Posts in games

State of Academic Library Gaming: Response to Paul Waelchi’s Letter

State of Academic Library Gaming

Paul Waelchli of Research Quest recent sent around an email to some academic librarians who have shown an interest in gaming. I encourage you all to read the original letter and chime in with your views. As I wind down my week and prepare to head up to Seattle, I'd like to offer my $.02 USD on the subject and publicly thank Paul for getting the conversation started. So here is my stab at responding to Paul's excellent questions. (I apologize for the hasty scrawling, but, if I give in to the editing impulse, I'll never get it posted before ACRL.) Mary Broussard also has a response to this conversation posted, and I have a sense that more contributors will be coming forward soon.

1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?

Games and learning exist on the margins of academic libraries. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, but my experience, which includes publishing and presenting about games and learning in academic libraries as a major aspect of my tenure and promotion process has taught me a few valuable lessons. First, academic librarians are willing to listen to ideas and research about the current and forthcoming generations of students. Tying gaming to the learning preferences and culture of students is an excellent way to justify studying learning in games. I haven't noticed that most librarians are interested in gamers per se, that is to say, generally we don't see a role for games being collected or played in the library. I have noticed a high amount of interest in games being taught librarians as a path to understanding the learning preferences of today's students. Games are one tool that can be used for specific purposes. For now, I think this is an appropriate reaction. As games or interactive media take on a larger role in information transfer and communication, as I forsee they inevitably will do, that role will necessarily evolve.

2) What are some of the factors to that current state?

Besides those mentioned above, I think the content of games has a lot to do with the rate that they are assimilated into academic libraries. Despite the potential of the medium, games are largely designed and marketed to children and young adults. To horrifically oversimplify, a major mission of information literacy instruction is to help young scholars move beyond uncritical reliance on popular media and become critical consumers of scholarly publications in their discipline. On the surface, focusing on games is a move in the wrong direction. A way around this is to focus on pedagogy and critical thinking. If we can show our sceptical colleagues that game designers have developed innovative ways of building skills and reflective practices then we have built a bridge between meeting our students where they are today and where they need to be in order to successfully complete their undergraduate education.

3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?

The next step is to build a scholarship of game studies that focuses on information literacy instruction. Perhaps a collaborative project might include building an annotated bibliography out of the scholarship we have done so far. We've all read a lot, processed a lot, and produced some good work. We can make it easier for our academic colleagues to follow our conversation if we provide a roadmap or at least a trail of bread crumbs that led us to where we are today. I also think it would be useful for us to do some talking about niches. Games have become a mature media. Perhaps it is no longer useful to lump in game analysis with designing useful games for the classroom or teaching to a gaming generation. Many game scholars are dividing into camps of ludologists and narratologists, those who focus on the game-play mechanics and those who focus on the narrative action of games. The time may be ripe for librarians to become equally specific in our work.

4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those "next steps?"

I think there is a lot of work to be done. Outside of Media Studies or Digital Technology and Culture programs, there may not be a lot of widespread acceptance for games and interactive media being a serious and significant area of study. On the other hand, I don't think there is much to be gained by arguing that point. Perhaps the best way to convince skeptical colleagues that a focus on games and learning is in the best interest of the library is to do work with games and learning that enhances student learning and furthers the mission of our libraries.

On the bright side, there do appear to be rich opportunities to perform scholarship in this area. In my personal experience, after writing and presenting on games and learning in academic libraries, I've begun to receive invitations to present my research in new venues. There is clearly a market for library scholarship on games, gaming, and gamers on the local and national level and in peer-reviewed library journals. If we truly want to build a body of scholarship surrounding games and learning in academic libraries, it is my belief that the publishing market will support us.

5) What do the financial and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?

Now is not a good time for unproven projects that cost a lot of money. For example, given the choice between purchasing a Wii, a monitor, and a gaming lab and cutting one less journal subscription; I couldn't responsibly not save the journal. The financial situation is bad and I can't imagine asking for funds with a clear concience any time soon.

6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?

I'll save this conversation for ACRL and the next round of discussions. My angle on games in libraries is fairly limited, and I'm sure that others are focusing on many areas that I'm blind to or unaware of.

Thanks Paul, for getting the conversation started. I look forward to seeing and or meeting more of you all in Seattle this week, if you are fortunate enough to travel. Seattle is fairly local, so I'm car-pooling up and staying w/ friends. I'm sure its harder for folk who have further to travel.

Horizons Broadening Project

What do we think about when we play games?

