Game Library Camp 2017 – games and gamification in libraries

Game Library Camp, held on Saturday at the British Library, was a library camp event all about games in libraries. It was organised by a crack team comprising Stella Wisdom (British Library Digital Scholarship team) Darren Edwards (Bournemouth Libraries) and Gary Green (Surrey Libraries).

Like other kinds of Library Camps, Game Library Camp was an unconference-style event where sessions are collaboratively contributed on the day and post-it notes play a starring role.

Or, to borrow a better definition from

At a camp the participants lead the agenda – in fact, there isn’t an agenda until people make suggestions for what they’d like to talk about at the start of the day. There’s no cost, there are no keynotes and we’re a PowerPoint free zone.

On arrival, we were all given an envelope of game-related matter (and a Sneaky Card). This was a great tactic to ensure everyone had information to join in and continue their participation after the event (some nice on-boarding in action).

Game Library Camp walkthrough

Game Library Camp top tips board – photo by @ggnewed

There was a great variety of sessions throughout the day covering desktop gaming, Augmented and virtual reality and lots more. I only managed to make it to a handful but will add links to other writeups as they become available.

The first session started off being about ‘Running Large Multiplayer Games at the library’ but segued into a really interesting and inspiring conversation about alternate reality games and how games and gamification can be utilised in cultural heritage (something already close to our hearts).

We even touched on NFC tags and how proximity technologies can be used to create more immersive experiences (huzzah!).

The second session was on Interactive fiction (IF) and digital storytelling with a sprinkle of adaptive learning.

A lot of the people in attendance (a nice mix of public, academic and health library staff and the odd creative tech person like me) were interested in the potential of gaming tools for creating engaging materials for information literacy.

Inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book formats and text-based games, interactive fiction really took off online during the 2000s thanks to accessible and open source tools like Inform and Twine.. InkleWriter by InkleStudios (who are behind the much-lauded 80 days game) is another strong example.

As well as dedicated IF tools, other presentation and storyboarding tools such as Sway were also suggested as ways of creating interactive stories.

Next was a session on using online games to teach information skills to students.

Catherine Radbourne (@cathrad) from City University demoed some of the tools that they’ve been experimenting with as ways of engaging students in information literacy and research skills training sessions.

H5P is a collection of tools that a lot of people were familiar with. You can use it to test how students select keywords, for example, or other interactive games. And you can check out some of their resources on the City University Libraries website, (including the rather awesome Hypertension Tension treasure hunt video).

Other things that have been used in instruction in libraries include Kahoot, Top Trumps and Seek.

The Cheap & Easy Game-making Tools session led by Gary Green (@ggnewed) introduced a raft of different tools that are freely available for making games and interactive story content.

First up, there was the aforementioned InkleWriter. Ink scripting language is also available for those with more development chops.

Twine is perhaps the best known interactive fiction platform out there, and it still is a popular choice. It’s freely available, easy to learn and lets you create a web based shareable game. There’s also an active, established community around it.

Bitsy Game Maker is one I hadn’t encountered before that looks pretty amazing if you like your games retro and your art pixel-based. You can see some great examples of what it’s capable of via #bitsyjam on twitter.

FlickGame, Clickteam Fusion and GameMaker Studio were also all mentioned as software to check out if you’re interested in creating games (or supporting those who do).

Our previous favourite, Undum, seems to have gone quiet which is a real shame. You can still find it on github though. After attending Game Library Camp, we’re definitely inspired to get the next iteration of the (slightly neglected) library research adventure project underway.

I caught just a bit of the Archiving games session which discussed the challenges and intricacies of preserving games in a way that’s protected, accessible and accurate. It’s no mean feat to accurately capture and preserve the experience of a game — something that the Utrecht University in the Netherlands is trying to tackle by including Let’s Play footage and other elements alongside the digital game file itself. The verdict – game archiving is hard and and an ISGN (An ISBN for games) would definitely help make things easier.

Achievement unlocked

The Game Library Camp showed there’s a real appetite for creating more engaging experiences in libraries and that games have an important part to play in this.

At the same time, now that the hype has died down a little, there’s a healthy wariness of gamified applications that don’t live up to their learning or engagement promises. It’s no longer enough to add some badges or awarding points to arbitrary actions — games need to be real and meaningful experiences for users.

Storytelling is a big part of gaming and an increasingly important part of cultural heritage spaces and the potential for combining these two areas is a huge and exciting opportunity.

Games (whether it’s online or tabletop or something else entirely) are an immensely creative and inspiring world. But they’re also just plain fun. And sometimes that’s enough of a reason.

Thanks to Stella, Gary, Darren and anyone else involved for putting together such a great event.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Games and GLAMs group is a decent place to start.