Category Archives: gaming in libraries

gaming’s on board

Conference time again, this time at the Indiana Library Federation annual gathering. Glad there was gaming included in the program; one interesting session I dropped in concerned the other type of gaming, just as virtual but not quite as digital. Board games typically take a backseat to their video counterpart, and it is unfortunate that this is the case.  However, with an increasingly cult-like following, more students and adults alike are making board games not just mainstream, but the preferred form of gaming at their institutions, clubs, whatever.  So convincing and charismatic was Christopher Harris, ALA Mover and Shaker, as well as author of Digitalreshift and Infomancy, he just about had me heading out the door ready to purchase Settlers of Catan after his presentation.

Throughout his talk, Harris, a self-admitted gaming geek, gave numerous reasons “why board games PWN”.   Calling them “curriculum aligned institutional resources”, the strength of board games within any institution, be it school or academic, equals and even surpasses the influence carried by the shinier, sexier video game titles.  Indeed, Harris stresses that board games provide a gaming experience rather than simply being provided, and should be the first step when establishing a gaming-centered curriculum.  Harris explains:

  • Board games make you money – For the price of any popular video game console, numerous board games can be purchased, tested, and distributed for circulation.  Successful usage may then allow for purchase of video consoles with increased funding.
  • They make you use more of your brain than you thought you had – nowadays, people really have to think critically, often using mathematics, logic and other skills not typically used in an FPS.  Huzzah for higher order thinking skills!
  • They’ve lasted forever – Not that old Monopoly set gathering dust in the attic, but games like Go and Chess have been around and will be around forever. Thus, they have high replay value!
  • Board games give you “telepathy” – rather than reading other players’ minds, they put you into their’ shoes, allowing players to exercise empathy and strengthen prediction patterns according to the game structure.
  • Board games may teachers cry (tears of joy) – imagine incorporating fun, collaborative, and practical examples into your lectures, teaching plans, instead of having to continually prepare for all those meaningless state-sponsored tests.
  • You’ll be surprised who’s playing: They’re not just for geeky boys…the females can be just as rabid when it comes to gaming activities.

I left the presentation thinking that board games really have a prominent place in terms of the future of gaming and instruction.  The level of critical machination needed exceeds its video counterpart, and the level of imagination for creating such games generally is more robust, in my opinion.  A list of captivating, topically current games to consider, suggested by Harris include (descriptions after clicking):

The overall message is that board games cannot be ignored.  They foster cooperation and collaboration, “higher order thinking”, and cost-efficient replay value.  They’re just worth it.

caveat gamer

As illuminating as it is to have a gaming collection in one’s library, like any collection there are risks to assess before buying an expensive set of consoles and trusting that your patrons will actually return them, even the games. At my library we have an enviable collection of about 150 games available to students, faculty and staff, and while most patrons are mindful of due dates and others wanting to get their game on, a few can spoil that collective fun.

Here are the positives:

The not-so-positives:

Games will disappear. Get used to it. Yes, patrons with overdue games on their account can be blocked from future transactions and billed for replacement. But what happens if library staff members pocket a game right after it’s returned? How will it be found? Games are high in popularity and thus high in risk.

Games are expensive. Unless they are bought used on Amazon or from the local game store, there will be hard choices to make regarding replacing the perennially popular titles that may end up perennially lost or stolen. One of the reasons we have a gaming collection is that the campus gaming club supplies us with the games which we add to the catalog. We wouldn’t have the budget to otherwise purchase and replace such games. What about duplicate copies?

Is extra equipment required? Do you need video cameras, locked cabinets, or extra RFID tags to keep them from getting taken or lost? Containers to protect them during transit?

What’s your loan period? Really, games nowadays take a lengthy time to finish. One game has an ending challenge sequence that takes eighteen hours to complete. When gamers begin “passing out and getting physically ill” before taking a break, you know they’ll sacrifice a few dollars in fines so that they can finish the game.

These are just a few  of the considerations we’ve run into with our collection.  It’s an advantageous position to be sure, since the losses incurred do not directly come from our budget; however, without proper consideration for the scenarios affecting the selection and integration of games into the curriculum, the losses could be much steeper.

Spore in the Classroom?

I’ve been hearing a lot about the new game called Spore, and though I haven’t played it, there seems to be definite academic potential. What is Spore, you say? Basically, it’s a creation by Will Wright, the creator of all the SimCity enterprises, and it’s billed as the ultimate SimEvolution game. Create a creature, watch it evolve, determine its path to civilization.

