Just Keep Climbing & Jumping: Tomb Raider's Pacing & Exploration as a Research Journey

The idea of pacing within a game is not new and certainly not unique to one genre or another. Action, adventure, role-playing, and even puzzle games all require a consideration of pacing. How the player progresses, how the action moves, and how layers of challenge are added are all pacing concepts within game design. The idea of pacing in lesson planning and classroom instruction is not new either, pacing set by teachers, students, or combinations of both are all applied. Education literature has witnessed pendulum swings back and forth between rapid teacher-directed classroom pacing and student-directed variable pacing. Two separate math classrooms found different results in pacing. Sangster (2007) found a quicker paced classroom was beneficial. Vaughan (2005) found that students were more successful when they were able to set their own pacing of a unit before beginning.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary’s challenge in pacing stems its’ heritage and its’ isolated atmosphere. The game throws a large and seemingly open area to explore. The player can explore every gap, cave, and reachable outcropping trying to find artifacts, ammo, and other hidden items. Or the player can seek out the most direct and efficient route out of the room puzzle, progressing forward to the larger goal. This initially creates the feeling of a large area to explore, but quickly the player learns there is typically one, and only one, way to get past the puzzles. There are frequent dead ends for players exploring the area seeking out additional health, ammo, or “lost artifacts.”

The level design does give the player the ability to set their own pace, exploring the open areas for every item or seeking out the solution to the next area. Unfortunately, the level design often creates conflicting pacing. Those looking for the direct route end up exploring because the solution is not immediately clear. And those seeking out each item may stumble upon the exit only to have to return for missed exploration. Over the course of the first half of the game, I’ve experienced both situations.

I believe the game is designed with a slower, methodical pace. A pace that encourages exploration. A pace that reminds the player of how isolated the explorer/robber Lara is. And a pace that was born during an area of game design when there were not clear (or even often stated) objectives, tutorials were not common place, and the rise of game walkthroughs (and sites like gamefaqs.com) were only beginning.

The result of this perceived exploratory freedom is my frequent frustration about where to go and frequent restarts due to missed jumps. The ideas here of pacing tie directly into the directions (and lack of) given to the player. The game asks the player to explore the surroundings and enjoy the journey. While I enjoyed the journey in the first area, by the second area I was focused on the outcome rather than the journey's exploration. I was just trying to get to the next area and goal.

The recent Destrutoid rant on exploration and my classes this week shifted my experience and expectations with Tomb Raider's pacing. The Destrutoid rant talked about exploration in games as a means to either power up and add abilities or as simply as a means to explore and discover. The contrast of exploring to discover and exploring to achieve a goal are at odds with their pacing. When a player's goal is finishing the level or gaining the new ability a tighter, faster pacing keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged in progressing. When the goal is exploration the pacing can be more open and set by the player. These two paces echo Sangster (2007) and Vaughan (2005) from above. The challenge for Tomb Raider: Anniversary is meeting the players' expectation of pacing. When my goal shifted from enjoying the journey to reaching the next area and objective, I was at odds with the game.

Being at odds with the game's exploration pacing, paralleled one instruction experience this week. An undergraduate art history course was looking specifically for articles and resources on their paints and were struggling to find more than a few exact matches. Their goal was to get the required sources and move on to the next assignment and area of their work. The project required them to find tangential sources exploring themes and imagery. The students expectations of classroom pacing were not to search and expand their knowledge and understanding, they were searching to complete the assignment. This difference in research goals effected their expectations on exploration of resources.

In tightly focused research session, the student is able to quickly and efficiently find resources needed. Unfortunately, this can often be interpreted by students as doing a search and finding the closest articles within the first page or two of results. This is not a new concern or expectation by students. Librarians often struggle to help students dig deeper than the top results or to refine a search beyond the "good enough" articles. But when the exploration goal is a quickly paced task to the next assignment, their expectations are at odds with the frequent messy reality of a research journey.

