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Applying Game Mechanics to Libraries…

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Fred Stutzman over at Unit Structures talks about the “what’s next” problem in what he calls “ego-centric” social networks.

Of course, the problem with ego-centric networks lies in the fact network-reestablishment is the main chore. Talk to individuals joining Facebook today – what are they doing? They’re using inbox importers and searching to find their friends/ex-classmates/etc. It’s a game, it’s fun for a bit, but then (say it with me readers) “What’s next?” Yes, the what’s next moment occurs. This is not to say the network becomes useless: no, it’s very useful rolodex, and the newsfeeds introduce concepts of peripheral participation (or social surveillance), but the game is in essence over.

One of the big problems I see in trying to make the Library more “game-like” (see my earlier post) is sustaining interest, or avoiding the “what’s next” problem. Admittedly, this is a challenge not just for libraries, but for any game designer.

Amy Jo Kim, Creative Director of ShuffleBrain posted notes over at we-make-money-not-art about the “Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Design to Mobile Services” session at last year’s Emerging Technology Conference in which she discusses five game mechanics that make the interactive experience more addictive:

  1. Collecting: amassing and showing your stuff
  2. Earning points: related but more sophisticated, its’ a very simple way to keep the interest alive.
  3. Feedback but you have to use it creatively.
  4. Exchanges are structured social interactions. They are the basic, primal form of social interaction. Social exchange can be very explicit or implicit (i.e. emergent)
  5. Customization increases investment in the experience.

(Amy provides helpful examples of these five mechanics.)

One of the findings from the University of Rochester Study was that undergraduates want to be able to Customize the library’s web site to fit their own needs and preferences. Essentially they were describing a portal interface that allows one to Customize content in much the same way one is able to do with Google or Yahoo. While it would take a bit of effort, this could be accomplished in most libraries. UofR also discovered that students wanted to “customize” the physical library. Students wanted to move furniture, for example, to suit their needs. Students also defined some areas in the library as quiet areas and others as more collaborative areas in which a conversation and collaboration were more common. The difficult part of allowing customization of physical space, however, is that it is shared space. One can’t guarantee that it would remain the same for the next time the student came to study.

Collecting seems more difficult for me to imagine incorporating into the Library player’s experience. Amy talks about collecting friends in MySpace or Facebook, or baseball cards, or any type of collectible in the physical world. While it is a game, we want the game to focus on information, not simply gimics. One might, however, imagine a student collecting citations, even better annotated citations. Bragging rights go to those with the most citations.

And of course Points might be awarded based, at least in part, on the number of annotated citations one accumulates. One might also receive Points by means of a reputation system, a little like E-bay or Amazon. Points would be awarded not just on quantity, but quality.

Contributing these annotated citations to the social network that might grow up around a Library would be a type of social Exchange. A Library might implement a tagging or commenting facility directly into the online catalog. Penn Tags is an interesting model. Penn has implemented a tagging system for the opac that allows library users to add their own tags. (http://tags.library.upenn.edu/) “If you want to create interesting social dynamics you have to allow users to exchange gifts. It’s a very powerful social exchange.” (Amy Jo Kim)

Designing the Library game to encourage addictive library use is an interesting challenge, very focused on the user experience. Focusing on game mechanics seems like a helpful way to approach the challenge.

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2 Responses to “Applying Game Mechanics to Libraries…”


  1. Social exchange and reading as a collective enterprise… | TheoLib
    on Nov 27th, 2007
    @ 8:52 pm

    [...] an earlier message I mentioned Amy Jo Kim’s discussion of game mechanics. Social exchange is one of the mechanics she [...]


  2. vmthomas
    on Nov 28th, 2007
    @ 11:43 am

    I just discovered your blog. Of course, gaming is a definite way to pique my interest.

    As an avid gamer myself (though with very little time for it), resolving the “What’s next?” problem is typically referred to as a game’s “replayability.” Is the game simply a repetition of the same experience each time it is played, or does the game provide a new experience with each session or continued sessions. In short, the question seems to be: How can we “reset” or “restart” the library experience that allows for continued exploration and experimentation with multiple available variables? Clearly, customization supports replayability, but I’m not sure how well the other mechanics support it.

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