New to the SCN: ScholCom 202X (an interactive fiction game)

This is the 5th post in a series announcing resources created for the Scholarly Communication Notebook, or SCN (see Recent Posts for other, well, recent posts). The SCN is a hub of open teaching and learning content on scholcomm topics that is both a complement to an open book-level introduction to scholarly communication librarianship and a disciplinary and course community for inclusively sharing models and practices. IMLS funded the SCN in 2019, permitting us to pay creators for their labor while building a solid initial collection. These works are the result of our first CFP last fall (round 2 CFP open right now, to June 21). 

Today we’re excited to share ScholCom 202X (ready to play html, also available in GitHub as well as Google Docs, both everything to host html as well as text-based to use offline), by Stewart Baker. Stewart gamified scholcomm work with a series of openly licensed situations we encounter regularly in our work, wherein players have to choose how to respond and try to maintain some work/life balance (if you win that one please let us know). These cases and this model hold a lot of potential for interesting instruction. Here’s Stewart introducing the game:

Interactive Fiction (IF) is essentially a text-based video game, a cross between a short story and website where the user clicks links or types in commands to move a character through the game’s plot. Although it’s an obscure medium even in the video game world, I think IF has the potential to offer librarians and educators a low-tech way to create effective, engaging learning games. I decided to put this theory to the test by creating ScholCom 202X, my contribution to the Scholarly Communication Notebook. (Okay, I’ll admit I also suggested it because I thought it would be fun!)

Learning games have a long history in education, with some classic games like Oregon Trail being so successful they are still considered iconic in popular culture today. As computer technology has improved, however, so have the technical skills required to create learning games that look and feel like what people expect from a contemporary video game. This makes it hard for small teams of OER creators and those without advanced programming skills to create effective computer-based learning games. Additionally, contemporary video games have large asset libraries, making them large files that some users may be unable or unwilling to download and making them difficult or impossible to play directly in a web browser.

IF potentially resolves both these issues. Free IF authoring tools such as Inklewriter (the program used for ScholCom 202X) are designed to lower the technical skills needed to create an effective text-based game. Additionally, almost all programs used to create IF today can output a game that is embeddable on a website using JavaScript or a related technology. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to write IF or effective text-based learning games. All the same, these benefits make IF a potentially attractive format for those interested in writing their own learning game to share as an OER.

In ScholCom 202X, the player takes on the role of a new scholarly communication librarian at a small public university in a ‘distant future’ that shares elements with our own time (Zoom jokes included). The game is structured as ten distinct scenarios covering four general areas of scholarly communication (rights, publishing, institutional repositories and dissemination, and open access). In each scenario, the player is introduced to a library patron with a scholarly communication problem or question for them to respond to.

After reading the scenario text, the player can check their ‘augment’ (a science-fictional smartphone equivalent) to see a short annotated bibliography of relevant sources and check how busy their schedule is before deciding whether they decline to help the patron, help them a little bit, or provide extensive, comprehensive assistance. Players must balance how well and thoroughly they respond to each scenario with how much time they have available.

After proceeding through a set number of scenarios selected by the player at the beginning of play, the game ends and the player is presented with a brief text ‘score’ describing how well they helped people and how overwhelmed with work they are. The idea is that players learn about not only the various aspects of scholarly communication librarianship but also project management and how to say ‘no’ to things—concepts that will benefit new and early-career librarians in particular. Presenting the OER’s educational information in a game setting also enabled me to introduce a diverse cast of characters similar to those librarians are likely to encounter in a real-life public university setting.

To make the game more accessible and adaptable, I created text-only PDF file equivalents of each scenario and a PDF file that contained just the annotated bibliography. Although these lack the interactivity of the IF version, they allow teachers to run role play sessions in a classroom environment and may also provide a more familiar, comfortable context for individual learners to think about scholarly communication and librarianship.

Whether you buy into the idea of IF and learning games as useful educational tools or would rather just use the equivalent text scenarios for roleplay, I hope you’ll find ScholCom 202X an engaging way to learn or teach about the challenges scholarly communication librarians face on the job. If you’re intrigued and would like to learn more about the process of creating an interactive OER, you can view my presentation from this year’s Online Northwest conference. I have also written about my process and the Ink programming language in particular in the Code4Lib journal (Choosing Your Own Educational Resource: Developing an Interactive OER Using the Ink Scripting Language).

About the Author

Stewart Baker is the Systems/Institutional Repository Librarian at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, OR. Stewart’s research interests include open access, learning games, and web accessibility. When he’s not working or parenting, you can usually find him writing, reading, and playing science fiction and fantasy short stories, poems, and games. You can find him at or on Twitter at @stewartcbaker.