We must also realize that our expectations can be at odds with the students as well. Just as I was frustrated with Tomb Raider slow exploratory pacing, our students get frustrated with libraries with vast resource options to explore. They just want clear directions through the assignment to reach their goal. Not every class can enjoy the journey as much as a Master's of Education class I worked with this week. After three hours of research exploration, and two reams of paper later, they were still enjoying the exploration of every resource and treasure hunt for each new piece of research.

That is the pacing and joy of exploration Tomb Raider: Anniversary expects of its' players. But I was the undergraduate student who just wanted to find my way out of this research cave and out into the daylight of the next assignment. This is a lesson in pacing and exploration that I can take with me into each classroom setting. While I can attempt to inspire the joys of exploration in students, I can also help them understand which path out of their research is the most effective. Just as Tomb Raider's series of jumps, climbs, and ledges may not always feel like the fastest way out of an area, it is often the most effective. In research, sometimes the required information is direct and accessing it is quickly paced. But there are other times when we can help students through the most effective path, which often includes jumps from one database and source to another.

But unlike Tomb Raider's isolated environment, we can help our students understand why this winding research path is important to achieving their desired goal. Unlike Tomb Raider, where the Sherpa died in the opening scene, the individual student is not alone on this exploration. Librarians are there to help pace the exploration, providing both a growing understanding of the journey as a process and effective routes through the deep caverns of research projects.

Sangster, Margaret. 2007. "REFLECTING ON PACE." MT: Mathematics Teaching no. 204: 34-36.

Vaughan, Angela L. 2005. "The Self-Paced Student." Educational Leadership 62, no. 7: 69-73.

images from TombRaiders.net

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

Fall Research: Games as Analogy for Information Literacy

During the first month of the fall semester I've spent my research time split between integrating information literacy into the curriculum and games the teach information literacy. This past spring, I was submitted a proposal (a section of which is shown below) and was awarded a two-year research fellowship student. The student will be assisting in the research, development, application, and assessment of using games to help exemplify and teach information literacy skills.

Description of Projects Involved: The Research Fellow, in collaboration with the project leader, will research and create tutorials that will be used by students to help teach information evaluation skills. These tutorials will include three distinct mediums for student interaction; powerpoint, web-based games, and commercial video games. In order to accomplish this, the Fellow will be responsible for researching critical thinking, information literacy, and game based learning. The Fellow will review gaming projects from other libraries and experiment with online Flash and commercial video games. The project will include four distinct phases: research, creation, application, and evaluation. The first year of the project will focus on research, creation, and piloting of the three tutorials. The second year will include applying these tutorials in workshop or classroom settings and evaluating the results.
We have spent the first month of the fellowship compiling a bibliography and helping the student work her way through the literature. As we work through the literature, I will be posting summaries and discussion of some of the articles. And as the fellowship project progresses, there will continue to be updates and discussion and hopefully examples of games.

While there is much discussion on creating games with the to attempt to teach information literacy skills. One of the goals of this project is to find existing web-based games that can engage players in information literacy skills and help create a discussion of how those skills can be used in their own research. The project will also compare student evaluations to multiple types of games as instructional technologies. The games themselves will not be intentionally library focused. They will ideally use a variety of settings to provide practical examples of information literacy skills and serve as an analogy for academic based research.

It's Football Season: Fantasy Sports & Information Literacy

With today's opening weekend kickoff to the new NFL season, it's worthwhile to review some of the information literacy skills millions of fantasy football players will be engaged in over the next few months. This past summer I was one of the many guest videos (guest speakers) in Scott Nicholson's Gaming in Libraries online course. The brief video walks through much of what I've written and spoken about in regards to information literacy and fantasy football.

For Whom the Bell Tolls... I'm Not Dead Yet

After 6 months of no activity on this blog, the growing assumption is a slow quiet internet death.

