Considering nominations for video game additions to a library’s collection, I take into account many factors, but the potential for open creative play is key. Therefore, my first nomination is for Minecraft. Minecraft was first released for the PC on May 17, 2009. It gained in popularity quickly, but really took off when the Xbox 360 version was released. Minecraft should be included because it has tremendous educational possibilities. As an open world sandbox game with no set goals or objectives, educators are free to set their own. Players can create their own worlds from scratch in an environment that requires them to gather and use resources. It has the capability to utilize user-generated and downloadable content. In multiplayer (closed or open) mode, students can build an environment inspired by history or literature and interact as player characters taking various roles. Depending on the parameters set up by an instructor, Minecraft can foster cooperative, connectivist learning. Teachers and librarians have successfully used Minecraft to take students and patrons on a virtual field trip where they discover the secrets of history or learn to navigate new environments—like a library reference section.
My second recommendation is for an updated version to the classic Oregon Trail game that is just a year or two old. Stealing their own blurb from iTunes: “You’ve conquered the trail, now it’s time to tame the frontier! Experience the next step in The Oregon Trail story, where you and your family can finally settle down and build a new home in the Wild West” The new version is titled American Settler and is available in an iOS version for the iPhone or iPad or in an Android version, also for phones and tablets. Like the original Oregon Trail, players must enter a world fraught with the many dangers of the American frontier. A deep appreciation for context and setting enhances the study of all subjects. There’s of course the literature of the period and history that take on new life as student’s “get it” a lot more having walked a bit in the shoes (albeit animated shoes) of an American frontier settler. Applications of any branch of math and science can also be made. Using elements and situations of the old school new world as exemplars and application platforms are great engagement techniques.
My third recommendation is an off the wall choice. I recommend the games of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series, the games of which have been in regular release since the late 1990s and are available for every platform. The first point to make is that GTA is widely popular and the precedent for the collection of popular media is well established. With a bit of effort we can convert a video game only patron into a well-read lifelong learner. As an open world game, creativity is fostered by GTA. The key, as with any resource, is capitalizing on the teachable moment rather than letting it slip by unnoticed. Many at-risk youths who end up as adults with criminal records have a surprisingly limited knowledge of the law. High schools have “know the law” programs to help raise awareness. Imagine the impact of learning about crimes, their variants, degrees, and penalties in a virtual world and then following up with face to face character education. Additionally, social science and literature teachers could do a lot with the satirical characters and situations in the games’ narratives. Controversial hyperbolic satire is well-established as an effective tool for social change.