There’s a whole lot of potential to explore here. Biologically speaking, I can see a tool for extrapolating, hypothesizing animal/organism behavior based on how an organism is constructed. Described in this Wired article:

Before you even begin the Cell stage, you have to make a decision: Is your little guy an herbivore or a carnivore? This can have lasting repercussions throughout the rest of the game. As a carnivore, the easiest way to get meat is to attack your fellow creatures. This turns your bacteria into kind of a jerk, and when he evolves, he’ll be more suited to being an aggressive land animal. Establishing dominance with violence will be easier than trying to reason with other creatures. And if you take this path of least resistance throughout the rest of the game, you’ll be a warlike, spacefaring race of jerks in no time, just because your aquatic ancestors went on the Atkins diet eons ago.

What’s cool is that some researchers already have their game on. This video from National Geographic shows us just how geeky us academics can be in creating the “ultimate animal”. Can spore be partially integrated into the life science curriculum?

I guess Spore isn’t just for science freaks as well. Like all Sim(…) games one must carefully decide the social science angle in determining the anthropological, sociological and political ramifications in the civilization stage, even if such a term can be said to exist in real, non-virtual life. My guess is that this segment of the game will devolve into the typical hulk-smash warmongering typically seen in most Sim games.

Even though Spore may try to be everything for every player, it does seem to set up an interesting template for game designers, simulation programmers to share with scholars in the academic sphere. I’m curious to find out where on the evolutionary scale librarians enter the picture.

green gaming

been recovering from the opening week of students crawling around campus and feel the need to post, but unsure what about. So after de-stressing with some good old fashioned video gaming I thought, hey, why not. It makes good sense as libraries are both going green and gaming, that I thought I’d mention a couple of games I’ve come across that are fun and have a green theme. These two are blasts from the past, and surely there are others dealing with greenness, but these two immediately come to mind and are really distracting.

Super Mario Sunshine came out way back when the Gamecube was the hot new console. It’s probably my favorite Mario Bros. game ever, as there’s so much to do while playing. The rundown is that Mario and Co. are taking a well-deserved rest from their Bowser beatdowns and taking a fun old fashioned family vacation to the tropical delfino island. Trouble is, evil is mucking about. Muck is the operative word, as the island is plagued with it, from graffiti on buildings to globs of the stuff polluting the waters surrounding the island. Predictably, the cleanup falls upon Mario’s shoulders, and with a high-powered squirt/hover cannon, cleaning time has never been more cathartic. Honestly, the game is worth playing just for the colorful design. Even the dayglo, psychedelic goo vomited throughout the game is worthy of one’s own drool being allowed to flow during game-play. It’s way challenging, fun, and a must have for environmentally conscious gaming.

The second game I have to mention is the lovably bizarre Munch’s Oddysee from the the makers of the lamentably discontinued or postponed Oddworld series games. The story doesn’t revolve around the issue of pollution and is eradication per se, but rather how the main characters, Abe and Munch, continually attempt to save their respective species and Oddworld itself from the enslaving, polluting, corporate baddies. Like all Oddworld games, the storyline is well-conceived and gameplay somewhat linear, but the developers manage to do everything right…it’s one of the most cinematic video game series I’ve ever experienced. It’s a bit darker than Super Mario Sunshine, as its socially conscious theme is bleak to say the best, but mosty importantly, aside from the fun gameplay it makes the player think.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but these two are classics in my opinion on a number of fronts. If you want to offer fun games with an environmental message, these are two to consider.

why we game

Came across an interesting exposition on why we humanoids love to game. It comes from the novel “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. My review for that work is forthcoming, but for the time being, the following passage may very well be the reason why we are so infatuated with Kratos and warcraftery and all the other derivations one can think of.

From Blood Meridian, page 249, Vintage International ed.:

The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

In such games as have for their sake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest from of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is God.

Granted, this quote doesn’t apply to all genres of all games. But think about that the next time you play a first person shooter.

knowing, predicting, gaming

Fear and Loathing at LOEX

It was one month ago, fellow infomaniacs, that I made a terrifying pilgrimage, with copy of Fear and Loathing clutched in death grip, to the motherland of self-destruction and fine dining. Ironically, for a conference. Just imagine it…200 plus wide-eyed librarians descending upon the city, nervous to experiment with open bars and various things that “twitter” during the daytime to being thrown out of UFC matches and wave pools come evening time. Fear not readers, it wasn’t anything approaching, say, a Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Convention, but rather LOEX of the West, a conference celebrating the more eclectic uses of instructional technology in libraries. Needless to say, the double vision has subsided yet I am still recuperating as I write.

