Bulletin, April/May 2006
From Game Studies to Bibliographic Gaming:
Libraries Tap into the Video Game Culture
Branston is liaison librarian at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario,
digital game world, throw it in a blender, add some information and research
skills, sift out the word educational and maybe, just maybe, we have a
new and effective way to teach our students bibliographic instruction.
the video game industry momentously grows into one of the most dominant forms of
digital entertainment, moving from geeky adolescence into a mature entertainment
juggernaut reaching audiences young and old, the academic community begins to
pay heed. In reality, the recent academic focus on “game studies” is
actually a return to an educational examination of video games that began in the
1980s when personal computers and their pre-packaged games began to spread. This
re-examination of educational gaming has been spawned by video game ubiquity as
well as the commercial success of the gaming industry.
is also significant evidence suggesting that enhanced problem-solving skills and
knowledge have become unpredicted byproducts from well-developed stories in
games. Subsequently, there are innovative game studies courses and programs
popping up all over university curricula and campuses. Programs from
communication studies and media studies to English and computer science are all
incorporating elements of game studies into their programs. Some new programs
are being formed, shyly avoiding the video game label, while others, such as the
Wisconsin-Madison’s groundbreaking Games, Learning & Society Program,
boldly proclaim their focus on games. If game studies is becoming a widespread
area of research, should information science also be looking at ways of
incorporating this area into its field, and if so, how can this integration be
in the Library
a 2003 poll, 69% of teenagers reported that they spend time playing video games
each week and 25% of those polled reported playing at least 11 or more hours per
week (Gallup Poll, 2003). Educators and librarians need to be aware of these
kinds of statistics if we want to know our users. In truth, librarians and
information scientists are already paying attention to the video game
phenomenon, either by conscious strategic planning and programming or by
fulfilling user requests for information on the fly at the reference desk. Video
game sales continue to grow, and as gaming becomes a permanent pastime for
teenagers, public libraries in particular are realizing the need to re-examine
the scope of their collections and services by looking at the gaming medium from
a fresh perspective. New approaches include developing collections of video
games, developing and providing special gaming programs by hosting gaming
tournaments (otherwise known as LAN parties for the gaming community) and
offering gaming advisory services similar to the traditional readers’ advisory
services provided for the hard core reader seeking recommendations from
well-read librarians. (See the papers by Gallaway, Gullett, Neiburger in “For
course there are legitimate concerns surrounding the decision to support or not
support video games as a new medium for libraries, including the expense of
supporting various gaming platforms. However, many of the arguments against
moving into the video game realm seem a little déjà vu, mirroring the
arguments against the collection of film and other non-book media in libraries.
Librarians who fought to collect films and music are aware that their original
arguments supporting these new collections, which insisted that alternative
mediums would draw people into the library to expose them to the book
collection, have not proved at all accurate. And perhaps that is a good thing.
New types of collections invite new types of users, and the library becomes a
more multifaceted place. Music lovers are not necessarily readers, nor should it
be our mandate to insist that they should be. Of course, video game appreciation
has not yet reached the same acceptance level as music appreciation.
Nonetheless, with new technologies, the way people use libraries is changing,
and the collections and services offered by libraries are consequently changing
and evolving to stay relevant and to meet the needs of the public.
with staying abreast of the latest and greatest video games, it is important for
information specialists to be aware of the technologies at work in the video
game industry. For library collection purposes, adding video games is not quite
as straight forward as purchasing music or film on DVD. There are several
platforms or gaming consoles to consider when purchasing games, so deciding
which one to support could be a difficult and costly decision. Planning and
strategy will be key for the library to be successful in these collection
as a Learning Tool
with the public interest in supporting video games and game playing in
libraries, librarians and information scientists are also analyzing video games
from the learning theory perspective, particularly in the academic library
community where bibliographic instruction plays an important role within
curriculum and lifelong learning.
