Versus Mode: Can libraries extend the value of a video game?

Paul doesn’t know that I’m doing this, so we’ll see if he responds.  He and I have been a tad busy this summer with a variety of things, so we haven’t been as active with our Versus Mode as we would have liked.  This is my first attempt to revive the series.

In a recent post, Opposable Thumbs explored the topic of what appears to be the shrinking gaming dollar.  These days, games for the XBOX 360 and PS3 cost around 60 bucks each.  That’s a lot of money for a video game, and in some cases, the games are shorter, not longer, than the games of the previous console generation.  Do the newer games offer additional value to merit the $60 price tag?  Do the fancier graphics make the price tag easier to swallow, even if there is not as much gameplay?  These are some of the questions gamers have to wrestle with when deciding if and when to buy a title.  Personally, I have yet to get a PS3 or a XBOX360, although I will likely get a PS3 someday.  I’m holding off for a cheaper price on the console and also cheaper prices on games.  Most of my games that I have on my PS2 and my PSP were bought as greatest hits titles with the discounted price of around 20 dollars.  WIth the cheaper prices, my dollar goes a lot farther.  As an example, I recently paid 15 bucks for Ratchet & Clank:  Going Commando.  The game took me about 20 hours to beat, so I definitely got a huge return for my buck.  While I don’t necessarily get to play the brand new titles as soon as they are released, if I wait  while, I can get two or three games for the price of one.

By contrast, a new version of Ratchet & Clank is available on the PlayStation Network as a downloadable title.  It currently lists for $14.99.  The game is not to be a full game, but merely a shorter experience.  The full version of the latest game, Ratchet & Clank:Tools of Destruction, retails for 60 bucks.  While the downloadable title offers a good experience, the question is whether its worth the money.  As Opposable Thumbs says:

But, for all that is good about the title, there’s no getting around the fact that the game is short. My first run through, with most of the secrets uncovered, ran just over 3 hours. That’s $14.99 for 3 hours of gameplay. To me, there’s nothing wrong with that; Quest for Booty is a highly-polished title from a great studio with some unique ideas. I could regurgitate the arguments comparing the price of the game to the cost of a movie in the theaters or a cheap meal, but the fact of the matter is that no amount of protest will prevent some people from skipping over a $15 game

As with most blog posts, the comments in the post are good to look at for getting some insight into this debate.  The question as it applies to libraries is this: Should more libraries be circulating video games in an effort to extend the value of a video game?  Isn’t that what libraries are all about?  Don’t we buy books, movies, music, and other media so that more people may use them as often as they wish?  Won’t our dollar go a lot further if libraries buy a game and have it played so much that it won’t play any more?  I can understand why many academic libraries are hesitant to buy games as many still think they are not research material, but how do we get past this barrier?  How do we realign our budgets to allow the purchase of games at the expense of books, movies, or cds?

Library Voice vs. Research Quest –Games and mastery

This is the second week of Research Quest vs. Library Voice on the topic of video games. Paul and I have agreed to have something out on the topic each week, which challenges us (and hopefully others) to think more about understanding video games and learning.

After writing last week’s post and thinking more about how GTA teaches players, I began to think that something was missing in GTA. GTA definitely teaches players and helps them learn to play the game. However, I have my doubts about whether players truly master the skills they learn. However, I truly believe that games can teach players to truly master a skill, and there are some great games that do this.

Growing up, I attended a soccer camp almost every single summer. At the camp we learned new skills from British soccer pros, and then put those skills into practice through various drills. We also had the opportunity to play full matches as well each day. After playing soccer for eight hours a day for a whole week, you could almost guarantee that you would be a better player on Friday than you were on Monday. Throughout the week the pros would demonstrate how a particular skill or drill was to be done, then the players got plenty of practice attempting to apply what they had learned. Once players got better at a drill, the pros would give them something else to work on to further challenge their skills. It was this combination of challenge, feedback, and practice that helped to make me a better soccer player. I even won the skill champion award for my age group one year. (I still have that trophy somewhere)

Video games also incorporate this idea of practice makes perfect, and some do it very well. Games my use a try-and-die approach to mastering a skill, or they may encourage mastery through replay.

Try and Die

Many games are based on the idea of try-and-die until you master a particular skill. As a gamer, this can often be an extremely frustrating way to learn, but it can also be very rewarding when I’ve beaten a boss or accomplished a mission, or completed a level. Typically, if you get beaten by a level boss, you have to fight him again and again until you defeat him. Once you get enough practice by getting beaten over and over again, you eventually (hopefully) develop enough skills or learn more about the boss to defeat him. Game developers often struggle with making a game balanced enough to be a challenge for players, while also making the game fair enough to not make them overly frustrated. If a game is too easy, the player gets bored and quits playing. If the game is too hard, the player gets mad and quits playing (or searches the web to find some cheat codes). Most games I have played are based on the concept of try-and-die, and most are balanced enough to keep playing the game. As a gamer, you may have to replay the same sections of a game over and over again, but you’ll definitely know when you’ve mastered the level by completing it.

Unfortunately, many games that use this approach do not let you go back and play a level or mission again. GTA for example, does not let you go back and play previous missions. Why would a gamer want to go back and play a mission? Well, if a mission was fun enough, or rewarding enough, he might want another shot at mastering the skills needed to beat the level again. Or, if you’re like me, you got lucky or barely scraped by in beating the level, and you want to try it again to do better the next time. However, to repeat a mission in GTA, you would have to replay through the entire game from the beginning to find the mission, or make sure you save under a different save file. There is no built-in method for mastering a skill through replay.

Mastery through replay

Games are getting more and more expensive these days for developers to produce and for consumers to purchase. As such, gamers are demanding more value from a video game purchase, causing developers to add more to the gameplay experience. One way that developers can give players more game for their money is by enhancing the replay value of a game. Many of the best games have superb replay value, and as such, these games are often given high ratings as a result. While games with high replay value give players more bang for their buck, these games also promote a higher level of mastery than games that have low replay value.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, a game that I’m currently playing on my PSP, has excellent replay value. The game has a number of incentives to make it very worthwhile for a gamer to play each level over and over again. The game has the typical linear progression like most video games do, where the gamer guides his character through a level, accomplishing various objectives. Once the player accomplishes all the tasks in the level, the level is complete and the next level is unlocked. In many games, the player simply goes to the next level, never to return to the level that he just finished. Syphon Filter has a different approach. Once the player completes the level in “story mode”, he then unlocks it for “mission mode.” Mission mode allows the player to return to the level at any time to play the level again. The gamer can then play the level over and over to truly master the level. There are various incentives for playing the level without dying, playing the level without being detected by the enemy, and for using various weapons or strategies. As the player gets points in each level, he builds up status points that can unlock new weapons and new levels. There are some levels in the game that I know like the back of my hand, simply because I’ve played them so much to unlock the incentives. In the process of repetitive play, I have developed a certain level of mastery with the game. I’ve still yet to beat the game, but that’s another story entirely.

The question

Here we have two different methods that video games employ to get players to master the game. One requires that a player keep trying-and-dying until he gets it right, and the other offers the player to become a master through replay. My question is this: Does real learning occur in video games with these methods? Can these teaching methods be replicated outside of the video game world? Which method (if any) should educators and librarians employ when teaching our students? Finally, can we do this without making it too dorky for our students? Paul, what are your thoughts?

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?