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Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom

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Starting this upcoming Monday, 8 Bit Library will begin a new series on Super Mario Bros. in the classroom.

The inspiration for these posts came about in one of my (Justin) many recent professional conversations with Buffy Hamilton.  Since Buffy is a school librarian, she looks at using technology in education in a different way than I do.  I’ve always seen technology in education as something stagnant (for example: using research databases to obtain information).  What I got from Buffy and her Media 21 project is that technology in education isn’t just about using the internet or an online database to find information.  It’s about instilling a passion and excitement into the learner through collaborative tools and exploration.  This represented a totally new shift in thinking and viewing video games for me.

Exploring something like the history of Super Mario Bros. is a great way to instill the passion of learning and discovery in student by encouraging them to research something that is important in their lives. I noticed that the teens that participated in the Game Night program at my library were more likely to visit and use the library after they had attended a few gaming events at the library.  Why could this not work with education?  Hook them with Mario at first and then in no time they’ll finally learn to dig Catcher In The Rye after that.  Right?

With this series, we here at 8 Bit Library hope to inspire you and give you some pointers on how to incorporate the rich history of video games into your classroom.

IronmanOfGaming

The Iron Man of Gaming Tournament: A Program Idea

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I am a lucky librarian.  I have a wonderful staff with whom I work with on  Game Night Central, our reoccurring gaming program at the Cape May County Library.  We usually have 3-5 gaming programs a month (one per week) and one tournament every 3 months.  In July 2009, we also unveiled our new circulating video game collection.  At the end of 2009, we had 120 games in our collection which circulated 1,361 times.  Currently, we have expanded the collection to now include 297 circulating video games.

In mid 2009, the Game Night Central staff (Chris Hunnicutt, Mike Trout, and Jesse Ridge) came to me with a plan for a big end of the year event.  They wanted to go out with a bang.  Their idea?

A tournament veiled in secrecy that pitted our game night attendees against some retro games that they may or may not have played.  The prize?  Gift cards to local video game stores.  It’s just that simple.  Switch up that games.  Dig for something out of the ordinary.

What really hooked me on this program were the following points:

  1. GET OBSCURE AND CREATIVE! It wasn’t just all about console gaming.  One part of the program had the participants grabbing the Nintendo DS to hit up Elite Beat Agents.  Many people were expecting a music game, but this?!?!?!  It threw them for a loop and really challenged them to think outside the box.  Our staff also incorporated some card based gaming into the event.  Anyone up for some Munchkin?
  2. EDUCATE! A program like this isn’t just about all the fun everyone is having.  It’s about education.  One of the important things overlooked with video games is that they have a rich history.  It wasn’t all just ONE DAY THERE WAS ROCK BAND AND THAT WAS ALL.  You have to go back and look at the whole history to understand how we got here.  At first, it was a fad.  Then it become a thing only a select group of people did.  After that, the public started catching on.  Now, video games are finally starting to be recognized as a valid form of media.  A program like this will help your users know that there’s a rich history to be discovered.

The kids and teens at the event were flabbergasted and excited.  The program was something new and challenging.  I can’t wait to do it again in 2010.

A quick thanks to Chris Hunnicutt, Mike Trout, and Jesse Ridge (Game Night Central Staff at the Cape May County Library).  You make it happen and for that I am eternally thankful.

Boing Boing: Introducing our ‘Games To Get’ Page

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The gang over at Boing Boing have started up a “Games to Get” page that I highly suggest you check out.

I LOVE following Boing Boing when it comes to gaming because they seem to find all the interesting games that happen to slip under the radar (Spelunky and Every Day The Same Dream come to mind).  The excellent games on their lists focus on wonderful game play and problem solving, two elements that are KEY to gaming.

(via Boing Boing 01/292010)

Video Game use in the Generation M2 Study

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While the M2 Study has been burning up the tweets among librarians (and how much time youths are spending on phones and TV entertainment), very little focus has been placed on the gaming aspect of the study.