flow of information in the digital age is changing the way publishing takes
place, which has an impact on research techniques as new mediums and tools are
learned and assimilated into the scholarly research process. As well, as people
begin to take on “real” virtual identities online, virtual societal rules
are being formed as the rules for the physical world are not always appropriate
or sufficient. One area that has recently been identified as something
particular to the online world – and specific to video games – involves the
development of virtual economies. Non-existent fictional items used in game-play
are being bought and sold on eBay (Steinkuehler, 2005). Incredibly, virtual game
currencies are at work in our real world. This economic anomaly alone seems to
indicate the importance of paying attention to the influence of video games in
power of video games to teach cannot be denied. Scholars in the field of game
studies are well aware of the peripheral and accidental learning that goes on
behind the scenes as a child, teenager or adult engages in an interactive video
game. Harnessing the power and creating the recipe for success are more
difficult. Remember the failure of the recent past when educators espoused the
glories of edutainment, only to watch as that industry failed to leave the
ground. Given that the idea to use games to teach is not a new concept, why
should we go down this road again? One reason has to do with the generation of
younger people and their use of technology (Prensky, 2001). They are born and
bred using games. They are being trained to be visual learners with a preference
for active learning and intolerance for purely passive learning in traditional
lecture-style teaching. The potential for building a video game to incorporate
knowledge and information is appealing to educators. Librarians with an aptitude
for technology and an interest in promoting active learning in training modules
will find the idea of incorporating library instruction in a video game just as
attractive. It’s one way to get beyond the boredom that students often
associate with library instruction.
the past, educational video games have struggled to prove their effectiveness.
There are many reasons for the edutainment bust that occurred shortly after the
first wave of excitement about using video games to teach. Companies simply
could not sustain themselves and compete with huge commercial gaming companies.
As the intelligence and complexity of video games grows, there is again a fierce
interest and desire to analyze the learning that results from game play. This
interest and the success in the commercial gaming market encourage the
educational community to look again at ways to incorporate technology in
teaching in order to reach learners in innovative ways.
past mistakes will be the only way to succeed if we continue to strive to apply
gaming in our teaching. One way is to take the focus off learning. We can model
our educational games after commercial games. Unexpected learning seems to
happen in successful commercial games whose prime goal is to entertain. Also,
current developers of gaming products and tools need to be aware of the reasons
behind the past failure of edutainment. If developers take the focus off
learning objectives and drop the educational adjective in the description of our
games, we can simply adopt the Marshall McLuhan adage and trust that the medium
is the message. This concept will undoubtedly raise concerns among educators who
know well that good teaching begins with clear learning objectives. Also,
administrators often demand method to the madness in innovative teaching,
especially when a lot of money is being devoted to new and potentially risky
concerns are understandable, but we can’t simply dismiss the powerful learning
that goes on as students interact with complex games full of rich stories,
complicated instructions and interfaces. And that is not considering the social
skills that are developed through the communication that goes on outside of the
game environment in the fan communities. We need to try new approaches if we
want to be successful in applying games in education. If we build games that do
not focus so much on objectives, the players will be more motivated to play –
especially if the objectives of the game do not center on learning particular
skills or knowledge, but rather on engaging the player in complete immersion in
the game world. Complete immersion will be the best measure for success of an
educational game – or any game, for that matter. Librarians stand apart from
other educators, as bibliographic instruction in many academic institutions is
already located on the periphery of the curriculum. Librarians in the business
of bibliographic instruction have the freedom and experience of trying new
things because reaching our audiences and getting buy-in from the administrators
and learners has always been a struggle. The ideal situation would be if we can
incorporate information literacy and research skills into a game that teaches
librarians are aware of and support the argument that bibliographic instruction
is most successful at “point of need.” Merging the idea of game-based
learning and library instruction flies in the face of the “point of need”
theory, but it need not compete with it; instead, the two teaching approaches
should compliment each other.
