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Gaming to Learn: the 2017 OCULA Spring Social and Digital Odyssey

A group of gamers learning how to play Codenames at the OCULA Spring Social.

The OLITA Council holds a one-day conference each year called Digital Odyssey; this year’s conference highlighted the variety of ways that games and gameful thinking encourage learning while building community in libraries and beyond. In partnership with OLITA, the OCULA Spring Social committee, consisting of Sarah Shujah, Andrew Colgoni, and Rob Makinson, decided to double down on the gaming theme, and planned an event called Meet, Eat, and Compete! held at OCAD University on June 8.

Meet, Eat and Compete! gave OCULA members a chance to ‘pre-game’ — using traditional board games or mobile-friendly titles — in a casual setting before Digital Odyssey the following day. The event was also a great networking opportunity, with good food and drinks to help relax and escape the summer heat.

Some of the board games on offer, generously loaned by Centennial College Libraries, included Codenames, a team party game where ‘spymasters’ give clues about which secret agents belong to their side; Bananagrams, a high speed (and sometimes high-impact) version of Scrabble that has caused more than one feud between librarians; Tsuro, a game where players build paths and try to force others back to the edge; and Apples to Apples, a noun-adjective matching game similar — and more family-friendly — than the popular Cards Against Humanity.

Andrew Colgoni lent his expertise in digital gaming to lead attendees in the Jackbox Party Pack, a series of hosted online games where players use smartphones to compete against others. In Fibbage, players create false answers to crazy questions and receive points when they fool others; Guesspionage asks what percentage of people (based on the internet hive mind) do things like Googling someone before a first date; and Trivia Murder Party is a combination of innocuous general knowledge questions and nasty mini-games that pit friends against each other.

Once everyone was warmed up, Dr. Scott Nicholson, keynote speaker for Digital Odyssey and Director of the Game Design and Development program at Wilfrid Laurier University, led a team trivia game based on Wits and Wagers. He posed several questions about OCULA or librarianship in general and each team supplied their guesses before placing bets. Scott explained that the purpose of the game was not just to win points, or even to get the right answers, but to talk together about the question: the point was to learn, and to learn together.

This was the perfect preamble to Digital Odyssey the following day. During his keynote, Scott primed the audience for the day’s learning through a series of “jolts” which were so inspiring that one attendee wrote on Twitter: “20 minutes in and i already think i have a whole new game plan for teaching”. We spent the rest of Digital Odyssey sharing stories and strategies about incorporating cross-sector collaboration, virtual reality, Minecraft, coding and gaming, game jams, narrative games, and indie games through libraries to create learning experiences that generate an epic win for all.

Rob Makinson was a Librarian at Centennial College. He can be reached at hreodbeorht [at]

Mita Williams is Acting Department Head, Information Services at the Leddy Library, University of Windsor. She can be reached at mita [at]

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