My answer to this question varies. Often, I only want to be immersed in an escapist world and not thinking about anything outside of my character or the game. At other times, I enjoy analysing the game experience in the light of my day job, a librarian and instructor. When I'm writing or speaking about analysing games to audiences of librarians, I often refer to Adler and Van Doren's How to Read a Book. This tome was inflicted on me as an undergraduate, but lately I've come to acknowledge a grudging respect for its lessons. Chief among them is the idea of multiple readings of a text in order to explore different aspects of it. Approaching games with this in mind has really helped me separate playing games from analysing games. After all, I really don't want to see a powerful graphics engine or think "the anti-aliasing and god-rays really enhance the depth-of-field in outdoor levels." I want to feel "sweet holy bastard child of Jebus, that's beautiful!" Once I've had that experience, I can go back and analyse what the artists and designers did to achieve the sensation, but I prefer to experience first and then try to understand (affectus quarens intellectum?)

It is with this in mind that I'm really enjoying the Horizons Broadening Project (part i, part ii) that Elysium (the honorable Shawn Sands) is tracking at Gamers with Jobs. The project calls, not only for participants to play games they would otherwise miss, but it also provides the opportuntiy to look closely at why we like certain games and describe our experience with new games. Shawn's description in part ii is an elegant reflection on a game experience that tracks along different lines than a more traditional review or impressions article.

I'm in the midst of a similar project, so I'm finishing The Witcher so I can particpate in the conversation. I did not play Birth of America, for a few reasons. One being that I didn't want to part with the cash and another being that I expect to pick up Empire Total War at some point and don't need to play both. My first horizons broadening project game was Tomb Raider: Underworld. I've never played a Lara Croft game. I've never had much success playing any game with a controller, being a keyboard and mouse man. I've never really spent much time playing platform games either, so this seemed like a nice opportunity to experience something new.

It turns out, I had a really good time playing Tomb Raider: Underworld and over the next few weeks, I hope to explain why. In the meantime, my thanks to Mr. Sands for pushing me in new directions.

Updated my gaming page…

After updating to WordPress 2.7 Coltrane, I took a look at some of my content and refreshed my gaming page.  Oddly enough, I'm on a games hiatus until I turn in grades for this semester. Still, it did give me a chance to think about what I've played this year and how it compares to the Gaming Bonanza of 2007 (tm).

Currently, I'm playing The Witcher and loving it. Loving.  It. I'm bored with LOTRO and haven't been able to scrape up enough time to give Left 4 Dead a go, even though I really liked the demo and played quite a bit pre-release. After I finish The Witcher, STALKER: Clear Sky is next and then likely Left 4 Dead and the new Tomb Raider game. I've never played a Lara Croft game and I'm interested to see what is in store.

What about you all? What are you playing now and what are your impression of gaming year 2008?

Winning the information game (part 2)

Creative connections between sources are at the heart of what makes academic research intellectually stimulating and vital. We've seen in part one of this series that I'm not convinced that games can teach developing researchers how to make this connections. At the end of the day, I want the students I'm teaching to be able to do more than just jump through hoops and, to put it extremely bluntly, the genius of video games as a teaching tool is that they make jumping through hoops engaging and fun. Video games are a great tool for encouraging players to persist at jumping through hoops until they build skills through repetition.

So this is where information literacy librarians can really use games in their teaching. The overall process of research does not really resemble a video game. However, the individual skills and processes used by expert researchers can be trained and reinforced using techniques borrowed from video games.

Some examples:

Source Evaluation: one of the things I want to see beginning researchers include in their work is an evaluation of the sources they use to build their arguments. At a beginning level, "peer reviewed = good, popular publication = bad" is a start, but eventually I want to see them consider context and the use they are putting the source to. So using level design techniques, librarians can structure lessons to focus on simple evaluation early and then require more nuanced justification of source choices in more advanced lessons.

Advanced database searching: a key to developing from a beginning researcher to a capable student is moving beyond simple keyword searching. Game designers teach players to move beyond simple strategies by throwing in boss, or really tough opponent, that requires the player to change tactics to advance. Librarians can borrow this technique and give google-centric researchers challenges that require them to use subject headings, take advantage of organized metadata, or do citation analysis. At very least librarians can use game bosses and shifting tactics as a metaphor for why keyword searching can't find everything.

So while the entire research process may not resemble a video game, game techniques for building skills, encouraging persistence through failure, and providing an engaging context will come in extremely handy for developing skilled researchers.