way to avoid failure in development of games with an eye at educating players in
particular concepts is to involve the players in the design and development of
the games and to constantly test players throughout every stage of development,
getting feedback from users on everything from storyboarding to graphical
interfaces. Usability testing is important in any tool – especially one
involving interface design, and for the educational video game such testing is
also important. Of course, whether a game is “playable” may not result in
its ultimate success. Commercial developers and game players will tell you that
a good game is one where you lose complete track of time while playing.
efforts will be the greatest fear of educators and librarians involved in game
development. In all likelihood, the pedagogy in the game itself will not be a
flaw in a failed game – it will be the inability to find that intrinsic fun
factor, that magical ingredient that motivates people to play. A user needs to
find the game fun or addicting in order for it to be successful. Accomplishing a
successful game is going to prove to be the most difficult task of the
educational game developer. The fact that game studies programs are becoming
very popular will help our endeavor as we will have well trained students –
undoubtedly dedicated gamers – who can help us succeed.
fact, the next wave of commercial video game development is moving into player
design – where game players actually build the games they want to play
(Borland, 2006). This can only assist us in usability testing as gamers become
very articulate about why they find certain games fun. Another benefit of the
video game as a learning tool is that the player can go at his or her own pace.
Games can be built to adapt to the player’s skill level to make it truly
interactive. With games, players get immediate feedback. As gaming becomes more
popular, players begin to progress into the building mode. We can eventually tap
into our students’ skills and get their buy-in to our learning games by
seeking their help in building the games.
players in the development is important, but the developers should also have an
interest in games and game-based learning. Developers need to be passionate
about teaching and reaching students at a different level – one that is not
necessarily measurable in traditional ways. Finding ways to measure game design
effectiveness will be the next difficult task for educators and game developers.
Understanding common learning patterns will be important. For instance, people
do not begin a new game by first reading the manual from cover to cover. Most
players prefer to learn the basic moves in the game and then begin the
exploration on their own. The learning is completely interactive and immersive.
The unknown and the discovery factor in learning and playing a game are a big
part of the appeal. Being thrown into a new environment and learning to survive
is half the fun. Imagine if our students viewed learning how to use the library
in the same light as they do learning how to navigate around a new world in a
video game. They need not fear it – the discovery should be fun. If we can
borrow techniques from video games, libraries might be able to push past their
reason the video game is potentially an excellent framework to teach information
literacy skills, has to do with the fact that many game players often partake in
secondary research to assist them in their game play. Secondary material
supporting game play is vast – many current scholars in game studies are
taking a close look at the skills players develop in seeking out information and
at ethnographic analysis of the communities formed around particular games. This
secondary literature goes beyond simple strategies and game cheats. Much
fan-written fiction and literature is completely extraneous to what was
conceived by the original game designers (Steinkuehler, 2005). Another
interesting phenomenon involves websites devoted to classic video games.
Nostalgic programmers and players have developed software to support original
games of the 70s and 80s. This software enables the now 30-something child who
grew up playing games on the original PCs to emulate their experience as a
child. Finding game literature could be an excellent search topic for librarians
to use in order to interest students when teaching basic research skills. The
topic is meaningful and fun because the skills players learn in their
independent gaming research are completely transferable to the academic world.
proliferation of game studies programs on campuses creates the potential for
librarians and information scientists to tap into groups already developing and
evaluating games. Some librarians may have an aptitude and desire to learn new
skills, but for many, creating a good teaching tool that is fun and effective
will be the prime concern, so making use of resources that are already available
will be key. A wonderful aspect of the gaming community is a natural inclination
to share knowledge. Also, a new thrust for user-driven games will only encourage
the proliferation of free support material and software. There are many open
source tools available for game development. Similarly, those librarians
interested in using games to teach would benefit by sharing templates and game
engines that can be easily adapted for other libraries. We know that our users
are gaming. Let’s tap into these skills and interests and use games to teach.
Let’s add interesting gaming-related programs to our public libraries in order
to encourage information literacy and help our libraries evolve the way they
need to in this next phase of the information age.
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Articles in this Issue
From Game Studies to Bibliographic Gaming: Libraries Tap into the Video Game Culture