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Criteria for evaluating games

zork1.jpgOn Septemeber 18, I send the following request to LM_Net:

Hi folks,

I have been looking (unsuccessfully) for a list of criteria one might use to
choose educational games for libraries and classrooms. Does anyone have any
kind of selection tool s/he can recommend?

Baring that, do any of you have an authoritative, non-commercial list of
educational games or game sites?

Thanks for any help you might give,


Below are the LM_Net responses, but first one very interesting paper I discovered (old news to most, I suppose) is Marc Prensky's 2005 article, Complexity Matters, where he differentiates between complex and simple games, arguing that adults (digital immigrants) have a negative opinion of games because we associate the idea of “game” with those of our own childhood – card and board games, recreational pursuits meant to pass a rainy afternoon. Prensky surmises: “Because of these formative game-playing experiences growing up, when today’s teacher (or parent or educator) hears the word game, their first reaction is: “trivial.” And they don’t want this “trivial” stuff to be part of their child's, or children's’ “serious” education. So they reject games out of hand as a serious learning tool.”

Instead, he argues, we should be thinking about “complex” games, those that take 10-100 hours to complete. These games require “a player to learn a wide variety of often new and difficult skills and strategies, and to master these skills and strategies by advancing through dozens of ever-harder “levels.” Doing this often requires both outside research and collaboration with others while playing.”

Complex game titles  include: Sim City, Civilization III, Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, Age of Kings, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Myst, Riven, EverQuest, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, all the Tycoon games, John Madden Football,  Medal of Honor, Full Spectrum Warrior, and America’s Army.

As an old Zork fan, I concur!  

Now the LM_Net responses: 


Hey, Doug, how are you?  Thanks for your interest!  I'm afraid the policy part of the gaming world is a peninsula to which my alleged gurudom does not extend.  We don't circulate games here, and we don't have any policies that cover our gaming events.  However, I've got three resources that might help you.
First is the Mario Brothers Memorial Public Library at  I personally take issue with the assertion that the Mario Brothers are dead and in need of memorialization, but if you go to their video games page, you'll find some links to sample selection criteria and other policy-like documents on the right side.  Note that this is Jami Schwarzwalder's personal page, not representative of an actual library's policies, but they are a good starting place and they look like what such documents would probably look like.
You should also check out , which has a pretty good page about collection development and criteria.
Also, you may want to talk to Beth Gallaway if you haven't already; she has given presentations about game collection development and would have better resources in this area.  Her blog is and you can reach her at .
Finally, if you are looking for some other people to talk to, check out the gaming section of the library success wiki at which has links to libraries that are circulating games that might be able to help you furhter.
Hope that helps!  Good luck with your article, and don't hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions I can help with.

Eli Neiburger is a library game tournament guru and author of the Library?! The Why, What, and How of Videogame Tournaments for All Ages. He kindly responded to a direct request for information. Using these links, I did find Becta, a UK IT firm that lists criteria for choosing games including age ratings, genres, technical requirements, costs and licensing along with some pragmatic qualities like being able to turn off the sound, having regular save features and allowing the user to create their own environments, levels and missions. 



I don't have a list of criteria for you, although I will probably be creating one soon (my dissertation topic may well end up having something to do with reading and educational games), but I do have a list of book-based games to share.  I did an article for Teacher Librarian for the April 2007 issue about card games, board games, and video games based on stories.  I've attached my chart for you.  It already needs to be updated, but if you're interested in story games, it will get you started anyway.

Have you checked Eli Neiburger's new book, the Library?, for selection criteria?  I haven't had time to read it yet, but I'm guessing it may have selection criteria, at least for public libraries.

Please post a hit if you find a good list--I am definitely interested as well.


Kelly Stern






Hi Doug, reviews games as well as movies "with kids in mind".

From their site:

Our Mission
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the media and entertainment lives of kids and families.

We exist because media and entertainment profoundly impact the social, emotional, and physical development of our nation's children. As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.


Pamela B


I don't have a list, but I love to use the 24 Math game from Suntex and Scrabble.  I started Scrabble clubs in a couple of places with the School Scrabble set from Hasbro.  I've also used a lot of Yahtzee and Perudo/Liar's Dice/Pirates of the Caribbean dice (the creator, Rich Borg is a friend of my husband's) when I was running a resource classroom for special ed and ESOL students.

Cheryl Youse 


My rule of thumb is to go by the state frameworks.  If it (the game) is teaching a skill or concept that is in the frameworks and thereby required (and tested) then it's good enough for me.  I also like to choose games, especially library games (from Upstart/Highsmith) that make difficult concepts easier.  Library vocabulary is easier learned with Bingo - I call the definition and they look for the word - that me just repeating myself eternally!  If you are purchasing games for the teachers, I would advise caution.  What looks great isn't always the case...and even if it is, it doesn't mean they'll use it.  Our math curriculum comes with it's own games (Everyday Math) - and the program doesn't leave much time for supplemental activities.  If it's something they really want, poll our group (LM_NET) as to the effectiveness of the game.  Boxes are colorful and write-ups look great.  I've been fooled more than once!  Good luck!
Holly G


...Van Orden and Bishop's The Collection Program in Schools 3rd edition p159 gives general criteria for games that addresses general goals such as problem solving.

Janet Hilbun, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Library and Information Studies
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX


I would start with this site These are the California Learning Resource Network criteria for the state of California's teachers.  For information on computer games in education go to This article may have some information that you can use also

This is an article that defines six criteria for a specific type of game- educational simulation.  You may be able to use some of his thoughts to put your form together.

For reviews on educational games that are educational in view point go to and they have a review form that is given to teachers They use reviews from teachers, parents and kids.

Hope these help.

Linda De Vore 


I hope this helps some folks. Thanks as always to the brilliant people on LM_Net. Still best resource on the Internet!



Save a horse - ride a librarian


This bumpersticker (that I think looks great on the Ford Ranger) is available from the Wyoming Libraries campaign website along with an number of other irreverent items. I knew the Wyoming librarians had a sense of humor from working with them last month, but this above and beyond! (Thanks to Twitterer John Pederson for the heads up about this site.)



When do you use?

So can someone explain when one ought to use a wiki and when one ought to use GoogleDoc? They seem to do about the same thing to me.

wikisp.gif    logo_docs.gif