Spotlight on “Analog Gaming in Libraries”

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“I had an empty shelf when I started this class and now it’s full of games.” –student in #lis9371 Analog Games in Libraries @westernuFIMS
2/26/16, 3:50 PM
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LIS 9371 students take the outbreak of a Pandemic seriously!

This term, students in FIMS’ Master’s in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program have the opportunity to participate in a new class I am teaching, offered as a special topic, entitled Analog Gaming in Libraries.

While video gaming has stolen the spotlight for the past several years, analog gaming – that is to say, non-electronic board games, card games, dice games and tabletop role-playing games – is experiencing a considerable renaissance, as evinced, in just one example, by the 60,000 players who flocked to GenCon, in Indianapolis, IN, USA in the summer of 2015 to participate in a four-day convention devoted to their play. The development and design of these games is the site of considerable artistry, creativity, sophistication and complex game mechanics, as well as a reflection of and commentary on cultural and political concerns and conditions. Indeed, one text describes these modern board games as “information-rich environments.” Their play is a hugely popular across many demographics, and their market share and economic impact is considerable, and growing.

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Trying out survival in a zombie apocalypse, in Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games.

Given these factors, this burgeoning area has significant potential implications across the practice and, therefore, for LIS students, particularly in the areas of information literacy and transfer, programming, information organization, information design, cataloguing and collection development. This course therefore serves two main purposes: one, to familiarize MLIS students with analog games (their play, vernacular, genres, mechanics, etc.) both conceptually and practically and two, to provide opportunities for MLIS students to think about analog games in the context of libraries and information organizations – their challenges as well as their opportunities.

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with the contemporary analog games landscape (e.g., genres; taxonomies; mechanics; cultures) and knowledge of analog games history and their relevance to LIS contexts and institutions;
  2. Assess and recommend games for collection using appropriate informational and evaluation resources;
  3. Successfully develop and deliver modular curriculum designed to teach games rules, mechanics and concepts in an LIS setting;
  4. Propose and program appropriate events built around analog games for a variety of LIS institutions and types of patrons;
  5. Gain experience playing games and reflecting critically and thoughtfully on those experiences through multiple forms of writing.
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Talking stages of game design, from concept through prototyping and playtesting.

On a weekly basis, students gather in gaming groups, sustained throughout the term, to play through a series of ten games selected to expose them to a number of genres, themes and mechanics. These play sessions are greatly informed by in-class lecture and discussion, focusing on topics such as:

 

  1. The meaning of play
  2. Games throughout history
  3. Learning analog games and their culture (with a focus on board games, card games and tabletop RPGs) – including a significant emphasis on terminology!
  4. Analog game design
  5. Representation (race/gender/sexuality/ability/etc.) in analog games – we used the Said lens of “orientalism” to critique themes of colonial conquest and mechanics of domination as the go-to in many analog games
  6. The political economy of analog games – a topic with almost no academic research ascribed to it; we are definitely covering new ground on this topic within the context of our class
  7. Topics specific to the integration of analog games and gaming culture in an LIS context. To this end, we are talking about collecting games, programming around them, information transfer and instructional practices in and with gaming, demographics of gamers, and more. We are looking forward to welcoming two guest speakers, Michelle Goodridge of Wilfrid Laurier (a FIMS grad), and Nicole Dalmer, a current FIMS LIS Ph.D. student, to round out our in-class discussions on this topic
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MLIS Student Elyse received a “bao” board and game set from Ghana – and was able to tell her gift-givers about the history of mancala through the diaspora.

Students are also honing their writing skills by writing about games. Using Clara Fernandez-Vara’s text, Introduction to Game Analysis, we have adapted it to be relevant to the discussion of analog games (rather than video) as texts. Students produce weekly writeups designed to acclimate them to the rules and specifics of the particular game they are playing in class that week, which gives them a chance to practice both their information-gathering and analysis skills. They then are responsible for authoring five “session reports” throughout the term on games and play that take place outside of class. Conveniently, many students are accomplishing those play sessions via the FIMS Gaming Club, which meets weekly to accommodate student demand. Many session reports can be found there. The course was also featured in a recent Western News article by Adela Talbot.

 

Are you programming with games in a library or information organization? Are you an LIS instructor, wanting to bring these concepts into your program? Are you an LIS student or practitioner and also a gamer? I’d love to hear from you. The course will be offered again in spring 2017, and we are looking forward to keeping the energy going.