You can draw the conclusions you want from the study, but here are some gaming figures:

  • 50% of Generation M2 has a video game console in their room. 87% own a console somewhere in the house.
  • Generation M2 owns an average of 2.3 video game consoles (that means many studied owned a Wii, PS3, AND Xbox 360).
  • 5% of media time was dedicated to console gaming (and with more time broken down gaming on the computer or phone, a total of about 11% of media consumption is from gaming).
  • The numbers are deceiving, because they are averages. There are more youths gaming now than 10 years ago, and they are spending more time doing it. A large reason for the increase in gaming is phones and handhelds (think Nintendo DS and PSP). For those who game on a console, they spend 90 minutes a day.
  • Males spend about 4X the amount of time console gaming than females, but males and females are about even when it comes to gaming across any platform. As a point of comparison, though, males are larger media consumers than females.
  • Hispanic and African Americans spend more time gaming than White youth.
  • The youngest demographics in the study are gaming the most, probably due to the increase in sophistication of games.
  • Youths are texting & listening to music while console gaming.
  • Most of the games 8bitlibrary.com suggests for collection development are the games the youths spend the most time playing!

Here’s the link to the Kaiser Report: Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds

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Educational Use for Little Big Planet

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The tagline for Little Big Planet (LBP) for the Playstation 3 is  “Play.  Create.  Share.”  PERFECT!  Here are three quick ways for teachers and school librarians to incorporate this amazing game into their lesson plans.

1. Create Own Content: Think of LBP as an art class.  Students playing this game will be asked to dive into the depths of their imagination as they create, build, and destroy their own levels.  Are you studying a famous artist in your classroom?  If so, ask your students to design a level based on the key characteristics from their body of work.  Ask them to invade the mind of Van Gogh or Picasso for a moment…what would they do if LBP was their canvas?  Users can also create their own character to use in the game.  Have them create themselves…a modern day self portrait!

2. Physics: The attention to detail with the way objects in LBP move around boggles my mind.  Have your students explore this aspect of the game.  How did the LBP development team incorporate such a great understanding of physics into their game?  What kind of research did they have to do?

3. Share: One of the biggest aspects of the game is sharing your creations online.  LBP has quite an online community of users just dying to share their levels and characters.  Have your students explore this aspect of gaming and how modern society is moving towards a more open/public/collaboration environment.  Ask your students if they believe sharing with others can kickstart the creation process and provide inspiration and how this element can create tangible communities.

School librarians and educators!  Feel free to add your two cents to this discussion!

Pokemon 102: Controversy! Gender Roles & Violence

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Here’s my Pokemon 102 class. LOL! I’ll be your Professor today. You can’t take this class until you’ve completed the requisite Pokemon 101! This is part of our 8bitlibrary.com series of classes on Pokemon in Schools & Libraries. Pokemon is probably the most important video game IP for schools and libraries.

Gender plays two roles in the game.

Firstly, in order to breed Pokemon, you need (for the most part) a Male-Female partnership. As the game tries to reflect parts of natural biology, both partners need to be happy & healthy in order to mate. Female Pokemon in the game are generally sought after more than Males, because the Female Pokemon can almost always do everything the Male Pokemon can do, plus reproduce. Males, I’ve found in my experience, are slightly more abundant in the game, which adds to why Female Pokes are more sought after. Since there are going on 500 Pokemon types, there are small variations in species so these roles aren’t set in stone. Some Males evolve to more beautiful Pokemon than the Female of the species will, and in some cases it’s opposite. Vespiquen is an example of a far superior, rare, sought after Female Poke.

Can you see now how you can use Pokemon as a basics-of-Biology lesson or library program? Basics like mating, genders-within-species, and evolution are all ideas that kids already understand within the context of the game. If kids understand these ideas in this media, that means a good teacher or librarians can transfer this understanding to other media.

Secondly is the gender roles among “human” characters in the game. In the game, the character you chose to control throughout your gameplay can be either male or female. There is only a single circumstance throughout all IV generations of the game where your choice of gender matters, and it is a small and insignificant one. Because of this, Pokemon is a game whose gameplay reach extends across genders (which you find in most games; female Nintendo DS users outnumber males). Anecdotally/in my experience I’ve found a majority of “kids” who play Pokemon are male, and “teens/college age” Pokeplayers are female.

The in-game stories focus on your adventures catching Pokemon, but there are little love-story bits thrown in there. These are the traditional Male-Female relationship; GLBT love interests have yet to appear in the game. There are, however, some clear GLBT characters in the game, but not clear enough for young players to notice. This is probably to avoid controversy, and you can only speculate where the series will lead in that regard. The real issue is your relationship with the Pokemon, though, and the love-interest stuff is very quick and not prominent.

Violence is another touchy in-game issue.

All great works of fiction have some level of violence. Pokemon, in Banned Books Week fashion, has been marred by accusations of “too much violence”. This is mostly spurred on by the Pokemon anime cartoon series, as the two are confused by people outside of Pokeunderstanding.

