Choices in Video Games: Selection from Public Services Quarterly Editorial

The following is a short segment from my 2010 editorial in PSQ which discusses video games as potential models for research behavior and the general research process. This segment is focused on categorizing different types of choices players make. These three categories originate from Charsky's 2010 article "From edutainment to serious games: A change in the use of game characteristics" in Games and Culture.

Video games are a shared experience that require interaction and engagement from players.Players are actively engaging with the game, making decisions based on the information available to them, and shaping an experience that may be different for each player. While there are interactions in games that the designers force on a player either for the sake of gameplay or narrative, there still remain choices left in the player’s hands.

Charsky(2010) discussed how games provide players with three types of choices:

· Expressive

· Strategic

· Tactical

Expressive choice allows the player to create a character and personalize that character looks and abilities in order to create a sense of ownership over the character.Gee (2003) talks about this same idea when he discusses how games create a sense of agency for players. This expressive choice helps to create a personal connection with a character that a player may spend 10 – 50 hours with depending on the game.

Strategic choice discusses the technology and systems within the gameplay mechanics. Strategic choice creates systems for players to approach challenges in various ways and still arrive at successful and satisfactory outcomes. This is often done through branching paths and open ended choices that players must decide upon.Bogost (2007) discusses how games create systems for the player to apply various potential solutions to. This idea of systematic thinking that Bogost discusses creates the framework to allow the player to reach a conclusion with the given information, apply it to the game’s situation, and evaluate how successful the choice was.

It is these smaller individual choices that Charsky (2010) describes as tactical choices.These tactical choices are where information literacy skills are applied. Evaluating which piece of information or experience is essential to solve a given challenge.

Succeeding in these challenges requires the information literacy skills of collection, evaluation, organization, and application. Johnson (2005) sites these skills as how video games help players develop organizational and problem solving skills. Gee (2003) looked to these series of decisions and interactions as the ways in which games create good pedagogical models to engage and teach. De Freitas and Oliver (2006) describe the tactical choices in video games and the feedback they provide the player, as a way to create effective learning activities. The unique attributes, interactions, and choices video games create provide justification and interest for libraries to explore ways to integrate video games into learning.

I will be discussing more about these types of choices and what they can mean for library instruction during Friday's ACRL panel session with Neal Baker from Earlham and Katherine Todd from Manhattenville College.

Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Charsky, D. (2010). From edutainment to serious games: A change in the use of game characteristics. Games and Culture, 5(2), 177-198. doi: 10.1177/1555412009354727

DeFreitas, S. & Oliver, M. (2006). How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated? Computers & Education, 46, 249-264. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2005.11.007

Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad is good for you: How today’s popular culture is actually making us smarter. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Critical Thinking Mod for Elder Scrolls: Morrowind - mapping it out

Over the course of this summer and fall, I have worked with a student researcher to create a video game experience that will help demonstrate information literacy skills. I will go into more detail about the project in the coming posts, but I wanted to start off with this video mapping out our character interactions.

After spending a few months this summer looking through online games and not finding anything that provided the depth we wanted within a limited playtime experience, we decided to mod an existing game. After creating the characters and most of the dialogue, we needed to see where our gaps in quest logic and character interactions were.

Student Fellowship: Morrowind Critical Thinking Mod from Paul Waelchli on Vimeo.

Mapping it out allowed us to identify that our critical thinking quest was too straight forward and made creating more characters and dialogue easy to plug in. With the additional characters and dialogue, I think that we've created a quest that will force players to question and evaluate the information that they receive.

National Gaming Day @ the Mulva Library

We kicked off National Gaming Day a little early last week with a gaming event on Friday night. Since we ran the event past midnight, we were able to help kick off National Gaming Day @ your Library.

We had a variety of board games brought in by our local Green Bay games store: Gnome Games. Students brought in materials to play Warhammer 40k. And we had various video games going: Goldeneye on the Wii and Halo Reach and L4D2 on the 360 played in each of our classrooms. And students even brought in a PS2 and N64 to hook up in our smaller study rooms. It was a good turnout for our first game night.

The students' overwhelming response was: "When can we do this again."

National Gaming Day @ the Mulva Library from Paul Waelchli on Vimeo.

Don't Mourn - Organize

In the process of writing the last post, I was reminded of my political roots. A loss doesn't mean you roll over and except the result. A loss means you pick yourself up and work again for the next fight.

I know I share some of the blame for the loss of the "research intensive" designation. I could have lobbied harder and stayed more on top each phase. I assumed too much.

As I finished my last post, I started new emails to the committee members and outreach to the incoming Writing Center director. This should start laying the groundwork for the next phases.

I'm thankful for my political losses and for those organizers that shaped me. I've even brought the pin I was given after my first loss. Don't mourn - organize. This discussion may not be the focus of Research Quest, but I needed place to voice my thoughts and pick myself back up.

