Vs. Mode: GTA IV round 2

In his response to my previous post, Paul has aligned much of what I wrote with many of the ACRL Information Literacy standards. It may seem at first glance like a stretch, but Paul does write a convincing argument that the GTA series of games do help players in learning and practicing skills information literacy skills. However, Paul questions his own argument, inviting me to respond to the question: “Chad are these skills real? Or am I just trying to make a controversial and violent more acceptable? Granted it is an “M” game for a reason.”

It may be difficult for librarians to think that a game like Grand Theft Auto can possibly teach information literacy and lifelong learning skills. If we look simply at the idea of information literacy in the context of doing library research, then there’s no way we can tie the two together. However, if we look more closely at the game, and more broadly at the concept of information literacy, then I think we can see that true skills are being practiced and learned.

Now does that mean that a player who plays Grand Theft Auto is likely to be better at finding and analyzing information in the real world? I’m not sure that the player would be better at finding the information, but he might be more inclined to look for better information. Playing a game like GTA teaches you patience. It encourages you to take your time and explore. It encourages you to keep trying until you find the right solution to a problem, or until you beat a mission. If you try to beat a game like GTA in the fastest way possible, you’re likely to miss a huge part of the experience. The GTA series is all about becoming immersed in a world and sticking around for a long, long time. The more time you spend in the GTA world, the more you uncover about the game. Also, staying in the game is likely to make the player better at the game, since he will have spent more time playing.

To a certain extent, research is very similar. When researching a topic, you have to look at multiple routes when addressing a research need. In order to become more knowledgeable about a topic, you have to at times immerse yourself in that topic. If you rush through the research process just to find 10 “quality” sources, you’re likely to miss part of the experience.  This does not apply only to academic research, but to any research need. For a real life example, I’ve become very interested in cycling over the past couple of years. My interest has covered areas of mountain biking, bike commuting, and road riding. I’ve also become very interested in vintage bikes, after inheriting one last summer. I visit a few reliable sites a few times a week, read blogs on the topic, and even visit the bike shop on occasion. My wife would call this “Chad’s most recent obsession,” but I would say that I’m simply immersing myself in the very healthy activity of bicycle riding. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about my hobby from experts and other cyclists. By consulting a variety of resources, I have been able to get most of my questions about bicycle maintenance, bicycle designs, and training answered.

Once I gathered the information, I applied it to my question. In one case, I wondered if my derailleur would work with a different sized freewheel. I did some research and found a suitable answer. Once I was satisfied with the answer, I knew my quest for information was done. In a video game like GTA, the player often has the same results when looking for ways to solve the problem then applying the knowledge to reach a resolution. The problem is that research does not often work like a video game. Students are presented with an assignment and then told that they will need a minimum of “X” quality sources. In a game, you often know that your approach to a problem was good enough because you pass a mission and move on to the next level. When doing research for a paper, students do not have that immediate feedback that tells them a particular resource is good enough for their paper. All they know is they need to collect 8 articles and work them into their paper. How do they know if the resources are good enough for their paper? In GTA, the player gets to try and keep trying to see if their methods are good enough to accomplish the mission. Unfortunately, most students only get one shot to prove to their instructors that they satisfy the requirements to pass or excel in the mission of writing the paper. In some cases, students are given the opportunity to write another draft of their papers, but are they encouraged to go back and find more research and evidence?  Do they truly understand why 2 of their resources were not credible, or why their paper did not meet all the requirements?  How do gamers who are accustomed to objective measurements of success in the game world adjust when they face more subjective measurements of mastery/success in the real world?

Perhaps in this rather long-winded and tangential post I’ve been trying to get to this point. Rather than argue about whether GTA teaches real life skills, should we be arguing that our methods of teaching should be more like GTA?  Shouldn’t we encourage students to do more in-depth exploration of their research topics without imposing a self-limiting scorecard on the number of resources they have? Shouldn’t we make our interfaces more user-friendly so that they give immediate feedback when a search fails?  Shouldn’t we offer students multiple opportunities for revision, so they can continue addressing a research problem/paper with trial and error? If the whole concept of lifelong learning/information literacy is to develop skills that students will have for the rest of their lives, shouldn’t we offer them multiple chances to try/fail/succeed in the application of these skills?  Finally, the GTA series is often commended on the way it nearly replicates much of the real world.  Should we be trying to replicate similar experiences in GTA (feedback, trial and error, exploration) and apply them to our world?