The main goal of this game (as opposed to the more-violent cartoon) is to catch and train Pokemon. You are training your Pokemon to “battle” other Pokemon. But this is just a plot device; there are no animations of actual violence, and although there are very cool animations for their “moves” that they “battle” with, the point of this game is to love and care for your Pokemon. I tend to lean toward the Vatican’s official stance on Pokemon:

…on December 9, 1997 in the midst of the early Pokemon mania, the Holy See declared Pokemon to be “‘full of inventive imagination,’ has no ‘harmful moral side effects‘ and is based on the love-thy-neighbor notion of ‘intense friendship.’”

We, as teachers and librarians, come across this all the time: a parent or concerned citizen who is not truly familiar with a work of fiction asks for it to be banned. And, for the most part, after a thorough review of the work of fiction, is found to be meritorious. Here at 8bitlibrary.com, our goal is to get schools and libraries to look at video games as a new media, just like books/TV/web2.0/radio/texting/any other form of media out there. As such, individual games should be looked at as works of (fact or) fiction and not “games” (per se) and some GOOD video games are meritorious, just like a good book.

In the end, the only ones qualified to review the content of the game are parents, and I’m sure after a parents reviews the game, they probably won’t share it because they are playing it themselves (KINDA like when they review a book because of violence and end up loving it…)

I’m thinking our next class will be lesson plan and library program ideas. Thanks for the read! Professor JP

Pokemon 101 for Teachers & Librarians

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One of the biggest video gaming franchises Librarians will encounter (and possibly the most important of all video game IPs for libraries) is the Pokemon franchise. With two “new” games being released (HeartGold/SoulSilver) in March 2010, librarians should be prepared.

First first FIRST thing you need to know: the word “Pokemon” can either refer to the creatures in the game, the game franchise, or a game itself. Only context determines what it means.

Pokemon 101: understanding the basics of Pokemon!

What does Pokemon have to do with schools/libraries? This is a question I got from a (kinda irate) first-year teacher, right in front of a class full of kids in the middle of a library presentation I was giving them. More specifically, it was, “what does this have to do with summer reading?!“. Well, here are some ways they relate!

  • Pokemon has an extensive map structure. If you are teaching map skills, I’m sure it will be difficult to find a map-skills exercise with the depth and diversity of the maps that the kids are going home to play with for recreation in this game.
  • The “Pokedex” is a database (aka library) of Pokemon and Pokemon statistics within the game. Inside the Pokedex framework, kids are: analyzing various types of numerical and other data, building their decision making skills  as they plan future choices based on the relationships Pokemon have with each other and the map, building real-life teamwork skills as they try to complete their Pokedex with the help of friends who own the game.
  • More on the Pokedex: Wikipedia describes the Pokedex as “device designed to catalog and provide information” and “a portable reference tool“. Kids already have libraries in their video games, and are acting like little librarians…for fun!
  • The main Pokemon releases (which we will get to) are playable fantasy fiction stories with you as the main character. Video games are a new media, and as such, traditional fiction genre forms for other media have reached games.
  • The best resource for Pokemon players is Bulbapedia, which is an online Pokemon encyclopedia wiki with close to 16 thousand articles. If such a large body of information exists around Pokemon (and, since it is a wiki, it was written by the players of the game) it seems that there is a large amount of information flowing between players. That’s what schools and libraries are all about, communication and a flow of information!
  • Making connections to students and library users is difficult. Catching their attention is one thing, and keeping their attention is another even more difficult thing. Pokemon will not only get their attention (tell them you caught a Giratina), it will keep it (building lesson plans and programming around the Pokemon environment is ripe with ideas).

What are the Pokemon games? There is confusion that surrounds what constitutes a Pokegame. For a video game to be considered a true Pokemon release, step one is it HAS to be released for a handheld system (Gameboy, GBA, DS…). Everything else is related material with a Pokemon logo on it, but not part of what we would consider the Pokecanon. And, to make things more confusing, Pokemon has three canons: the game canon, the anime (cartoon) canon, and the manga (book) canon. We are only dealing with the video game canon.

The canon has 4 generations, and a “generation” is the story that is being told within the game. In the canon, the “generations” are not chronological:

In 1998 Pokemon Red & Blue came out (in the USA) for Gameboy. Later, Pokemon Yellow was released. These games are all “the same”, in that they share a majority of content with each other and tell the same basic story. This is the way all the of generation releases have been handled so far. The Game Boy Advance games Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen, remakes of Red & Blue, are considered Generation I even though they are based on the Generation III Game Boy Advance technology and gameplay.

