Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Scott Nicholson

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 27, 2009


What do you do for a living?

I am a library scientist as an Associate Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. I also run the Library Game Lab of Syracuse where we study the intersection of gaming and libraries. In the past, I have been a network administrator, a reference librarian, and a statistical modeler for Citigroup.

Would it be possible for you to give us a brief overview of your gaming background?

I’ve been gaming for over 30 years. Board games have always been my primary interest. That said, I’ve spent considerable amount of time with RPGs (lots of Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy, Earthdawn) and livescale roleplaying with the foam-sword wielding International Fantasy Gaming Society. I’ve always had consoles from the Atari 2600 on up. I’ve done computer gaming through my Commodore 128, Amiga, and PCs, handheld gaming, and even worked for Wizards as a Netrep for The Imagination Network answering Magic: The Gathering questions. My first professional design was as a co-author on Call of Cthulhu Live, 1st edition.

As someone who collects board games, would you know how many you actually own?

Around 1000. I tend to sell games frequently; I probably sell a hundred board games a year through auctions and markets at conventions. If I try a game and don’t see a time where that would be the game I would pull out, I sell it. I’m not a collector for the sake of a collection.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively.

Everquest, where I focused on a Bard and juggling spells World of Warcraft, on and off from the beginning. I find that I need to have people I enjoy talking with – the game itself isn’t enough to keep me playing.  I’ve played around with many of the others, but those are the only two that I would consider that I played extensively.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

I think it would be logging onto Everquest, running around, and realizing that all of these other people running around were controlled by other players. Back then, this was a big deal.

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent gaming? How about now?

This is a difficult question, as I’m doing quite a bit of work related to gaming. So, for me, I am typically spending much more time working on things related to gaming than I am actually gaming.  I do the Board Games with Scott video cast, and those episodes can take 30-40 hours to do. I also host the Games in Libraries Podcast, and am a voice on the On Board Games podcast.

For my work, I’m doing presentations and workshops on gaming, as well as writing books on the topic. I taught a class via YouTube this summer where I prepared one video every day on the topic, and that created several weeks where I was working on gaming topics for 80-100 hours a week.

So, my life is so entwined with game-related experiences that it’s hard to pull it all apart.

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from your gaming days?

I think the funniest things are happening now, as many folks know about Board Games with Scott. About half of the time that I travel somewhere and visit a game shop, someone knows me. This summer, I was in Utrecht at a game shop. While I was shopping, someone recognized me. We chatted for a while, and then when he left, the shop owner asked how he knew me. I explained about my show, and the shop owner looked at me like I was crazy. The next person who came in the door looked at me, and exclaimed, “It’s celebrity day! It’s Scott Nicholson!”

Because there aren’t a lot of known faces in the board game world.  Having one means I get recognized a lot.

You’re a major proponent of gaming in libraries. Could you take a minute and explain what the movement is and how you got involved in it?

Just a minute? I do a full-day workshop on it. Libraries have been supporting gaming since the 1850s. The games have taken different forms over the decades, but it’s been there. Now as more people are engaged with gaming, the engagement with the libraries and gaming is growing. Many libraries host gaming events where people can play board, card, computer, or console games with each other. Games are a form of entertainment media, and as they replace books and movies as a primary form of entertainment, the libraries are fulfilling that need.

Many public libraries are community hubs and the games allow members of the community who may never interact to enjoy spending time with each other.

I got engaged with it about 3 years ago. I saw that the growing focus was on video games in libraries as “gaming in libraries” and I knew that there was a much wider variety of game types that libraries have been and could use to meet their goals. I got involved to study it as a professor, gather evidence on the phenomenon, and explore when gaming is appropriate and how it can be most effectively used as a library service.

Do you see a way that MMOs could be incorporated into this?

They already are. Some libraries are running World of Warcraft or Runescape events where they get a group of people together in a computer lab, log on at the same time, and teach a group how to play an MMO. When you have a group of players all sharing the same physical space and in-game space, social interactions go on between those players.

Another area of research exploration is understanding the information structures that support World of Warcraft. To play the game, it requires significant use of information resources and development of strong searching and other information literacy skills. By drawing connections between these skills and general information seeking skills, librarians can help players become better searchers by tapping the skills they have developed to play the game.

There also is a Libraries and Librarians Guild on Aerie Peak in World of Warcraft. This is akin to an always-running library conference, where players in the guild chat about real-world events in librarianship while grinding away.

While Second Life is not an MMORPG in the same sense as WoW, there is a significant library presence there. At the Info Island, there is most likely at least one reference librarian always on. Anyone needing help can visit the Second Life Alliance Library space and get assistance with information.

Are you at all concerned that board gaming may become a thing of the past due to the popularity of video games especially with our younger gamers?

Concerned? Not really. Board Games are a form of entertainment media. They provide face-to-face interaction, and that is the element that is missing in video games. Many folks who stare at a screen all day like to play an analog game to get back to these in-person social connections.

I see analog and digital games merging through surface computing.  These tables would allow people to enjoy the face-to-face experience with the convenience of a digital game. But I like fiddling with my bits (during games), so I’ll miss that!

You’ve recently created your own board game entitled Tulipmania 1637. Would you mind explaining what the game is about?

Tulipmania was the first well-known bubble market. It happened in the Netherlands in the 1600’s and almost completely ruined the Dutch economy. I learned about it at the Tulip museum in Amsterdam, and thought.. “Hey, that should be a game!”. I like economic games, and so set to designing a game. When I hit a design quandary, I did research on what really happens in a bubble stock market as to provide a realistic view on this phenomenon.

How difficult of a process was it for you in creating the game and then finding a publisher?

Oh, it was very easy to create a bad game. Making it into a good game was the tough process. What really helped was a convention I attended with many strong boardgamers who were willing to be honest about my game. Too many people playtest only with family, friends, or their local group and don’t get the quantity of feedback from objective experienced gamers needed to improve the game. Every night, I printed a new board and new cards. During this event, a publisher saw the game and decided to take a copy with him.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I would create a game that combines the gameplay of an MMO with the resources available through digital library services in a steampunk modern world. During the play of the game, players would be required to learn various tools to do research in real resources. As they play, they would become much stronger at searching, recognizing untrustworthy information resources, and generally improve their information literacy skills. Perhaps I’d call it “Beyond Google” as a key lesson to teach is that Google is not the place where people should finish their searching.

At least, that’s the library science professor in me, as part of that funding could then fund my Library Game Lab for a very long time.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Reach out to your local library and volunteer to help with their gaming programs (or start one)! Many libraries are interested, but don’t have the gaming expertise needed to do it well. As you know, you can make a lot of mistakes in selecting games, and you can help libraries avoid those mistakes.

To learn more, check out my free Gaming in Libraries course.

Other plugs:

You can learn about many modern board games through my 62 videos at Board Games with Scott and can keep up with me at the Games in Libraries podcast and at the On Board Games podcast.

Are you a researcher? I’ve got all of my game-related publications at the Library Game Lab of Syracuse.

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