Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Erased from FYE: Designing a First Year Experience Mobile Game at Pearsall Library


by Ian Boucher 

When I started my first part-time library job at North Carolina Wesleyan College, one of my duties was to create video tutorials introducing library users to the website and topics like plagiarism and scholarly journals. As I learned about user motivation and engagement during my MLIS program, I became interested in video game tutorials. For some topics, like accessing resources, a video is generally preferable for quick reference, but for conveying a concept like plagiarism, library users can actually invest in a scenario to help them internalize it firsthand—not just have a message delivered to them, but experience it. To achieve this, librarians need to be able to understand their audience and craft the right kind of game, exercising their creative muscles. As there are many free options for building games, from Office Mix to Unreal Engine, I believe libraries should work to pool a variety of experts from just as many fields as commercial industries, laying the groundwork for education to have the infrastructure and resources to be just as engaging as entertainment.

When I began my current position as Emerging Technologies and Outreach Librarian, I also researched services that help libraries build educational games, and came into contact with Green Door Labs, a company in Boston that specifically works with the budgets and schedules of educational institutions to create mobile games. My library director and I decided that working with them to create a library orientation game for incoming students would be a valuable endeavor, and in the summer of 2016, with the additional support of Wesleyan’s First Year Experience program, I developed a game called Erased from FYE, which uses text, images, animations, and videos to take players on a journey in which they must actually use library resources to free themselves from being trapped in time. This experience has been a vivid interaction in the pursuit of inspiring my community, and I hope it helps other librarians in similar endeavors.

The goal of the game was for students to have an enjoyable firsthand introduction to library resources while also building relationships with their peers. As my central themes, I pulled from the concept of keeping up with the new experience of college, as well as being proactive with seeking reliable information. Green Door Labs provided a game builder in which I could plug text, images, animated gifs, videos (I decided not to use sound), and a selfie feature into a system of slides, or nodes, that could branch into several directions depending on the choices of the player or random decisions by the game.



Even with perennial support from Green Door Labs in finding what could be the right goals, story, functionality, and structure, building this game definitely took many of the library resources at my disposal, as well as many free online resources. For the majority of the images, I used http://ift.tt/1h76xj3, a site with mostly reliable public domain images, and edited pictures together using PowerPoint, using http://gifmaker.me/ to turn images into animated gifs.


The library’s resources were the greatest at my disposal. I used Photoshop to integrate real pages of the student newspaper from our digital archives into fictional headlines. I used Final Cut Pro and Motion in our Media Production Lab for video editing and special effects. I used QuickTime to screen record shareable green screen effects from YouTube. The best part of the development process was the enthusiastic participation of our summer work-study student assistants in creating several of the videos—as well as adapting to summer renovations to get there, such as finding a way to hang our green screen while the Media Production Lab was mobile! Here are two clips from the game’s grand finale, when players free a previous student from being trapped in time (SPOILERS!):

I tested the game with a group of campus staff, and it was integrated into all First Year Experience courses from September to November, complete with an assessment testing student knowledge as homework. My interventions for players were minimal, and most student questions resulted from a combination of being in a new environment and not reading the instructions closely enough. I would add in small revisions to the game after every play to try to strengthen it as needed.

As for the game’s success, although many students were very engaged in completing the tasks, most of them did not seem to be having fun, and the game did not seem to instill a significant sense of collaboration across the board. Many students did not watch the game’s video clips or pass the phone around when prompted, and some groups copied their answers from others. Many students came to me later with their assessments to figure out the answers.

I will be working with the First Year Experience team and Green Door Labs to look at this semester’s results via the homework, the experiences of the FYE instructors, and Green Door’s analytics features built into the game, and determine what I can do to make the game better. I will be pondering questions of game content, student motivation, and library culture.

But all works in progress must be approached with, as one of my favorite time travelers, Sarah Connor, has said, with a sense of hope. For the present, three things are certain—a new group of students has learned new things about the library, I will use the past to strengthen the future, and I’m having a great time doing so.


Ian Boucher_Bio pictureIan Boucher has a background in television production, film studies, and communication theory, and earned his Master of Library and Information Science at Kent State University to become a librarian to advocate for information literacy. His primary research interests include the roles of motivation in information seeking behavior and the roles of film and superhero comic books in cultural discourse. Continue the conversation with him on Twitter @Ian_Boucher

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