Generation II consisted of Pokemon Gold & Silver, and later Crystal, released for the Game Boy Color. In March, the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes will be released for the Nintendo DS.

Generation III are Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire, and later Emerald, all released for Game Boy Advance.

Generation IV is the current generation, which includes Pokemon Diamond & Pearl, followed by Platinum.

What are “Pokemon”? “Pokemon” are the little creatures in the Pokemon games. Think little bugs or snails. The player controls a “Pokemon trainer” who collects, trains, and takes care of the Pokemon s/he catches.

Isn’t Pokemon for kids? Yes, the franchise has been steered towards the “kid” demographic. The main releases do have many heavy narrative themes, in-depth statistical choices (via the Pokedex), long game-play hours, and a far fictional reach, so adults and especially teens play these games too. Because it is a “kid” game, non-players judge adults who play Pokemon, but after a proper understanding of the depth of the game, it is less embarrassing (LOL).

And the rest…

Pokemon’s influence on pop-culture doesn’t need to be brought up here. I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think there was anything more epic in pop-culture created in the 90s than Pokemon. Grunge-rock, the Lewinsky Scandal, and Seinfeld all pale in comparison to the far-reachingness of Pokemon and its continued influence on society.

Whew anyway hope this helps. This is obviously not everything pokerelated, so i’ll write a Pokemon 102 article some day.

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OH wait one more thing! I might be the biggest Pokefan librarian in the USA! I’ve CAUGHT every single Pokemon in the Sinnoh Dex! And I have a Darkrai and Arceus!

Teaching Empathy (via Library Gamer)

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I just finished reading Teaching Empathy, a wonderful post by Brian Mayer at his blog Library Gamer.  While reading, I noticed that there were a bunch of words and phrases that stood out to me:

  • Working together
  • Discussion
  • Teamwork
  • Decisions
  • Communication skills
  • Interact
  • “understand and appreciate their peers”

Beautiful stuff.  I think Brian’s post really emphasizes the community aspect of gaming.  It brings us all together.  It puts us in a position where we must work together.  This is a skill that we as librarians should be teaching to our patrons.

This is why I believe so strongly in gaming in libraries.

(Thanks to Brian for the excellent post!  I highly recommend you check out his wonderful blog Library Gamer

Games rated “M”ature on the Wii

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Seems that the Wii has a very small amount of games that are rated M by the ESRB, and that number doesn’t look to be moving too much higher in the future of the console.

While most libraries are looking to expand game collections with games that reach the most number of people (and therefore have a more family-friendly ESRB rating), “hardcore gamers” looking for a mature depth are left out to dry.

Libraries who circulate games should consider purchasing games for all age levels (not simply family-friendly titles), and libraries looking to attract hardcore gamers should consider purchasing a second 7th-gen console (PS3 or 360) to round out their program offerings and supplement the Wii.

Original link: It’s All Game: There’s no double-I in ‘mature’.

JustinGames

Justin’s Essentials for starting a gaming program at your library

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So you’re thinking about starting a gaming program at your library?  It seems like an easy thing to do.  You get a TV, a video game system, a few games and BOOM!  There you have it.

But wait!

In order to make the gaming program at your library excel, you’ll want to go that extra step.  Here’s a few of the smaller details you won’t want to overlook.

1. Television: Make sure you get a really good TV.  Patrons don’t want to come to the library to play games on a small TV when they could do that at home.  Go nuts.  Order that 50 inch HD Plasma TV you’ve got your eyes on.  Better yet, why not go for a projector?  You won’t regret it and your patrons will love it.

2. Staff: Make sure you’ve got staff on board that are either gamers themselves or people that are interested to learn.  Your patrons just don’t want you to simply set up the games and let them be.  They will be begging you to join their band in Rock Band or they’ll want to brawl with you on Super Smash Brothers Brawl…and you’ll want to impress them with your skills.

3. Materials: JP has written a basic start-up plan here.  It’s a quick run through of where to begin game and accessory wise.  A good place to start.

4. Schedule: To get them to keep coming back to your library, make sure your gaming program is not a one shot deal.  Establish a consistent weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly plan (I suggest weekly to start!) where you’ll be having regular gaming programs.  Your users will get into a routine of coming into the library a specific day of the week to enjoy a few hours of collaborative gaming.

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