But I'm hear to say that it is not the case. I'm not dead, yet. There are still people finding the site and emailing about posts, articles, and classroom ideas. In the words of my colleague, I was on a blogcation. There are plenty of others who took planned and unplanned leaves from their writing. And we all have reasons.

Mine... the sudden death of my father. He died a few days after my last post. I am thankful to have had an open relationship with my father and we never hesitated to say "I love you." That being said, rarely a day goes by that I do not think of him in some fashion or another. In addition to this emotional tramua, as the Spring Semester wore on, the entire library began the preparation for a moving our existing collection and staff to a new library building. All in all, I was not in a mental or physical mindset to write.

I did continue to research and present. And I am back to needing a place organize, share, and shape my thoughts and ideas. Thus, I am back writing again. Over the next few posts, I will catch things up and talk more about my renewed energy and focus for video games and information literacy.

Starting up with where I stopped 6 months ago is a good jumping off point. My post on the state of video games, learning, and academic libraries was responded to by Christy Sich over at Bibliographic Games. Christy had one of the earlier articles about video games and information literacy and her experience and insight are appreicated. She ended her post with:

It's important to imbed information literacy into the curriculum - so a game-based information literacy approach should also be embedded.
Our campus is in the process of revising it's general education requirements and information literacy is currently included at the same level with writing and speaking/communication across the curriculum. Working on a draft of information literacy objectives, outcomes, course requirements has taken time away from video game research, but it has also allowed me to begin looking for games that fit these outcomes. Over the course of this academic year, I will write more about how I'm incorporating games and gaming strategies into the structure information literacy objectives and hopefully curriculum.

But for now, I'll catch myself and anyone else up on the last few months. There are also some new projects that I will be writing about, researching, and reflecting on.

Hello again to anyone who hasn't updated their RSS feeds in a while. And hello to anyone new out there reading.

image from Pythonline

State of Academic Library Gaming & Learning

The following is an email I sent out to various academic librarians working on gaming and learning in libraries, with a focus on information literacy. I hope that by posting it here and as others post their responses on their own sites this discussion will grow. Please join in this conversation. Nicholas Schiller has already added his thoughts to the dialog.

I hope this email finds each of your semesters going well. I want to ask each of you to consider taking part in a dialog about the current position of games for learning within higher education libraries. Recently, I was asked what the most innovative application of gaming in academic libraries was in 2008 year. While I turned to the work of many of you, I was struck by how fewer projects there were compared to 2006 and 2007. This perception played out through many of conferences during 2008 and was something that struck me during GLLS in November.

While more and more libraries are getting involved with gaming through events and even collections, are we seeing the same growth and adoption with gaming and instruction? Has gaming and learning hit a wall within higher education? If so why? If not, where is it evolving?

Each of you has had some part over the last few years researching, producing, and presenting instructional games and applying gaming strategies in academic libraries. Creating gaming nights is a straightforward process. Creating learning games and lessons with gaming strategies on the other hand, is an involved (and sometimes time consuming and/or expensive) creative process. But many of you are doing it on a variety of levels. My question is if our work is spreading or are we just talking to ourselves?

Now is the time to ask questions, discuss, and look to the future. Nick and Mary both have gaming presentations/posters at ACRL at the end of the month. But these are the only two gaming sessions in Seattle. According to the early program for this year's LOEX conference, there are no sessions on gaming and instruction. There are a number of gaming sessions at ALA Annual, but most are focused on public libraries. Where do we fit?

Discussion Questions:
1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?
2) What are some of the factors to that current state?
3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?
4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those "next steps?"
5) What do the finical and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?
6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?

Thank you all for taking the time to consider taking part in this discussion. I know that there is much work to still be done in our field, but I am hopeful that through collaborations like these we can continue to move forward.

