Welcome to iHCPL: The Next Generation. This site was created as the next step in Harris County Public Library's iHCPL Learning 2.0 Program; a discovery learning program designed to encourage staff to explore new technologies. The original iHCPL program was adapted from The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County's Learning 2.0 Program.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Games and Gaming #38: Console Gaming

Now that you’ve reinvented a second life for yourself in the virtual world, discovered that you can strut around destroying skeletons and goblins in your rune armor AND earned twelve bowls of rice for some hungry kids…WHERE can you use all these newfound skills if you’re at work at the library all day? Yep, you guessed it: In the library.

Where’s PONG?

Console gaming has found a home in public libraries and from all indications, it’s not going to leave anytime soon. Long before Mario – and even predating Pong – there was the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972. It was analog, had no sound, and it ran on batteries but it proved that game systems could be home based and not solely relegated to arcades.

After the Odyssey came Atari’s Pong (1975), Coleco Telstar (1976) and Mattel Intellivision (1980) as well as a number of forgettable forays. Anyone remember the Zircon Channel F System II?? Didn’t think so. As the console systems evolved, so did the consumers, who demanded more sophisticated graphics and greater game difficulty. In 1985 a Japanese company called Famicom (known as Nintendo in N. America) released their NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console in the U.S. Thanks in part to Nintendo, the video gaming industry took off like…well, a Mario Kart and the rest is history.

Nostalgic for the arcade games you played as a kid? Several websites feature flash or shockwave based online versions of games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Tetris, Frogger and more. One such site is Arcade Retro.com.

Which Gaming System Should We Get?

If the last time you attempted a video game, you were clutching a joystick and gobbling pac-dots, you’re in for a jolt. Today’s generation of state-of-the-art graphics, Bluetooth technology and high-definition visuals is a far cry from the old Odyssey. According the techno gurus at cnet.com the top contenders are:

Microsoft Xbox 360 – With its extensive digital media features, a superior online service and excellent game library, this is the console to beat. Price: $250.00 - 350.00 depending on model. Games, accessories not included.

Sony PlayStation 3 – Plays all games in high-def, easy to use interface. Pricey but doubles as a Blu-ray DVD player. Limited game selection. Price: $400 – 500 depending on model. Games, accessories not included.

Nintendo Wii – It lacks the graphical prowess of the Xbox 360 and the PS3 but the combination of the Wii’s unique motion sensor controllers and emphasis on fun gameplay make this console hard to resist. Price: $350.00. Games, accessories not included.

Every gamer will give you a different opinion on which is the best console to purchase. Mostly it depends on what kind of games you’re planning on playing. Hard core gamers who prefer “first person shooter” or epic fantasy games like exclusive Halo 3 and Final Fantasy insist on Xbox 360, while sports enthusiasts prefer the family-friendly, remote-focused Nintendo Wii. Others say the PS3’s graphics are hard to beat and as DVD manufacturers choose sides in the high-def war, the PS3 is an inexpensive Blu-ray option. Even if cost is not an object, extreme popularity and perhaps intentionally limited supply only fuels the demand and makes FINDING one of these systems to purchase harder than…..playing Guitar Hero Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames” on Expert level without shredding your fingers to the bone. Totally.


  1. Visit the "nostalgic" game site and spend about 15 minutes playing Pacman or one of the other games (you have to create a free account to play). If you played these when you were younger, what skills do you think you’ve gained over people who never played?
  2. Blog about which console game system you think is best for library purposes and tell why you think so. Tell about some of your experiences with console gaming and how you think it adds or detracts from learning. Do you think players come to the library for the game but stay for the books…or just come for the game?

HCPL Staff:

Have you completed all four posts in this module? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Games and Gaming #37: Get Your Game On @ The Library

If your idea of library ambiance is “quiet as a tomb,” you may need to re-think your current model. How about “quiet as a Tomb Raider”? Gaming is making a loud impact on the library scene in a big way. Libraries all over the country (and even here in Harris County) are hosting Game Days, Guitar Hero Parties and Runescape events to generate an interest in what libraries have to offer and also to foster and encourage community partnership. One librarian even offered to waive late fines if a teen patron could beat her at a game of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)!

Do Games Belong In the Library?

