Serious Games
A Playdate at the Library

Packaging learning content in a playful way
Packaging learning content in a playful way | Photo (detail): © shefkate –

Computer and online games are now available in a large number of German libraries. But to what extent can games be used as a learning tool in the development of information literacy?

As a formative medium of our times the video game is gaining more and more significance in the field of knowledge transfer and cultural mediation and that is why video games are becoming a regular feature in libraries. In the meantime it is not just a matter of games being lined up on the bookshelves alongside our number one cultural asset – the book. Many public libraries in Germany have actually become gaming locations, providing a selection of games that can be played on the premises or even organising actual gaming events.

As libraries are places of learning, the answer to the question of how these games can be used for educational purposes is in fact obvious – games have the potential to be far more than a mere pastime. In the most diverse areas – from health to sports and politics – they are already being used for educational purposes. So-called Serious Games are intended to facilitate the acquisition of competencies and skills by packaging learning content in a playful way.

Serious Games in the Teaching Library

The development of the Teaching Library, in particular, embraces the use of Serious Games as part of the work libraries do, because the imparting of media and information literacy is being seen more and more as one of a library’s core tasks. The concept of the Teaching Library, however, extends far beyond conventional, one-off user training and navigation courses. As information literacy is defined as the comprehensive ability to handle information, the training courses held in the Teaching Libraries also make use of Internet resources and other information and media. The Teaching Libraries also work in collaboration with schools or colleges which have integrated the Teaching Libraries’ educational services into their curricula.

As a response to the aims of the Teaching Library, a whole range of Serious Games was introduced first in the academic libraries of American universities and they then evolved into useful learning tools: ranging from simple quiz games, like The Data Game, to complex, story- based games, like the elaborate online adventure game, Quarantined! Axl Wise and the Information Outbreak, which simulates a research task.

Germany is trying to catch up

“In Germany, the use of Serious Games in libraries to enhance the development of information literacy is still not particularly widespread”, says Dr. Inka Tappenbeck, a professor at the Institute of Information Science at the Technical University of Cologne. She went on to say that although there were a few small interactive elements in various online tutorials, there were still not very many stand-alone games available in this area. Ann Christine Marr, who focused her Master’s thesis on the subject, pointed out that the basic problem was that the development costs of attractive games was an obstacle. Gamers are used to playing in sophisticated virtual worlds and this is what they expect when it comes to library games. In the meantime, she added, there were some “geocaching” games based on the principle of a paper chase; these could be implemented quite easily, but they were very much lagging behind in the range of their technical possibilities. The extreme dynamics of the world of information also proved to be a problem for the development of games. At the moment, for example, many libraries are switching from classic online catalogues to Discovery systems. These are based on search engine technology and provide access to various digital information resources. Implementing this new search approach in learning games, however, would involve a considerably high processing input.

A German pilot project for the development of information literacy

This was also an obstacle the University Library of the Technical University of Braunschweig had to overcome, but the Lost in Antarctica game developed in cooperation with the Institute of Business Information Systems and the libraries in Hanover and Clausthal seems to be well on the way to becoming a pioneer in Germany – up to now, its approach and the extent of its use has been unique in Germany. “In collaboration with my students, we pursued the goal of a reusable, gamified, modularised blended learning course to create the basis for imparting information literacy" says Dr. Simone Kibler, coordinator of this ambitious project. Against the background of an Antarctic expedition, whose plane crashed and which had to be repaired, the game deals with various aspects of information literacy on 12 different levels – ranging from research, reference management to copyright laws. “The balance between various game mechanisms, such as the creation of avatars, scoring of points, rankings or the collection and exchange of various objects, ensures real gaming experience, but a lot of blood, sweat and ears went into its development,” says Dr. Kibler. In order to achieve learning success, she added, we work very closely with the faculty. The game has been integrated into the course structures and the running of the game is accompanied by face-to-face, classroom sessions.

A heated debate on gaming in libraries

Lost in Antarctica was awarded the 3rd prize in the Best Practice Competition for Information Literacy and may in fact actually get the ball rolling. Ann Christine Marr therefore is already expecting a wider distribution of Serious Games in Teaching Libraries in future, because information literacy is ideally suited to being conveyed in a playful way and, in the age of the Smartphone, will open up further possibilities of implementing games on a simpler level. In addition, the younger generation that has been socialized with games insists that more consideration be given to the medium. Furthermore, Dr. Tappenbeck has observed a heated specialist discussion about gaming in libraries that has primarily prompted people to reflect anew on the development of information literacy.