Not Hot for Teacher: Lara Croft & Tomb Raider as Educator


Much is written about Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series. As a game it set new standards for 3D exploration in a "realistic" setting. As a feminist image, the character is still discussed over a dozen years later:
Jansz, Jeroen, and Raynel G. Martis. 2007. "The Lara Phenomenon: Powerful Female Characters in Video Games." Sex Roles 56, no. 3/4: 141-148.
But as an educational tool and analogy, well, teaching is not often the focus of discussion. Last spring Nicholas over at information.games wrote about his recent Tomb Raider experiences. I respect Nicholas Schiller's approach to gaming as educational pedagogy and his discussion of the game made me wonder about potential educational parallels. So recently Chad from Library Voice and I started playing through Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a remake/re-imaging of the original Tomb Raider for the Playstation.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been inching my way forward in Anniversary, one puzzle room at a time. And now, at about the half-way mark, there are some instructional parallels that are worth spending a little time on:

  • User interface settings
  • Individualized pacing
  • Clear directions
  • Staging assignments

Each of these gameplay experiences has a direct connection to what we teach and how patrons use our services.

User Interface:

Early in the first few stages of TR:Anniversary the player is introduced to the concept of “Advance Toggle” for attacking enemies. The default controls allow the player to auto-lock and draw their weapons automatically. “Advance Toggle” manually draws the weapon. When the control option is introduced it in via a quick pop-up window suggesting the control scheme if you are having trouble. The reality was, I was not having trouble defeating the few wild animals around the levels. Since attacking was not an issue, I dismissed the suggestion and continued through the game.

Unfortunately, not using this option made the first boss battle overly difficult. The first real test of gameplay skill comes in the form of a T-Rex. Using the default interface, which was able to get me through the first three levels only resulted in frustration, lots of frustration and dozens of attempts. When I switched to the “advance” interface I was able to defeat the dino in two attempts.

There is a discussion to have about the practice vs. performance aspect of this boss, going from a suggestion to a requirement of a skill needed to progress does not allow the player much room to develop the ability. Part of the problem with the lack of practice is the ease of the default interface. It is easy enough to run around letting the game AI auto target, but it suddenly becomes much more efficient when using the “advanced” controls.

This is the same situation that librarians have discussed with students for years. In most cases, the advanced search boxes in EBSCO, Proquest, FirstSearch, Jstor, and others all result in more effective and efficient searches than the basic search. Last year when EBSCO switched their interface to the Googlized one line, students were please with the ease of use and access to results. Unfortunately, when students begin with more detailed and specific searches they often came up with the red line reading: Note: Your initial search query did not yield any results. But because EBSCO is so nice, the students still have 100,000s of hits based on some of their search terms. EBSCO often allows students to go through their search finding "close enough" articles. Or the research equivalent of running around and shooting until the player hits something.

This fall in my instruction sessions, I've made an effort to have students search both under the default interface and under the "advanced." Even the students that found results under the default interface's single search line, had more effective searches (relevance & retrieval) using the advance method. By helping the students see the difference and understand how to use the advanced search, they continued to use the advanced interface throughout the session and in future sessions as well.

Just like TR:Anniversary, EBSCO allows the user to get by with the default interface. But to really be effective in both the game and in research users need to dig deeper into the interfaces and find the advanced feature that will improve their quest for information and artifacts.

Next up: Pacing



Tomb Raider Anniversary image via TombRaiders.net








7 comments:

Gaming courses said...

I read many post on Lara and Tomb series. But the facts you have given here are just unrevealed to me. Great post!!

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haha awesom lara croft is a bad ass chick the going to kick all you butt hope you released a new post for the new tomb raider game

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