February 19, 2008

What Do Games Have to Do with Literacy?

Filed under: precat — jenny @ 10:48 pm

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen about Paul Waelchli’s work mapping the ACRL Information Literacy Standards to skills used to play popular videogames. I’ve been waiting for someone to do the same thing for school libraries, and now we have our first step towards that goal because Brian Mayer has mapped New York State’s education standards to some modern board games.
Gaming, School Libraries and the Curriculum

“Games engage students with authentic leisure experiences while reinforcing a variety of social, literary and curricular skills. When an educational concept is introduced and reinforced during a game, it is internalized as part of an enjoyable experience and further utilized as one aspect of a strategy to attain success.
Games also carry other benefits. They help students connect and build social skills, working as part of a team or negotiating the most advantageous situation for themselves. It also provides an opportunity for students to to explore a host of life skills not inherent in the curriculum , but important for success. Some of these include: micro-managing resources and options; actively re-evaluating, re-prioritizing and re-adjusting goals based on uncertain and shifting situations; determining acceptable losses in an effort to obtain an end goal; and employing analytical and critical skills to more authentic social experiences.
Here is a list of NYS standards currently supported by a well established school game library:
NYS Social Studies Standards:

  • Standard 3: Geography Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the geography of the interdependent world in which we live—local, national, and global—including the distribution of people, places, and environments over the Earth’s surface.
  • Standard 4: Economics Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and non-market mechanisms.

Several more are listed in the post, so please click through to see just how good a fit this can be.
If you still question whether there are literacies (especially information-related ones) involved in playing videogames, ask yourself if those same things happen around playing board games. If your answer is that yes, they do, what then is the difference between learning those skills through board games and learning them through videogames? Brian’s work helps illustrate the similarities but even more importantly, it shows how easily a school library could start out with the familiar world of board games as a way to implement gaming services and engage students more interactively in learning information literacy skills. Thanks, Brian!


  1. what then is the difference between learning those skills through board games and learning them through videogames?
    While I agree that games and videogames can be important tools in teaching literacy, there are some serious differences. With videogames, even interactive ones, you cannot claim the same social capital is being generated. If it is an online game and you are not in the room with the other players, the same social skills are not developed – you can ‘ignore’ anyone you dislike, and you can quiet and restart the game instead of working out constructive solutions, as you often have to do when in the same room as the other players.
    I lived with adult gamers for awhile who were serious WoW players (I realize this addresses games at the school-age level, but it paves the road for behavior down the line, as well), and while the structure of that particular game forces you to be social (i.e., join guilds) in order to get to the end-game, the social dynamic of video games encourages isolation from *real* social interaction. Some will argue against my dichotomizing the online world from the ‘real’ world, but it is a distinction that needs to be made, and early, given some of the unhealthy tendencies children are taking with them into adulthood.
    Anyway, yes, a certain kind of socialization occurs even in videogames, but it would be dangerous to equate it with the socialization of interacting with other human bodies in a ‘real’ setting.

    Comment by Colleen Harris — February 20, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  2. […] John Rice: […]

    Pingback by Mathematics Education Blog » Blog Archive » What Do Games Have to Do with Literacy? — February 20, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  3. I have mixed feelings about this topic. It all depends on what we mean by learning. Not that I am an enemy of games but rather I hate to see valuable educational time wasted. If solid methods and purpose are applied learning with games can be terrific and stimulating. I learned an aweful lot playing monopoly with my mother yet I also see games as just a babysitter. As a teacher-librarian, I try to build a strong culture of scholarship and critical thinking. I don’t see the library as a coffe shop. When gaming is just for recreation, I think the cost and effort of schooling is wasted. I see social networking and IM in the same vein. All learning is not just play- sometimes it is work too. It really depends on the gifts and skill of the instructor.