Gaming came up quite a bit, and a few points have been emblazoned in my mind like the Vegas sunshine. The keynote address was delivered by a very smart guy named Greg Niemeyer, who specializes in gaming at Berkeley. He talked for awhile and proposed a few ideas worth contemplating far more than the price of 3-for-1 drinks by the poolside. He listed the all necessary elements, conditions, parameters and dynamics entailed in gaming, but the biggest idea I came away with was that according to Niemeyer, “to know is to predict” and consequently “learning is training prediction“.

Niemeyer stressed how though gaming is an activity creating a “magic circle” that separates us from the real world, at the same time it creates a model of reality from which some juicy sense of embodiment, transformation, growth changes us. This dripping corpuscle, infomaniacs, is the realization that one here has actually learned something, acquired some knowledge of import. Exponentially strengthening this knowledge is the activity of interaction; the more people participating, the the greater brainpower, the wider avenue for acquisition. Zombies, a tight soundtrack and an Xbox Live account doesn’t hurt neither.

Back to Niemeyer’s main point…gaming is an activity of retention; our capabilities for critical thinking develop directly with our memory, especially when focused within our magic circle, our elven kingdom, our world of warcraftery, as it were. Knowledge occurs when we are able to predict when you need specific information, action or abilities. It forms when we come to the point in the game where the wooden crates no longer drop the zombies like a shovel, when committing to memory that lobbing grenades at the toxic aliens rather than hitting them with the assault rifle is the only way to go.

My question: if the knowing is predicting, once we learn the prediction patterns for a game, does this ultimately diminish the ending of a game? Won’t this newfound majestic boredom be the natural barrier to the anti-climactic ending we are so sure to experience when we take the time to finish the game (take Bioshock, for example, stunning game but definitely anti-climactic ending[s]!)? I guess making the prediction patterns more randomized and thereby difficult is the key to the challenge. Bigger orcs and awesomer wizardry, too.

Anyway, enlightening persentations at a fun conference. And the venue couldn’t have been more choice.

tale of two gaming libraries

Down and out at the LOEX conference, gaming was one of the main themes, or at least among the more popular themes of discussion.  How are libraries incorporating games and gaming platforms into the curriculum?  That is the burning question, infofreaks.  There were several sessions devoted to this.  Not only are libraries developing collections of games of varying formats and consoles, but few are going so far as to develop the games themselves.  Games that involve the blatant or even the more subtle inclusion of information literacy fundamentals and lessons.  I attended two sessions discussing the process of game design and creation, varying by platform and genre.  While varying in scope and delivery, both reiterated the point of being well prepared for the sheer chaos destined to ensue when even conceiving of a potential game for patrons.

First, a very ambitious project from two very ambitious designers, modders, librarians at the University of Calgary.  Jerremie and Chris over at HardPlay have taken their passion for first person shooters and melded information literacy principles into their mod of the popular Half Life 2, called Benevolent Blue. We got to play some samples of the mod, and like any shooter, us librarians reveled at the freedom of inflicting pain on patrons with delinquent charges.  Still in the development stages, they’ve done an amazingly good job of recreating the physical layout of their own library in the game.  I needn’t emphasize how important information literacy principles are, especially in a dystopian state of mind. Their question: can the FPS be a draw for learning info literacy skills?

Secondly, the library at Arizona State University at the West took a different track (thought no less ambitious), platform wise, with their game QuarantinedBee Gallegos from ASU gave a good talk about the process her colleagues went through from start to finish.  High costs, hiring programmers/designers, drafting storylines, the whole sobering ball of digitized loathing involved.  The storyline revolves around a viral outbreak affecting the campus and the intrepid hero, Axl Wise, who must research her way out of the mystery.  Created via flash, this game visually approximates the genre popularized by titles such as Animal Crossing.  Not as action packed, but perhaps with more instructional focus.

It’s no surprise these types of games were undertaken by larger libraries at larger institutions, but suffice it to say, owning a gaming collection for students is one thing; creating a game for the curriculum is another.  Ya need a big-time plan, programmers with time to give, geeks with fortitude and a lot of thinking space, and most of all, the time and money to move forward.  And who knows how it will be received or even played? An enviable and admirable endeavor nonetheless.

gamebrarian

Gen Con is inviting librarians to its trade day activities for counsel on promoting one’s info-literate inner nerd. Only $35 to reveal how out of touch you are with your patrons! Just so happens this shindig is in my neck of the woods, so I might just cough up the semolians and step into the fog.