While still a controversial topic, statistics show that introducing video, console and web-based games into library settings promotes an interest in the other traditional services libraries provide. In other words, get the kids in to play and they’ll want to read. Natural progression…or wishful thinking? The other rationale is that games provide many of the same benefits as books:

  • Games require advanced literacy
  • Games overcome achievement gaps
  • Games build critical workplace and life skills
  • Games teach planning, strategy, goal-setting, competence, personal power, etc.

The New York Times also recently published an article on gaming in the library: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/22/books/22games.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The Shifted Librarian has devoted an entire web log to technology trends in libraries. You can read more about gaming in her very informative blog: http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2008/04/21/more-on-how-gaming-promotes-reading-and-library-usage.html

Virtual Reference Desk

In 2000, Librarea, the first virtual 3-D library world was introduced by ActiveWorlds. Like social interactive games of today, users could log on as a character and access web-based reference materials and share professional ideas. Librarea is no longer active but librarians are finding new life in Second Life Library Project: http://infoisland.org

Library Related Games

Okay, so you work in a library and don’t “get” the whole gaming thing. You’re stubbornly attached to the idea that libraries are all about BOOKS. Period. Lucky for you, Carnegie Mellon has developed some on-line games that are right up your alley…or, shelf, as it may be:

1) Choose one of the articles above on gaming in the library to read.

2) Try one of the library-related games on the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries website and play for about 15 minutes. Was it harder than you thought it would be?

3) Write a blog post on your thoughts regarding gaming in the library and how you think it will evolve. Do you agree that games belong in the library?

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Games and Gaming #36: The Wide World of Online Role Playing Games

Now that we've had an introduction on online games, we'll discuss Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs. MMORPGs are computer games that involve large number of players interacting in a virtual world. As with other role playing games or RPGs (you've probably heard of Dungeons and Dragons, which is a good example of an RPG), players take on the role of a fictional character and control that character's actions in the game.

MMORPGs are distinguished from other computer games by the large number of players and the persistent world of the game, which continues to exist even when a player is logged out. Most MMORPGs are set in a fantasy world and contain common themes, some type of progression (developing a character and gaining experience and treasure), involve player interaction, and usually have some kind of in-game culture. Social interaction within the game is common, but usually is not required unless you need assistance from another player.

Let's look at just a few examples of the MMORPGs that are out there:


Simpler to learn and play than World of Warcraft, Runescape does not require software purchase or a subscription fee. A good portion of the game is free and it can be played entirely online. Like WoW, the game is set in a fantasy world where players create a character and can interact with other players. With Runescape, however, players can decide what is important to them in play. They can complete quests, participate in combat, build craftsman skills, trade goods, or simply explore the landscape.

Players can choose to purchase a membership to Runescape that allows wider access to the world, but it is not required.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft, or WoW, is the largest pay-to-play MMORPG at 10 million subscribers. The current edition is the fourth installment in Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft series, and takes place in a world called Azeroth after the events of Warcraft III. In WoW, you create a character avatar and work to gain experience by completing quests throughout the virtual world. When creating a character, you can choose from ten different "races" in two factions, the Horde or the Alliance. The character's race determines your abilities, appearance and starting location within the game. In addition to completing quests, you can join a guild to explore dungeons and fight in battles that allow you to gain more experience and acquire better items. You can also acquire special abilities and helper pets. Player interaction is mainly done by text-based chat, but there is also an option for voice chat that some players use. The rich storylines and complex landscape of World of Warcraft are what keep players coming back.

To play WoW, you must purchase software to install on your computer, and you must pay a monthly subscription fee, which is why we won't be visiting WoW in our exercises.

Chore Wars

Unmotivated at work or with your household chores? Chore Wars may be able to help! Chore Wars combines the drudgery of housework with an online role playing game that allows you to gain experience points or XP for chores you complete. Just like with other online RPGs you create a character, but you also create "adventures" for yourself such as doing the laundry, paying bills, or sweeping the kitchen floor. You can assign a specific amount of XP to each chore and then claim XP for that chore when you complete it. In game, you can also fight monsters for additional XP and treasure. You can turn your household chores or work tasks as a competition with members of your household or coworkers.

Chore Wars is entirely web-based and free to use.

Second Life

While technically not an MMORPG, Linden Lab's Second Life is still worth mentioning as it is a large-scale environment where people from all over the world can interact and explore a virtual landscape. You create an avatar, just like in a MMORPG, only you do not complete quests, fight monsters, or gain experience. The main purpose of Second Life is a higher level of social interaction. Users of Second Life are known as "Residents," and users interact through local chat and global instant messaging. Residents mainly get around by walking, though they can even fly!

