Creating Game-Based Makerspaces (ALA 2013)

This was, again, an interesting session about something I’m not doing right at this moment, but might consider for later.  I’m a (board) gamer myself, so I usually try to go to at least one session about gaming so I can keep track of how gaming is interacting with my professional world.

Scott Nicholson, Professor of Library Science, Syracuse University

It’s not about making good games, it’s about the good things that happen when you make games. What happens when you inspire your folks to make games? When we talk about using games in libraries, we usually make these somewhat tenuous connections to the skills that are valued by librarians, but when we have people actually make games in the library, there is a much more direct connection to these skills.  Here are some steps in game design:

  1. You need to develop a narrative (writing skills)
  2. If you use a historical setting, you need to do research about that area or time period.
  3. Most games are about resource management, so you have to create an economic system, and understand probability and statistics.
  4. Digital games have to be programed. Analog games involve graphic design.
  5. Games need to be playtested, which means that people have to be able to take critique and do iterated design.
  6. Writing rules.  This is a difficult form of technical writing.
  7. Pitching the game: public speaking.

This is easy to justify, because of all the skills that it helps to develop.

Brian Mayer, Gaming and Library technology specialist who provides support for 22 school districts.

Brian Mayer talked about his experience using game design.  He is especially interested in creating an authentic play space for students who don’t respond to other approaches and recommends his online toolkit with approaches that have already been vetted.  He gave a series of steps for setting up a program of this type in a school.

First, the students have to play games. He has been building up a collection of board and card games for this purpose. He wants to expose students to modern games to give them a toolkit they can draw from.  If they only know about mass market games which use mechanics like roll and move or trivia, then they won’t know that they can do other things in games.  He recommends picking resources that fit what you want to teach. If math is important, use games that represent good integrations of math.  If teaching social studies, look at games with good historical themes. Also consider the style of the game, for instance, whether it is cooperative or competitive. You don’t want students to just make ten Monopoly clones.

The second stage is brainstorming. Students come up with nuggets of ideas.  It’s important to have realistic expectations. Don’t expect an awesome, polished game, because that takes much longer. The important things here are progress and growth.  He gives them time to sit together and come up with “nuggets” and then gives feedback.

Design is the third stage. He provides objects which can serve as game components, partially by cannibalizing old games and thrift store games. He also provides a full sheet of labels, card stock, and penny sleeves.  This is where students begin to develop and playtest their games.

Next is the feedback stage. Students meet with teachers and pitch their games. Then the teacher talks about the curriculum and how it is reflected in the game. Then they discuss how the game concepts are incorporated.

Finally, students get to play the games. They can share their games with each other. This requires a clear, legible ruleset.  They are not allowed to teach their own games, so the rules must be well-written.  They play each other’s games and then reflect on both process and the games themselves. What did they learn? How did it get them to think about curricular components?  Then, they give feedback back to the program designers.

They’ve done this with board games and interactive texts, but nothing digital so far.

Jeff Gingers, Ph.D . Student, UIUC

Monster or bust! : The UIUC FabLab.

Gingers talked about 3-D printing.  What do you do with a 3-D printer?

The FabLab is in part an outreach program to the community. People don’t like to come to the university, so UIUC has set up lots of little FabLabs around town, including at the public library.

This isn’t a dedicated space.  Instead, they keep all their materials on carts in the closet, so that they can make a maker space on the fly 2-3 days a week.

One problem with using 3-D printers is that 3-D design is hard! It takes a long time to learn and requires patience and inspiration. It’s intimidating. Some people solve this problem by just buying a printer and then going to Thingiverse, which has many downloadable models, but we should do more than just download. We can create models via game tools. These tools have playful interfaces that are easy to learn.

Gingers recommends Spore, which costs $12 for PC and has developed a design-sharing community.  It’s more efficient to do some of these manipulations in the game than it is with a real rendering program, and this gets us past the empty canvas.  You get a digital lump of clay which you can manipulate with a mouse.  You can add parts to it. It makes noises as feedback, reacting to what you do to it. This is fun.  You do have to teach some rules. For instance, you can’t have more than two overlapping parts because it doesn’t work in 3-D.

The next step is going from the digital to the physical. You can export your designs with the command line.  A lot of kids don’t get into the command line anymore, so this is an opportunity to teach that. There is a EULA for this which only allows noncommercial use, so you have to think about what that means. You can also export to Blender, a free and open source 3-D modeling program. You can remove the animation here, too.

