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Learning Through Play: Games and Crowdsourcing for Adult Education Essay

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Games are a powerful to engage people with ideas and with each other. They are a way to learn new skills, and to interact with other people. This interaction can be with other people in the same room or with people online. Games are fun. This is obvious, but sometimes it can become forgotten about in the discussion. In research in 2011 by Bond University for the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association * pcs are in 98% of game households with 62% of game households using a pc for games.

Game consoles are in 63% of game households, dedicated handheld consoles in 13%. Mobile phones are used to play games in 43% of game households, tablet computers in 13% * 43% of people aged 51 or over are garners

* most garners play between half an hour and an hour at a time and most play every other day 59% play for up to an hour at one time and just 3% play for five or more hours in one sitting 57% of all gamers play either daily or every other day.

* 83% of parents play video games. (1)

Comparable statistics are not available for board, tabletop and card games. This is unfortunate as, from word of mouth, board games are very popular. The German, or European, style games have strong appeal for adults. Games in this category include Settlers of Catan (2) and Carcassone. (3) Board games can be used as part of an education program exploring games, game design, history, and strategy. They could also be used to introduce adults to games they did not play when they were growing up–and that is just the start of what is possible.

Find the future

New York Public Library received much coverage for its 2011 game Find the future (10) which ran as part of their centenary celebrations as a way for people to discover and explore the collection. The game was deliberately designed with an education focus. The first night of the game was run as an event for five hundred people. After this people could play this game at their own pace and in their own time, at the library.

Changing thinking about games

There is still reluctance, despite the overwhelming statistics, for many libraries to admit how many of the adults who use their collections and services probably play games. Earlier this year Heikki Holmas, the new Norwegian minister for international development, was given media coverage because of his public statements about his own playing of Dungeons and Dragons, and how skills are learned in games which have real world applications. This means that his tabletop games skills will help him in parliament. (11) Adam Grimm highlights some of the skills and attributes gained or developed by playing Dungeons and Dragons which include imagination, structure, performance and problem solving. (12) People like Heikki Holmas and Adam Grimm are using our libraries and we are rarely giving them a way to engage–or may be guilty of making judgments about them because of the games they play.

The Central Arkansas Library System ran programming for adults teaching people about playing World of Warcraft. This may seem an unusual game to be part of a library education program. However, the aim of this education program was social inclusion, and it was thought that playing a game like World of Warcraft may be one way to assist in this locally. Library staff were pleased with the outcomes. (13,14) There are many opportunities in libraries using games for education Some of these can be done by showing how exciting games can be and by having people realise that the boardgames they may have played as children, or even have played with their children have developed and new possibilities target adult players.

Playing Carcassonne could be used as part of an adult education program on medieval history, so people could be discussing the history they are reading, but also play a game constructing a medieval town and so apply the ideas they have learned from reading or hearing about the medieval world. Games can allow a different angle on creativity in education programming. Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris in their book Libraries got game: aligned learning through modern board games have written about this from a primary school aged perspective, but many of their ideas apply to learning through games at any age. (15)

They also make the point strongly that a game has to really be a game. This sounds obvious, yet people forget this point surprisingly often. There is a lot of tools to help with boardgames. BoardGameGeek (16) is an invaluable online resource with detailed reviews about boardgames as well as walk throughs of the different games. Table Top with Wil Wheaton by Geek & Sundry (17) is an excellent video channel to learn how different table top games are played–so you can start thinking about their place in educational programming, and not simply programs about learning to play games. The Game Library for the School Library System of Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (18) has some useful resources for games targeting infants and primary aged children.

Science games

There are also ways to draw in the community through games. A game like Fold.it (19) a University of Washington initiative which is about folding proteins has resulted in scientific breakthroughs. (20) It was designed to trigger scientific discovery, but the game is also an experiment. Fold.it could be used as part of a series of science talks, with visiting or local scientists, at a library where the participants could join in with others who are contributing to scientific discoveries. Then people could be working in a collaborative space in the library, folding proteins together interacting with the other people also in the library space as well as others online in Fold.it. This could appeal to a wide range of ages, from students considering science careers, to adults wanting creative and puzzle solving options. It is a free, social, online game.

EteRNA, (21) a collaboration between Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University has similar concepts. This is a game about RNA molecules, and again serious science is being done through playing games. (22) This would also make for interesting library programming. These games could be part of a series about science, but equally they could be part of a series about games to help more people understand the range of options available to people who play games exploring creative problem solving, and helping to do science at the same time. Both Fold.it and EteRNA would be useful inclusions with library based science programming, and could provide a useful tie in to your library collection, including databases. The Science Museum in London has a significant collection of online games about science, which could be used to help people learn more about specific ideas, as well as to explore ideas of game design and engagement. (23)

Through all this science it is important to remember the ideas of Mayer and Harris, that first and foremost the games have to be fun. Zombie Climate Apocalypse (24) run by The Edge at the State Library of Queensland may seem an unusual inclusion for science games–however the game is about survival. The players have to problem solve a vast range of survival skills (including water purification) so science is really important. A game like Zombie Apocalypse taps into many library collections (books, dvds and databases with information about the idea of zombies and survival), and can help bring a new range of clients to the library.

A game like this can also be used to bring in ideas from places like the USA Centre for Disease Control and its web pages about zombie preparedness (25) which they created as a different way for people to think about disaster preparedness. If you are ready to survive zombies you are probably ready for other natural disasters as well. Science is well suited to education programs involving games, using ideas for partnerships mentioned above. Unlike Orange County Library Service we are not all going to have Otronicon in our area. Otronicon explored the science, art, technology, careers and fun behind videogames, simulation and digital media.

Each year, multiple industry partners join the Orlando Science Center to celebrate how digital media technologies impact the way we live, learn, work and play. (26) Orange County Library Service has also been highlighting games as part of its services, and as part of the education program.

They have classes teaching game design, but also educating people about the employment possibilities presented by games. (27) We will all have scientists in our communities, no matter how small. It just requires some creative thinking to explore partnerships, and to consider who you might invite to your library as part of a science education program including games, collections and science databases.

Games design for all ages

This is an area of potential partnership with universities which teach game design (if they are local to your area) or with local games groups. It is a specialist area of education. Some public libraries and museums have been running programs on game design, mainly targeting children and teenagers. There is much underexplored potential for running this kind of education program for adults.

It also might be about seeing if you can create a game to help people explore the history of their area so the education elements would be around research (so that the history of the area can be explored), and games design (to see if a meaningful game can be created for the community). This is a specialist area, needing specialist trainers. Be open to the formats you are considering, as the games do not need to be made on computers or even for computers. Board games are a very popular format, as are large scale games outdoors.

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