It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Catches Dysentery

Games sometimes take on a life of their own and stray from their original intended purpose. Oregon Trail, one of the first computer games I recall playing, was not designed to be a social game, per se, but it sure did feel like it was when I played. I wasn’t in the game on my own. I was on an epic adventure with all my friends and loved ones who I’d decided to take along with me in that covered wagon – all of which, I’m sorry to say, came to unhappy ends due to my poor planning and less-than-sophisticated problem solving skills. Sorry, mom, it seems you have died of dysentery because I screwed up. My bad.

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But the game did have its merits. It was educational in the sense that it required you to apply strategy – to think ahead and use wise judgment when determining whether or not you could ford that river with all your friends and supplies, or if it might be wiser to do some house…er…wagon cleaning and ditch the redundancies  (supplies, not loved ones, of course). For this reason, although it was highly entertaining, it was also a useful educational tool.

Monopoly is an example of a game that was designed to be educational. It was created to teach players of the dangers of monopolies, but instead turned into an (arguably) entertaining game where players race to form monopolies to bankrupt their friends and loved ones. Capitalism! So the point was lost on this one. Originally, it was intended to be social and educational, whereas players quickly stripped it of his educational merit and destroyed their friends in gameplay to make sure they came out on top. Still, they did just come out with a cool new dinosaur game piece, so we’ll give them a break until t-rex loses his cool factor, which will be never.

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If nothing else, these examples show that games can be both entertaining and educational, although it’s not always easy to tell what will succeed once it’s in the hands of the public. Even now, companies still strive to find games that combine the perfect balance of entertainment, education, and social engagement.

Wins can come in unexpected places. Lewis Tachau’s TED talk about learning while playing online games proves that even a game that to many may seem like a purely pleasure seeking game involving tanks crushing other tanks can inspire young minds and motivate them to seek out knowledge about historical events. This may not have been what the designers had in mind when they launched World of Tanks, but it is a very happy outcome that came of combining interesting subject matter with social aspects such as teamwork and communication so that players could have fun with a topic and engage with it in a fun and creative way.

Many struggle with justifying launching gaming programs in libraries or in schools, but these examples show the potential that exists to create education opportunities by engaging young people in activities that promote social interaction, problem solving, compromise, teamwork, and creative thinking. Though games may not be the best way to acquire knowledge of a specific topic, they may be just the tool one needs to spark curiosity and motivated someone to learn more about the subject on their own. Games help with the development of essential social skills while introducing subject matter in a creative way, which may make young minds more receptive to learning about it. Though not all game design attempt will be successful (many wagons fail to make it all the way to Oregon!) we should all encourage the continuation of educational game development, game play in society, and supplying of said games in learning environments!


Game On! Playing Around with Gamification Techniques in Social Media


Games aren’t just for kids. We all love a little healthy competition here and there, and marketing experts are finding that consumers are drawn to social media tools that offer some of their favorite aspects of gaming. How can information professionals get in on this action? Let’s find out!

Defined simply, gamification is adding aspects of games such as challenges, points, rankings, badges, etc to an everyday activity. Companies such as Nike have famously done this with the Nike+ app that, if you can believe it, actually helps people find enjoyment in walking and running! Gamifying an activity motivates and engages users, if done properly, and gives them incentive to complete a task that they might otherwise not complete because the gaming aspect makes it more fun or compelling. Even something as minimal as the point and badge system helped Foursquare become a success.


Some libraries have tip-toed into the gaming arena by adding their destination to Foursquare, a search and find app that allows people to find nearby places of interest based on their current location. This app allows you to check-in to participating locations (you can also add one if it is not included already) and earn badges as they play. More check-ins equal more points, with leaders being declared the Mayor while they’re ahead. Players can learn tips about that location in the app, so libraries could populate it with useful tips that they wish players to learn who might be utilizing the app on their mobile device. For instance, highlighting that you carry new releases of DVDs on the 3rd floor, or mentioning that New Books are highlighted in a separate location. Anything that might be exciting, interesting, or just essential for users to know can be added to your tips. Foursquare used to connect directly to social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter, but the newest version has done away with this feature.

Pro: You can highlight important facts and events for your library and patrons may have incentive to come because they want points.

Cons: Anyone can add tips, so if you have poor customer service or shoddy wi-fi, it could show up on this list!


Some libraries have used sites such as Mozilla Open Badge to create virtual icons called badges to award students or patrons who have attained certain achievements or goals. These badges can typically be shared on social media sites as a mark of one’s credentials and accomplishments. The following is a brief list of possible ways that libraries might award badges to increase patron participation, just as examples:

  • Scholar! (attending 3 instruction workshops)
  • Avid Reader! (checking out more than 25 books in a given period)
  • Rebel! (supporting the right to read if checking out a banned book during Banned Book Month)
  • Library enthusiast (attending a special library event)

etc… Marketing your badging system would then be essential so users know what they must do in order to earn these tokens. Some libraries may also choose to provide perks if certain goals are achieved, such as a gift card to a local business or the campus bookstore if a certain number of badges are accumulated in a given period of time. Very important events might also have their own collectors badges to further encourage attendance and participation.

Pros: Easy to create and fun to collect.

Cons: May not interest all user groups.


Many libraries have also made an effort to create their own full-blown games and launched them on their websites and social media pages. These video games are perhaps the most time intensive and costly, requiring a great deal of skill and technical knowledge to create. Subjects cover a variety of topics, such as teaching proper citation to helping users understand the basics of library research. Success of this option depends on the difficulty level and playability of the game, meaning players needed to find it both challenging (but not too difficult) and also fun. Free alternatives to paid game design include MIT’s Scratch platform, but it is limited in capabilities and players who are not excited by the game may cease to continue playing.

Some games also take the form of digital novels or choose your own adventure stories. This can be done for free in places such as Google Apps, which then allows you to provide a link in social media sites. Google allows the option to save the user’s email address as their login to the game, so libraries would be able to track the success of the players and assess which answers were chosen correctly.

Pros: A creative way to help students learn material that they might not otherwise find engaging.

Cons: Can be costly and take a long time to develop with success not guaranteed.