The program makes air bubbles where the joints are, so you need to learn to use a mash merge. One thing this does is teach the term “Boolean!” Then, you need to export it into a 3-D printing program so that you can actually print it.

The Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab provides lots of tutorials for how to do all the things that happen in maker spaces.

What do you teach with a program like this?  It teaches digital literacy, which is not exactly information literacy, because it involves more than creating information.  You also teach kids about making tools relevant in their lives, and how and why we use them. Kids are used to downloading and being done.  They don’t learn patience, which is important for computers, so we socialize that.  This isn’t a finite process like a test in school. You keep trying and messing around. It also teaches informal learning. Teaching tech is hard for schools, but libraries can do this.  This is part of the democratization of information. Now you can make your own game and your own monsters.

This helps to foster interdisciplinarities because there is input from all directions.He’s interested in STEAM—that is, putting the ART in STEM. It’s good for entrepreneurship because you are creating the world and looking into the black box of technology. You get to interrogate and mess around with the world. Making is connecting. It creates relationships among people. And as a bonus, you can scan your head and add parts to it from Spore.

An audience member doesn’t feel comfortable teaching this sort of thing and asked if it is possible tap into some professional market that already knows this stuff and can teach it.  Gingers recommends getting kids to do it.  Many kids are on the cutting edge of games and they are teaching him. It’s important to have smaller groups so they can teach each other.  Another audience member asked if it’s possible to print things like furniture and clothing, to which he recommended searching YouTube to see how people are doing this.

Scott Nicholson again!

He presented an activity for families called the Junkyard Track Meet, originally developed by Bernie De Coven. First, you talk about what a game is and introduce concepts like play and rules. Then, you talk about the junkyard track meet, which involves making things out of junk, or out of what you can get in the exhibit hall. He sometimes picks up items from the dollar store. Let them pick out the junk they want to use, Hunger-Games-style.  Let participants play and develop the rules.  Then, split the table in half. Make sure everyone can explain the games. Half will play, the other half will monitor and facilitate. Let them give points to the game and record the high score list.  This is quick: fifteen minutes to talk about what a game is, one hour for design, .half an hour to play.  Then, use construction paper to make awards.

Yes, most of the games that are made like this are bad. What’s interesting is they use packaging (?? My notes are confusing here).  They can trade with others.  It’s cheap and works well.  Nicholson has run this event for both children and adults and finds that the grown-ups take much longer because they are confused by this idea and don’t know how to play.

The moral of the story is that game design doesn’t have to take a lot. The previous night at ALAPlay, there had been a tiny game design contest. Game design doesn’t have to take a lot of money or time to get the good stuff.

Last year, he created Game Designer’s Guild. It’s open to the public. They have met once a month over the last year.  At first, it drew lots of students, but now lots of community members and families attend.  Each meeting, someone who needs a game pitches what they are looking for. They’ve had career counselors and museums. The members of the Game Designer’s Guild create a prototype.  For instance, a science museum needed a game jam for 7th and 8th graders and later came back for a dinosaur LARP for kindergarteners. After this, they open the floor for playtesters.

He’s currently writing a grant for game designers’ guild hall. Libraries are the perfect setting for this. There are lots of people who want to make all the games for themselves.  You have gamers in every community who want to be game designers.  What you get is a community group with members of the community making games to benefit community members. This is a noticeable impact that extends library’s reach.

Caitlyn Schafer, just graduated UW. Verona Public Library.

She works at a public library with an active Minecraft community.  It is very active in teen programming. How are gaming and game creating programs being assessed?  Using Terraria, Halo Maps, Game Maker, coding and programming, she is looking through IL lens.  The standards can show how what happens in these programs aligns with the standards. What skills are they taking away? She has been working on an evaluation tool that can be used when observing these events. What’s going on here? It creates a sense of community.  When she talked with them, she learned that these teens preferred collaboration over PvP.  Because it is almost entirely observation-based, this is a type of authentic assessment.  You can put those together to make a nice evaluation tool. She is writing a paper on this.

The session ended with two plugs from Scott: his website,  It includes a Crossed Paths, a free role playing game.  He’s working on a meaningful summer reading program.  He also promoted International Games Day, which is November 16 this year.  The registration form is currently open.  They also have Facebook page where you can contact them.

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