Summer Reading Program

posted Nov 8, 2011, 9:05 AM by jj pionke
Yesterday in my Information Literacy class, we had a presentation by the Ann Arbor District Library's Eli Neiburger who talked about the summer reading game that AADL had this past Summer.  It was a hybrid paper, social networking, SMS, game....and it worked.  According to Eli, traffic on the website and in the 5 libraries that comprise AADL went up a lot, far more than a usual Summer.  I found his talk fascinating because it was clearly connected to Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World (an excellent read, I highly recommend it) though many of my fellow students seemed to have missed the point.  After Eli left, there was a lot of debate about how good was the game really and if it had really had any impact.  I think what many students failed to realize that the game wasn't about teaching information literacy, although that was certainly a byproduct.  The game was just about getting bodies in the door and getting people to more fully utilize the library.  It's all well and good to make a game that is rich and complex and hits every Common Core standard there is but if no one wants to play it, what is the point?  Gaming, at it's heart, is about fun and though there might be goals, and there needs to be goals for gamers, the high of completing a task and continuing on in the game is what is alluring.  The game could be about anything, as long as people are interested in the topic at least a little bit, and the game is well designed, then there is going to be people playing it.  

I was dismayed by a student's derision of a gamer who had amassed the most points in the game (just shy of 1 million).  Who are we to mock that gamer who figured out a methodology that worked best for them?  It's not that they gamed the system, it's that they were really good at grinding.  Grinding is a gamer term where you just do similar actions over and over again in order to level up/gain money of some kind/etc.  I am very good at grinding when I am motivated.  I play Mafia Wars on Facebook.  I've been playing for two years and I am at level 1716.  I am certainly not the highest level in the game, but in comparison to many of my students, I am far higher.  You'd be surprised at how many of my own students friend me on Facebook just so they can friend me in Mafia Wars.  Anyway, my point here is that my fellow students in the info lit class clearly dismissed the AADL summer game as being too simplistic, not educational enough, etc.

Getting movement to the library, reminding people that the library exists, that it is there all Summer for a cool place to sit or for concerts, or for hanging out with your friends, is part of what the game was about it.  Sure, there was a lot of education.   Part of the game was tagging entries, finding the wrong pictures of books in the catalogue, etc and people did learn how to tag and they did write reviews.  It could be that many of my fellow students aren't hardcore gamers.  I don't consider myself to be a hardcore gamer, but I probably am.  I have spent a lot of my life gaming.  When Eli talked about the Zelda Triforce, I rolled up my sleeve to show off my Zelda tattoo....and then so did he.  Admittedly, this was a really really awesome moment for me and made me squee with happiness.  The look on my fellow student's faces rather said it all though - gamer nerd.  Maybe it takes one to know one.  I got a lot of Eli's speech because he spoke my language and to my experience.  I understand everything he said about the game and why he made the game decisions that he made.  Many of my fellow students are future educators and it worries me that perhaps they don't understand the students that they are going to be teaching.  

Eli said that there will be another Summer game this coming Summer.  I will be traveling and moving around a lot, but I would like to play online, if nothing else to see what's different and how things have gotten better and more interesting.  As a first run game that had no usability tests, this last Summer's game was impressive and I am sure that without a doubt, next Summer's game will be even better.