    Comment by Al Smith — February 20, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Colleen. I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. While it’s true there are videogames that are designed to be played by one person that may not involve social interactions, the same can be said of some tabletop games. One such example would be the aptly-named solitaire. I don’t disagree with some of your points, but there are lots of videogames that are incredibly social, so I think it would be better to compare social videogames to social tabletop games and ask these questions.
    Where I do disagree with you is that “the social dynamic of video games encourages isolation from *real* social interaction.” There are some videogames that are better with real social interaction and some that foster it. This is no different than with any type of gaming (including sports).
    I also don’t see anyone equating socialization around videogames with socialization in other settings, although I will note that my experiences as a casual gamer involve very “real,” very social interactions. Just because they happen around videogames does not make them any less valid than if they occurred around books, television, movies, the weather, fishing, knitting, or politics.

    Comment by jenny — February 21, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  5. Hi, Al – can you define what you mean by “recreation” when you describe wasted schooling? Would your definition also apply to art, music, phys ed, choir, etc.? I’m trying to discern how (for you) game playing is recreational and a waste of time in school versus those other activities.
    I see IM as a tool, not an activity, and I know a lot of students use IM to collaboratively work on homework. Would you also describe using the telephone as a waste of time? If the student is IMing with a librarian, does that make it okay?
    I don’t mean to pick on you (I appreciate your comments), but I feel like there is more to these things than just pure recreation and that they do have learning value. As with any subject, you’re spot on that the instructor can be key. So can parents.

    Comment by jenny — February 21, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  6. […] – Gaming, School Libraries and CurriculumNext time anyone asks you why you are playing so much video games, point them to this article. Just don’t quote me on it. Alternatively, you might also want to read Paul Waelchli’s article on the skills used to play popular videogames.(via The Shifted Librarian) […]

    Pingback by Blogging Librarian » Blog Archive » Quick Links - “100 Books Every Child Should Read” and Other Stories - 23 February 2008 — February 22, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  7. […] What do games have to do with literacy? […]

    Pingback by Post #3 - Shift to Gaming « Blog Me a Story — February 23, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  8. I have some mixed feelings as well on this, but I guess I’m old fashioned. I read LOTR over and over again–there were no movies or video games in my day. And I feel that there is nothing like having an imaginary world inside me that was created only by books.

    Comment by Brian Mandabach — February 26, 2008 @ 12:55 am

  9. Brian, can you explain why you think it’s one or the other and why it can’t be both? Many of the people I know who read LOTR cover to cover also played D&D, Magic, and/or other games. Do you think their imaginary worlds were any less valid than yours because they played tabletop games?

    Comment by jenny — February 26, 2008 @ 7:28 am

  10. Another link related to using games (Catan, Empire Builder, Road to the Whitehouse) in the classroom:

    Comment by DeanG — February 26, 2008 @ 10:20 am

  11. […] in February, I was excited that Brian Mayer had tied the New York state curriculum standards to board games and that the School Library System of Genesee Valley BOCES had invested in a board game collection […]

    Pingback by The Shifted Librarian » How School Libraries Can Use Board Games — April 22, 2008 @ 6:24 am

  12. […] in February, I was excited that Brian Mayer had tied the New York state curriculum standards to board games and that the School Library System of Genesee Valley BOCES had invested in a board game collection […]

    Pingback by News » How School Libraries Can Use Board Games — April 22, 2008 @ 9:06 am

  13. Just wanted to add that I work in an urban high school library. I want to but can’t afford to purchase video games and 1 or 2 consoles but instead I have added a table for board games, have numerous board games available for students to play during their free time(lunch period) and have added a foose ball table which we have not used because we need to have some rules established. Students enjoy playing the games enormously and I am considering adding a second table. They exhibit good social skills and employ logic strategies. Name withheld, please.

    Comment by Name withheld, please — April 29, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  14. […] What Do Games Have to Do with Literacy? (The Shifted Librarian) […]

    Pingback by The OPLIN 4cast » Blog Archive » 4Cast #90: Google Health, Blu-Ray, Gaming, E-Books — August 7, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

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