Gaming doesn't make you stupid

Chad Boeninger, Learning from Video Games
Ohio University Libraries, Library Voice

Chad began with a clip from Bully, two kids interacting in the school library. “Do I look like a librarian?” Very entertaining, plus it’s a vision of libraries in video games — “the nerdy kid who can’t even zip his pants right”. What we can see instead is ways to borrow ideas and provide services. “I have a lot more questions than answers” about how we might use video games and the theories behind gaming in our libraries.

We need to understand games: What makes them so engaging? Why do people play them? How do games change players’ views of their environments?

FoxNews story on Mass Effect — psychologist who’s never seen or played game tells news anchor how damaging video games are. As a result, gamers put 500+ reviews on her Amazon page, slamming her — “This book sucks, even though I’ve never read it”, handing her back some of her own behavior. Also, Giles Whittel quote, also with Amazon reviews. Web 2.0 in action!

Our job as librarians: Teach patrons new skills, help them adapt to an evolving information environment, and help them adapt to change in that environment.

Who plays games? Mostly men, mostly under 50, with lots under 18. More women over 18 than men under 18. What do they play? Only four of the 2005 top 20 games are Mature titles.

Shows Lego StarWars as an example of how games encourage exploration. Click things, flip switches, choose hallways, try new approaches … Since we’re all aware of the story, it’s not the story that holds us here, it’s the options, the adventure, the choices, and the methods that get us from known story point A to known story point B. (And Chad lets the video go to the end so we can all see Leia in “the outfit”)

Resident Evil : Forces you to make choices about how much you can buy, what you can carry… what’s that do for the player? It makes them make choices and consider their environment, and think critically about what they want to accomplish with the resources that they have available to them.

Madden: “Anybody can make themselves a football player” with customized avatars. Bully: A sandbox game, that lets you do whatever you want whenever you want to. Games are immersive environments.

God of War: Multiple difficulties, so that you can continue to grow the player experience with the game experience. Opening scene is “Flashback!”, and it shows you how to learn while playing, without instruction manuals or complicated learning schemes. Within 15 minutes of gameplay, you know how to play and what works and what doesn’t. Good games teach you through the process.

Libraries are places to explore information, but how can we encourage more exploration? How can we give the user more chances to succeed?

  • We need new nomenclature. Reference, Reserves, Periodicals, Bibliographic Instruction, Stacks, Information Literacy.
  • We need consistent interfaces. “This is a pipe dream, I realize that.” Feels encouraged by the Proquest study on Monday, which shows that once people get to the interface, they’re okay.

What should we expect of our users? They’re accustomed to exploration. Exploration in games yields feedback, because if you don’t hit the L2 button fast enough when the dragon comes through the wall, you die, every time, until you adapt and learn. What kind of feedback do we give to users in libraries? We need to expect that they’ve “tried and died”. WE are the feedback on process.

How do we create environments that attract, engage, and retain our users? Libraries as immersive spaces may need to include the learning commons models which are more inviting to users, allow customization, include wireless connectivity, and react to user needs and feedback.

Users expect customizable web services. Facebook, MySpace, MyYahoo… where’s MyLibrary? Are we meeting their expectations of customization, exploration, and modernity on the web?

How do we encourage Learning While Doing? Practice makes perfect, and videogames have perfected this concept. In library instruction, we must incorporate hands-on experiences with immediate application of learning content. We must be relevant and timely, with no more generic orientations — the orientation that isn’t immediately applicable is like saying “Read the manual”.

In addition, we need smarter systems. If we can’t get those, which we all agree is a real possibility, then we need better point-of-need help. Instant assistance related to the task at hand, like video games do. Our best option is embedded chat — email is not good enough, because it is NOT instant help. It’s “send a message to a black hole and wait for someone to notice”. We also need to provide better ways for users to help themselves, for those who want to explore to find the answer.

Why don’t we design games for libraries? Because we don’t have time or money. Could such a game be scalable? Could we keep it current? Would they actually want to play it? What the heck would it look like? Second Life? SL has a low initial investment, but our patrons don’t much seem to care. So… maybe not our thing.

Why librarians make great gamers:
1. We love fetch quests. (Find Newsweek.)
2. Once we level up, we get to face another boss. (“In this case, the Boss is often our vendors.” Every time we master our environment, they change our interfaces…)
3. We enjoy trial-and-error problem-solving challenges. (Reference questions!)

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