The Knewton Blog

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Game Mechanics at the New York Public Library

Posted in Knerds on June 20, 2011 by

As part of its centennial celebration, the New York Public Library created a game called Find the Future. The object of the game, which can be played online or at the library, is to view and learn about 100 artifacts that reside in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and write a related story about each. If you like, you can make your work visible to other players.

On May 20, 2011, I had the honor of being chosen as one of the first 500 people to play Find the Future. From 8 pm – 6 am, we were locked in the building overnight to complete our mission. Here’s a trailer of the game to give you a sense of what we were up to:

Throughout the night, we had a tremendous amount of fun racing around the building, looking for the artifacts and writing stories about each one. We engaged in friendly competition and helped those who were stuck. Our stories were published in a book, 100 Ways to Make History, Volume I, that will be housed in the Library’s Rare Books Collection. When, at about 5 AM, I added my signature to the long list of those who had participated, I felt really good about what I had accomplished.

Beyond being a fun game, Find the Future is an exercise in strategy, perseverance, and self-reliance. It’s also a valuable learning tool — and a perfect example of how game mechanics can engage learners. If the NYPL had simply given me the task of researching and writing about 100 random things, there’s no way I would have even bothered to participate. The game, and spirit of competition that went along with it, is what made things exciting. As I worked, I earned achievement badges which made me want to keep going. A few times, I noticed my writing had been tagged by others for their collections of favorite stories, which encouraged me and made me feel good about the work I was submitting.

Sure, not everything in life can be positioned at fun. But there’s no reason not to use game mechanics to encourage learning. I can certainly think of a few classes I’ve taken that I would have gotten more out of if there had been a little more fun involved. We know students of all ages love playing games; many do so for hours at a time. Why not capitalize on the engagement and have them learn something while they’re at it?

Play the game: