My first exposure to Fallout 3 was with a trailer shown at a press conference that took place during E3 2008 (the world’s biggest and most important video game trade show at the time). The trailer teased a post-apocalyptic version of Washington DC, where you got to explore and learn the mysteries of the nuked-out Capital Wasteland. The game brought a whirlwind of excitement and while I had never played a role-playing game besides Pokémon, I decided I would also preorder the game. I started playing, excited to see what all the fuss was about. As I trudged through dialogue trees and skill-point charts, I started realizing that after 4 hours, I was not having fun with the game and that it felt like a chore to play it. I returned it the next day for a full refund.
As the years went by, Fallout 3 piled on the accolades and Fallout New Vegas came and went with an even greater reception. So, what went wrong? I played videogames, surely that would be enough for me to just know how to enjoy this game? As I later discovered, I was RPG illiterate. I did not understand the basics of playing an open world game, I did not understand what inventory management was, and I did not understand how to use the quest and map system. Without understanding how to use and interpret such essential components, it’s no wonder I gave up so early.
James Paul Gee in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy talks about how videogames give the players a perfect plane for learning new skills. He breaks down different games into their basic mechanics and explains them into learning principles, or the basic components of how a person can learn. One key component that he highlights the “Psychosocial Moratorium Principle: Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.” (Gee, 2009) Having a space where learners can feel like they can take risks without harsh consequences they would normally experience in a real-world setting is key for learners to explore and learn through failing or through experimentation.
My library is a place for exploration and learning. We offer many programs and services where patrons can come in and learn something new. One such service we offer is through a two-pronged tech support system. The first is through twice a month topic-based tech classes I call Tech Talks. My colleague and myself will prepare a subject and PowerPoint beforehand and try to become experts in an app or a library resource that patrons may be interested in. The second is through one on one tech support, Tech Sessions. Patrons bring in whatever tech issue or curiosity they may have and schedule an appointment with one of the available tech savvy staff members. While the Tech Talks have brought consistent (albeit low) numbers, the Tech Sessions are what our patrons really gravitate towards. The comments that I have frequently received about this service is that patrons feel comfortable with us learning through whatever issue they may be facing. On the rare chance that we do not resolve their problem, they usually come away feeling less afraid of their tech.
Gee goes on to talk more in depth about other important skills video games can teach people, such as understanding story structure, the Achievement Principle which says “For learners of all levels of skill there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s… ongoing achievement’s” (2009), and also more philosophical elements such as cultural models and how players understand ethical issues and how to deal with them. For many naysayers of what videogames have to offer, this book offers many answers.
I eventually did go back to Fallout with a new perspective. I spoke to a friend about how to deal with the immensity of the world and all the mechanics it throws at you. He told me to not worry, “Just pick a direction and keep walking. Just explore and have fun with it. The world will unfold to you and you’ll find your way.”
Gee, J. P. (2008). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
(2008). Rockville, MD.
(2010). Rockville, MD.