After the MIT Communications Forum on “gaming and civic engagement” a few weeks ago, I mused about the possibility of viewing the library as a game. Ian Bogost commented that one of the things he finds most fascinating about games is that they force the player to live in a world whose rules are constructed by someone else (see my previous posts). Librarians construct the rules (policies, procedures, physical arrangement of materials and furnishing, subject headings, indexing, etc.) and require players (those who use our libraries) to function within the world we construct to obtain the information they seek to complete their tasks. I still find this an interesting way to look at the Library. The recent University of Rochester Undergraduate Research Project suggested that students may already be interacting with the Library like a game.
Nancy Fried Foster observed about the trend toward a self-service model that we see in most young adults:
It is tempting to relate this trend to lack of time, but I think it resembles a pattern of information seeking that is evident in studentsâ€™ recreational activitiesâ€”gaming, for exampleâ€”when time is not an issue. Video and computer games come with little by way of directions. Manuals are available but not all gamers want or use them. When a gamer gets stuck in a game, s/he commonly runs through a variety of information-seeking activities, starting with experimentation with the game itself (Gee 2003). If this fails, the gamer may seek an online site for the particular game to see whether there are any â€œtipsâ€ or â€œtricksâ€ that solve the problem. The point is that the parsimony of the gamersâ€™ information seeking is not related to time pressure. It is related to a view of life in which instrumentality trumps relationship.
So self-service is the preeminent model and strategy of the information-seeking student. But when the student cannot satisfy his/her own needs and turns to real-life service providers, what happens? In their drawings of ideal library spaces, students sometimes group librarians with technical support staff and baristas at service desks (see Chapter 4). When they do not differentiate between different kinds of service providers, it is in part because they do not know the service providers, having experienced few person-to-person service relationships. If they have a need, they want it filled. If they want a need filled, they want to go to a font of all sorts of service, a sort of universal service point, a physical Google. In other words, they want Mommy.
But â€œMommyâ€ is not the same as a real studentâ€™s real mother, a person with whom s/he has a complex and ever-changing, ever maturing relationship. When I speak of the Mommy Model of Service, I refer to a Mommy who is the provider of everything to the infant. (p75-76)
If we were to imagine making the Library more game-like, perhaps we might:
- Make the Library’s Web site a place to go for Tips and Tricks to be used when the player gets stuck.
- Think about creating different “levels” in the Library that can be entered when one has found the right tool or accumulated the right number of points to proceed.
- Ensure that guides and wisdom figures (avatar-like or not) become visible to the players periodically, giving the player the visual queues necessary to them identify them as safe to approach.
- Provide an easy way to “save the game.”
- Develop and support remote, virtual and on-site playing areas.
- Develop and support multi-user as well as single-user playing modes.
- Develop and support interactive interfaces for players who play the Library remotely, virtually, as well as physically in the Library.
Foster, Nancy Fried, and Susan Gibbons. 2007. Studying students the Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries. http://www.acrl.org/ala/acrl/acrlpubs/downloadables/Foster-Gibbons_cmpd.pdf.