The most notable thing about Second Life is its connection with the real world. The virtual world has its own economy and a currency known the "Linden." Residents of Second Life can buy and sell goods and services, own virtual "land," or even run an in-world business. Second Life also consists mostly of user generated content, which is created by Residents. Residents own the rights to content they create, much like copyright. Artists can create works of art in Second Life, and live music performances have taken place in the world. Recently, Second Life has started to offer virtual classrooms for several major universities, and many educators have taken advantage of this opportunity. Libraries are not immune to the Second Life bug. A virtual reference desk staffed by volunteer librarians exists in-world, and library users can visit many libaries on the Info Islands (a zone in Second Life).


1) Spend 15 minutes (not including the time it takes to set up an account) exploring Runescape by going through the tutorial. Did you find it easy to learn how to get around?

2) Write a blog post describing the Runescape character you created. Alternatively, if you are already a gamer and play an MMORPG, describe the character you play with and relate a fun experience you had playing the game.

Take and post a screenshot of your Runescape character, or the character you play in another MMORPG.

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Games and Gaming #35: Games? In the Library?

Summer is on its way, and summer is a time for fun at the library! When you think about summer fun, games probably come to mind. But games in the library? There has been a lot of talk about gaming in the library world lately, and gaming events for kids and teens are becoming more and more popular. In this post, we'll look at a few benefits of gaming and try a few web-based games. In the second post, we'll explore Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPGs. In the third post, we'll take a look at the relevance of gaming in the library. Finally, in the fourth post, we'll look at console gaming. All posts for this module will be made in May, but the module will last through though the end of July. If you complete the exercises for these four posts, you will receive 2 hours of training credit.

Let's get the fun started.

If you can't see the video, watch it on YouTube.

Games aren't just a way to pass the time. When Windows debuted, using a mouse with the computer was a relatively new thing, and Microsoft came up with a way to teach people to learn about pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping. What did they come up with? That's right, Solitaire! If you've used a Windows PC, you've probably played Solitaire or Minesweeper. For first time computer users, these can be a great way to become comfortable with using the mouse!

It may be difficult at first to see the value of games in teaching information literacy. Recently, at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, Eli Neiburger of the Ann Arbor Public Library gave a presentation about this very subject. He said that common perceptions of gaming are that it is an antisocial activity, that they are a waste of time, that most video games are violent and that they are an enemy of literacy. He went on to discuss that video games actually require advanced literacy, that only 15% of the video games sold are rated M for Mature, and that gamers tend to be more successful in the workplace than non-gamers. He also outlined the critical workplace skills that games tend to help develop, which include comprehension, spatial reasoning, research skills and perseverance.

For quite a while now, we've been talking about all sorts of web-based tools that allow us to increase our productivity. Games are no different--there are a variety of games available online that you can play anywhere without burdening your computer with the huge files required to play them. They can be found almost anywhere online.

For example, FreeRice is a vocabulary game where you are given a word and must choose the correct definition from a group of four answer choices. For every word you get correct, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to end world hunger. You can have fun and help others!

WordSplay is a word-building game that first appeared under the name WEBoggle. When you start the timer, you are given an assortment of letters. You form words using adjacent letters and type them in, pressing ENTER or the spacebar to score. After three minutes, the game ends and you receive your final score.

You may have noticed the popularity of the Japanese puzzle game known as Sudoku. In Sudoku, your objective is to fill a 9×9 grid so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3×3 boxes (also called blocks or regions) contains the digits from 1 to 9 only one time each. Each puzzle is partially completed to get you started, and the degree of difficulty determines how many spaces are filled in for you. The Houston Chronicle offers Sudoku online along with crosswords and other puzzles!

In addition, there are many online games available for kids. The PBS Kids site offers a few educational choices, as does FunBrain. Cool Math 4 Kids offers fun math games and puzzles as well as math lessons from addition and subtraction up through pre-algebra and geometry.


1) Spend 15 minutes trying out one of the web-based games mentioned: FreeRice, WordSplay, online Sudoku, or try one of the games meant for kids.

2) Make a blog post about your thoughts on the benefits of gaming and the game you played. Did you find it easy to learn the rules and get started? Can you think of any skills the game might help you build?

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.