Gamifying the library with SCVNGR

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SCVNGR is a location-based game app for mobile devices that is about going places, doing challenges, and earning points.  It is used in a variety of contexts, including conventions, conferences and other events, as well as providing a way to attract business patronage.  It is also being used in higher education institutions, including libraries – particularly as a way of introducing and orienting new library users to its services and resources.

There are a number of benefits for academic libraries in using SCVNGR to provide an introduction to the library.  It would ease demand on face-to-face orientation services, provide a way to promote the library’s services and resources, teach students some new skills, and enable the library to align itself with developments  in gamification within the broader university community.  Whatever the outcome, the library would learn a lot – both about our clients as well as about gamification in libraries.

Gamification in libraries

Gamification “typically involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging”.   There is an increasing amount of interest in gamification in higher education, and research has demonstrated that it is an effective way to motivate students to learn (albeit with caveats).  Consequently, there has been a growing interest in this area in academic libraries.  Some great examples are Lemontree,  Blood on the Stacks, and Bibliobouts.   If you are interested in reading more on this subject,  links to many great resources can be found in Curtin Library’s gamification blog.

In relation to orientation games, SCVNGR has been quite popular in academic libraries.  As this list indicates,  there are many universities and colleges using SCVNGR particularly in the US, and many of these involve the library.   SCVNGR is typically used in two ways – either as an ‘event’ with challenges set for a limited period of time, or as an ongoing game available to be played at any time.

There are a number of published case studies of academic libraries writing about their experiences, and the results are quite mixed.  The University of California-Merced (UC-Merced) Library for example, had very low participation rates when they ran SCVNGR, while others such as University of Arizona Library have been more successful.  An interesting example of using SCVNGR  was the On Your Marks game organised by QUT at the 2013 ALIA Information Online conference held in Brisbane, where, despite some issues and challenges for the organisers of the game, it was deemed to be very successful as a gamification activity for conference attendees.   It seems that the success of using SCVNGR in a library context is more to do with how well the challenges are designed and the game administered and promoted, rather than the functionality of the app itself.

How SCVNGR works

The SCVNGR app (iOS and Android) is free to download for those wishing to play the game.  For the organisers of the game, there is a free version which allows for the creation of 5 challenges.  While it is possible to run the game with the free account, there are subscriptions available, which allow for more challenges as well as support from SCVNGR.

Once you have created an account it’s easy to build challenges. It’s possible to create as many challenges as you like, but activate only the number you are entitled to (eg in the free version you can have 5 challenges activated at any one time).  You can create different locations with each challenge, including different locations within the same building.   There are downloadable data reports providing detailed information on all of the activities that take place by the participants in the game.

For the game player, playing SCVNGR is also very easy.  After logging in, you can find list of places within 20 km (drawing on data from Ggogle maps), find friends and ‘bump’ phones, create a profile and track your activity and those of others playing the game at the locating you select.  The player earns badges after completing a certain number of challenges, and rewards (if these are set up). Players are able to share their activities on Facebook and Twitter, and can also create their own challenges.

There are quite a few options for how you could run SCVNGR as a game in academic libraries.   It could be organized as a one-off event, for example running over the first two weeks of semester, or as an ongoing game with challenges being refreshed or rotated to cater to regular players.  There could be theme-based ‘treks’, or a random mix of challenges presented.  The game could be customised for particular groups (for example as an activity organized by lecturers for their students), or left for individuals to explore on their own or with friends.

What is involved?

Organizing a successful SCVNGR game for the library would necessarily involve drawing on a range of skills and experience, as there are a lot of different elements to consider.

Design:  The challenges need to be fun and engaging, with universal design issues considered.  For example, some challenges could involve using QR scanners or augmented reality apps to trigger access to learning objects such as videos or 3D animations.

Promotion: It is very important that library clients are made aware of the game’s existence, how to play and what benefits they will gain if they play it.

Administration:   Creating and maintaining challenges, monitoring activity, analyzing statistics, dealing with IT issues, communicating appropriate use and terms and conditions to players, are all aspects to take into consideration.

Staff training:  Every staff member who has contact with clients would need to know what SCVNGR is and how it works.  It also presents an opportunity for library staff to engage with a particular group of clients through social media.

Risks and benefits

There are a range of factors that could impinge on the level of success of using SCVNGR in the library, but the main risk is that, if it is not well designed, organized and promoted, students won’t be interested in the game and participation will be minimal.

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However, there are also some potential benefits:

It would provide an alternative to face-to-face orientation activities, saving staff time and provide information to more clients than otherwise possible.

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Clients learn some things about the library

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They also learn some digital literacy skills along the way.

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It fits with the strategic direction that many universities are heading in, particularly in the areas of teaching and learning

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So to conclude …

There are limitations to SCVNGR and it’s important to be realistic about what it can and can’t do.  It’s not a panacea to all the library orientation issues faced by academic libraries, nor does it offer students the gamification experience of a lifetime.   Running it initially as a pilot is a good way to identify potential issues and problems, as well as discover what works well.

SCVNGR aligns with the strategic directions many higher education organisations are taking to improve the student experience, and offers an alternative means for the academic library to promote its services and resources, as well as help students to develop information and digital literacy skills. Even if there are better platforms being used or developed for this purpose, SCVNGR may be worth a go, even if all it amounts to is a valuable learning experience for the library and an opportunity to engage with the wider academic community around gamification projects.  But best of all, it would be a chance to have some fun!


Cartoons made using Bitstrips


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