Now back to the general focus of Research Quest, even if it's been almost six months...

image via:

Offered up for the political sacrifice

Recently, part of what brought me to my current position was lost. The straight forward path to curriculum integration was offered up as a political sacrifice. My route to formal integration has now become longer and more convoluted. But there is still a path. And since I still have my job, I will continue to work toward the goal of formal curriculum integration of information literacy.

For the past few years of the college's general education revisions, information literacy was on par with writing and communication as skills valued across the new curriculum. This focus was written into the working documents and the structure of the new core programs. Courses were to be designated as "writing" "research" or "communication" intensive courses. Each representing valued skills for students across disciplines to learn. This was good structure that insured the emphasis on information literacy. While many would rightly argue (myself included) that many courses currently offered could be considered "research intensive," the benefit of parity was that information literacy was a formal objective that stood on its own in the curriculum.

When I started back in the summer of 2008 I met with the chair of the committee who was and I believe remains committed to the ideas of information literacy within the curriculum. I spent the spring of 2009 meeting with the committee and working with the Writing Center Director, who sat on the committee, to draft language for the "writing" and "research" intensive designations. Unfortunately, the WC director left in the summer of 2009. In the fall of `09, I again worked with the committee chair to finalize draft language for the "writing" "research" and "communication" intensive designations. This was the draft language that was moving forward in the committee.

During this academic year, the general education changes left the committee and went before the full faculty. As with any general education curriculum changes, everyone has something at stake. What proceeded were faculty meetings spent debating the larger structure of the new curriculum. This debate and suggested changes focused on the organization, naming, and focus of 4 or 5 "pillars." Writing, Research, and Communication were left relative untouched in the formal debates.

That is until recently. In between the discussion at division and full faculty meetings, the committee dropped the "research intensive" designation. When the curriculum structure came back up for discussion in the last faculty meeting, only "writing" and "communication" intensive courses were listed. After talking with the chair of the committee, it is clear that there was a need to trim the curriculum structure. And the "research intensive" designation became one of the first trimmed.

As the debate and concern over the expansion of the curriculum grew, it appears that information literacy was the easiest piece to remove. Without a department to speak up or faculty to vote, the library holds little political influence. With only the library director holding faculty status, we became a convenient sacrificial offering.

It is still my intention to continue advocating for the inclusion of information literacy into the writing and communication intensive courses. Now the lobbying effort and demonstrating the value has become a larger focus.

Below is part of the draft language on how information literacy was planned to be integrated into the curriculum. There was/is more to the document, but this provides a quick outline of what was planned. There were certainly concerns and areas that needed work in the text, but since this text is no under consideration, I would like to share it with others. Or at least preserve it in memoriam:


All students at St. Norbert College must complete a minimum of four research-intensive (designated RI) courses according to these parameters:

* One of these RI courses must be outside of the student’s major;
* One of these RI courses must be in the student’s major and in the upper biennium;
* Students with double majors must complete an upper-biennium RI course in each major.
* Students may transfer one RI course in the lower biennium, but not both.
* Students may transfer one RI course in the upper biennium, but the second RI course must be in the student’s major so that transfer students must complete at least one RI course at SNC within the discipline.

In every Core Program, research-intensive, major, and minor course, students should devote energy to targeted stages of the research process—planning, searching, evaluating, revising, organizing, and documenting. The research products, in various forms, are the natural reflection of the research process.

All RI Core Program courses will have a dimension, which includes research exercises, application of resources outside of course material, and a formal out-of-class research assignment. These research requirements must be described in the course syllabus.

Students at the lower core will be able to:

· Communicate a basic understanding of what information is needed
· Apply a variety of types and formats of sources to locate the information
· Identify gaps in the information and revise the search
· Describe and apply criteria for evaluating the information
· Combines new information with existing knowledge to construct individual analysis
· Communicate findings and conclusions to others through various methods
· Follow institutional policies to acknowledge where the information originated from

Students can meet these skills by:

Research Exercises

Courses should promote the concept of research and focus on the research process as a means to understanding course content. A traditional research based term paper is one of the exercises that meet the RI designation. Other possible research focused exercises include:

· annotated bibliography
· research journal/log
· research paper outline
· literature review
· author tracking review
· identifying major journals
· comparison of internet/database searches
· poster presentation
· oral presentation
· journal/book/article review
· research trend analysis

Application of Resources Outside Course Material

Exams should include at least one essay question that requires students to write a paragraph or more to demonstrate information literacy and critical thinking skills (e.g., incorporating external sources, evaluating ideas, explaining concepts, synthesizing material, arguing a thesis, etc.) Though instructors are urged to incorporate an essay component on every exam, they may modify this component to meet particular exam needs.

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 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

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 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