Thank you,
Paul Waelchli

Goodbye EGM

I spent the night glued to twitter feeds and message boards last night reading about the UGO buy out of 1up and the cancelation of EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly).  The writers there consistently spoke with a unique voice in video game journalism and I’m sorry to see many of them go.  Their writings, shows, and podcasts were a part of my routine.  Three of their podcasts filled my MP3 player every week for the last two years.  Over that time, people came and went.  Relationships were cultivated.  Trust was built.  I’ve told many people that I spend more time writing and reading about video games than I do playing.  The 1up.com staff was a large part of my gaming experience.  They will be missed.

EGM was a video game institution.  It was about to enter it’s 20th year with its final issue.  I remember seeing the very first issue of EGM on newsstands as a kid, but it wasn’t until issue number 4 that I became a regular reader.  Even as a middle school kid, I was reading about games from numerous magazines (Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM,  Computer and Video Games, Computer Gaming World).  One perspective was not good enough even back then… it’s no wonder I’m teaching information literacy.  But EGM stood out above the rest.  Nintendo Power was for the fan in me, Gamepro had a fun kid friendly style with reviews, but EGM felt honest, harsh even at times.  Video games got poor ratings.  And who didn’t wonder who Sushi-X and Quatermann were?

EGM is a part of my gaming history as it is for many video game players.  While the death of EGM and print video game magazines was written on the wall for a while now… the loss is not softened. 

Thank you to all the EGM writers and editors over the years.  Your work has helped video game players question sources, look for additional perspectives, and see their hobby and passion as something more than the electronic “toy” it was back at the start of your run in 1989.

“Multiple Literacies in 2008 Holiday Games”

The January epsoide of Games in Libraries podcast was released today.  The podcast itself is filled with a number of good interviews including one with the Video Game Librarian.  The final segment of the podcast includes a discussion about the multiple literacies being put into practice by some of the bigger games of the holiday 2008 season.  I talk about the traditional, media, visual, and information literacies at work within the following games:

(info links provided by CrispyGamer, if you haven't read some of their freelance content now is the chance

 I had initially hoped to get something posted here discussing of number of these games during the holiday season, but time got away from me.  My segment on the podcast is a condensed version of the possible discussion about the literacies at work within these games.  And that’s a discussion I’d like to come back to during this month. 

But until then… enjoy the podcast and please give me any thoughts or feedback on the connection between the video games discussed and literacy.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Welcome Back… Your Dreams are Your Ticket Out”

Over a month and a half since my last post.  I’d like to have some wonderful story to go along with my absence, but the end of a semester at a new institution brought a number of unexpected surprises.  But the end my first semester came with a number of good results too. 

A 100% increase in the number of instruction sessions taught from Fall 07 to Fall 08.  Granted we started with a tiny number compared to what I was doing at the University of Dubuque.  UD’s 450 plus sessions for a student body of 1200 is an amazing number.  But still I managed some good growth and have hopefully laid down a foundation for future semesters

An initial campus assessment of some information literacy skills was conducted during the semester.  888 students from across all four grade levels (an easy 222 class average) answered a series of questions dealing with evaluating sources, identifying keywords, and plagiarism.  The results we mixed, good in some areas and identifying areas of need in others.  This initial round of data gives me numbers to work into conversations with faculty about their students and the benefits of information literacy.

I organized and ran a student study break on the Sunday before finals week.  There were snacks and sodas for the students along with board games and Mario Kart Wii.  We had a very successful night  and ran out of soda within the first 20 minutes.  I hoped for about 100 students and ended up with 192.  Hopeful the good buzz generated by this event will lead to good things this coming semester.

My one disappointment with this semester was the lack of involvement with the general education committee.  They are changing the curriculum and the chair was vocal with me and the library about supporting information literacy.  While I may be disappointed in the progress, it is a committee working toward change – change moves slowly.

My goal and dream for this semester is not only to continue to build on the success of the fall and to push myself and the library with the changes in the general education.  Therein lies my dream.  My ticket out of hit or miss one shot instruction.  A curriculum where information literacy is tied into it.

We’ll see.  But until then… welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.