Anthony Comstock and congress using "the protection of children" rationale to district the public from larger issues of the time. The controversy of dime novels and the corruption of youth. By understanding the historical context of public fear,

Hayes Code prevented showing dynamiting of trains in fears of instructing people how to do it.  Dime novels, movies, comics all used antidotes to show "evidence" of the negative impacts on youth. 

Fear of violence in games like Mortal Kombat in the early 90's. Are the current fears over video games no different than these historic examples?

While the statistics that were displayed were outdated, the Pew data showed that children are playing on a regular basis. He used examples of the DC Sniper and Columbine quotes on both sides arguing for and against games as a factor. Evidence shows that violence in schools has gone down over 20 years, but the coverage has gone up. There is no official profile of "school shooters." Only 1 of 8 had shown any interest in video games. Using FBI stats, youth violence peaked in 1994, overall youth crime is down. Only simple assaults have dramatically increased. Explanations in mandatory aressets.

Kids listed the 5 most played games in the last 6 months. #1. GTA 44% Madden 34 28% Halo (boys)

Girls #1 Sims, #2 GTA

Only 5% of boys 6% played with adults. For 96% of boys the reason to play was a social experience to play. Children that play M rated games are most likely to have gaming in their bedrooms.

62% used games to relax, about 25% used games for emotional regulation (forget problems, get anger out, feel less lonely). This is a key that the games are not causing the problem, but a sign of a larger problem.

They did focus groups with both parents and kids. Parents of boys were not concerned about gore, more concerned about violence against women and minorities. Were concerned about sex in games more than general violence. Kids were most concerned about language. Kids asked about what age was appropriate for M rated games. Kids were concerned about the same issues as parents and "swears" for their younger siblings. Boys that were surveyed were much more concerned about sex, than violence.

Reasons found for "Why play violent games": Compete and win, get anger out, modding, and guns (unclear on meaning)

The researchers sought to understand what qualified as violence. Violence is not aggression, and that distinction is important. Statistical prediction cannot show causation. Children studied were clearly able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

What attracted kids to games were the complexity of gameplay, narrative, and character. Most happened to be M rated.

Sample was light on Latino and Asian, versus national average. But the sample was broad, urban and suburban, race, socioeconomic class was representative. Their sample showed the heavy ownership of consoles, which matches the Pew Internet survey.

Question asked about ethical questions in games. Kutner stated that content in games should be developmental appropriate. Another question was asked about children's developmental stages where they are able to see violent games as fantasy vs. reality. Kutner, a psychologist, stated that child play is traditionally violent, games may have less of an impact because they can influence the experience and shut it off… unlike movies or television.

Teens, Games, and Civics

Statistics and results presented by Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Internet & American Life.

The full results of the questionnaire study are here:


The full study is at http://www.pewinternet.org

The audience asked about the digital divide and if that effected game playing. Amanda reported that there were no statistical significance with race, ethnicity, and socio-economic class and ownership of gaming consoles. They may not have the most recent gaming console, but they do own console. These demographics may not have internet access in the home, but still own a console or gaming system. Console gaming is less limited than access to the internet. Amanda reported similarities of consoles and cable taking priority over other household items.

This leveled playing field of access is important for educators because it means most everyone is coming in can relate to gaming experiences and connecting learning skills to these experiences becomes easier.

Marc Prensky: “Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning”

The following is a summary of Marc Prensky's keynote speech at GLLS 2008:

Prensky started off who librarians are, stereotypes: past, present, future. He showed clips of what could happen to librarians as they meet gamers. It is a quick and light introduction for libraries.

He challenged us (tongue-in-check) to rename the library "the future."

He talked about his book, "Don't Bother Me Mom, I'm Learning." He faced publisher challenges in getting the book published. Stories as more than traditional books. Stories are spoken, played, acted out. Games are more than just a passive narrative.

 Prensky made the distinction between simple games and "complex games." "Complex games" are not mini or casual games that take anywhere from 8 to 100+ hours to complete. These are multiple leveled games that produce learning through engagement. Games work because of generation of 20 year olds are successful in the workforce. Guild management results in business management. Butch Rosser at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC studied gamers as surgeons. Lawyers as gamers, "Objection" game helps train the twitch speed of recognition of procedure. Gamers managing and running teams in sport games creates a deeper level of understanding.

Players are "role playing experts." Moral questions in games… "Just because you can do something – should you?" Parents engage with the experience of books and movies and can engage their children in a conversation. Parents can play and talk to their children about the games. Start asking questions, "Why do you like them?" "Tell me what you think?" We can engage with the players. We need to ask the "Why, but questions?"

 Prensky was asked, "If kids play, because adults can't?" He responded by saying that they enjoy their level of expertise, but it is more. The experience is more than a have / have not.


Simulation is a big part of games, but not all simulations have gaming elements. Prensky does make a distinction between the two. Sims have specific content, games are about an experience. Game are the "most engaging intellectual thing we have." Will Wright's quote of games are the manifestation of a problem and finding the solutions. Gamers enjoy the problem solving and learning experience. "Learning is the real reason we play games."


Prensky moved through a number of games and what they learn:

  • Collaboration
  • Effective Decisions
  • Prudent risks
  • Ethical decisions
  • Scientific deduction
  • Think laterally
  • System thinking


Support systems for games, reviews, official sites, mags, blogs, fan sites, and other support structures for learning and gaining information. Prensky talked about a number of strictly educational games as a place to start. But beyond that he mentioned a number of COTS games that have educational content (Civilization, RTS games, Typing of the Dead). He walked through a number of existing serious games "Immune Attack" by the Federation of American Scientists.


Prensky provided a large number of examples of serious and educational games for people to latch onto and get interested in. Those listening could walk away with potential games to play and experiment with.


"The kids want more games." Project Tomorrow report that games make it easier to learn and understand. Games can be a "bridge" to use as a transfer of skills. [This is a point that I've made and we all should be making - Games are a bridge and it is our responsibility to help make that transfer.]


Games empower students. Players are "creating their own mark" and it lets them learn programming tools. He talked about game designers using good pedagogy. Focus on engagement. Don't Suck the fun out. "Kids play because they are the most engaging thing they have."


Prensky said "connection to curriculum" is a barrier, but that we are "busters" of those barriers. He talked about challenges schools face in using and applying games. Fun and learning do not have to be separate.


The case to make: It's not about games and simulations. It's about ENGAGEMENT. 21st century learning. Engagement is not about what we do "to" the people, but what we do "with" the people.

He then made the futurist case for "Homo sapien digital" and rapid technology changes within the next century. Changing tools through "21st century tools." Librarians, teachers, parents need to engage with the digital natives. Digital tech is "their birthright." It is more than just saying "they don't need them." Talked about being locked into the "artifact" versus the "content" within them. 

 www.marcprensky.com and www.games2train.com for the slides of his presentation and additional resources.

Chris Harris asked about "digital natives" vs. "digital immigrants." Prensky stated that he never meant to set up the divide. He responded that he has moved away from that terminology to shift it to "Homo sapien digital." It is bigger than one generation. We can all be digital, it is just a matter of time on when people can get there. And importantly for librarians and educators how we can help everyone get there sooner.