Games, LEGO, and Pizza Boxes: Playing to Learn at the Rutgers University Art Library

By Megan Lotts, MFA, M.L.I.S. Art Librarian (Librarian II), Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

www.meganlotts.com

In 2016, I began thinking more about play after participating in the Counterplay conference at
DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark. If you don’t know DOKK1, in 2016, Time magazine named this
library one of the most cutting-edge public libraries in the world, and rightly so. (i) Counterplay
was unlike any conference I have ever attended. Its hands-on active learning experience left a
lasting impression on me and likely everyone who attended. To learn more about my experience
at the Counterplay conference read, Floating castles, Legos, Candy, and Play: Counterplay
2016. (ii)  Following this conference, I knew I wanted to re-create these dynamic active learning
experiences in the Art Library and began thinking more about learning and games in higher
education.

In the Fall of 2018, I taught “Playing to Learn in Higher Education” as part of the Rutgers
Undergraduate Academic Affairs Byrne seminars series. The course met in the Rutgers
University Art Library teaching space, once a week for 80 minutes, over 10 weeks. Coursework
included readings, watching videos, participating in a LEGO workshop, playing games, weekly
discussions, and more. (iii) Half way through the course students visited Rutgers Special
Collections & University Archives (SC&UA) where Processing Archivists Tara Marharjan and
Stephanie Crawford led a presentation highlighting unique games found in newspapers, books,
from exhibitions, and more. But perhaps most important the students viewed “College the Game:
Rutgers Edition” a game created in 1989 by Dark Horse Games which uses a pizza box as the
case and gameboard. (iv)

Over-all students loved visiting SC&UA and were mesmerized by the games they learned about.
One student noted, “he/she enjoyed the trip to SC&UA and learned that there is merit to the
historical context of games”. Another student noted “White Bread, the feminism game was very
interesting because it portrayed the history of the struggle for women’s rights.” Many of the
students were fascinated to learn that the creator of Monopoly changed the board from a circle to
a square to portray the sharp turns the economy can take. Lastly multiple students noted viewing
“College the Game: Rutgers Edition” inspired them to begin thinking about the kind of games
they would create for their final assignments.


Figure 1 Students visiting Rutgers University Special Collections & University Archives

For the final assignment each student was given a 14-inch pizza box and asked to use the box to
create a game. The games would be displayed in the Art Library on the final day of class
including a reception, guest critiques, and a pizza party. Because the assignment was left open
for interpretation there was uncertainly of what the games might look like and if they would be
play-able. The students went above and beyond the expectations of the assignment, creating
dynamic one of a kind games using a 14-inch pizza box. Some included extensive instructions,
while others included one of a kind hand drawn art works. In figure 2, students are blowing
through straws to move a paper ball over their opponent’s goal line. In Figure 3, a student shows
how she used the pizza box as the physical structure for her toss the ball in a cup game. Lastly in
Figure 4, one can see the intricate details that many students used to create their games, which
was impressive for students who don’t always have “making” supplies and materials available in
their dorm rooms.


Figure 2 Two students trying to move a paper ball over the opponent’s goal line.

Figure 3 Student explaining her toss the ball in the cup game.


Figure 4 Game created by student using paper, pencils, post-it notes, and tape.

In conclusion, the outcome of this course assignment to create a game using a 14-inch pizza box
was two-fold. The students were able to learn more about the libraries, in particular Special
Collections & University Archives, as well as flex their creative muscles by using everyday
materials and a pizza box to create their own game.

i (http://time.com/4458185/denmark-library-cutting-edge-dokk1/)
ii Lotts, Megan (2016). Floating castles, Legos, Candy, and Play: Counterplay 2016. Library Hi Tech News,
33(5), 18-20. Retrieved from https://doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3C53P0N
iii https://meganlotts.com/2019/01/03/playing-to-learn-in-higher-education/
iv https://www.instagram.com/p/BfqZyQ8AfP8/

Megan Lotts is the Art Librarian at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she teaches research workshops, builds collections, facilitates programming and events, and engages with students and faculty researching in the Arts. Lotts has presented her research nationally and internationally and has published articles in portal: the Libraries in Academic, Journal of Library administration, multiple articles in College and Research Libraries News and more. Her research interests include outreach, engagement, and makerspaces, and is known for her work implementing LEGOâ play, at the Rutgers Art Library, as well as her work curating, the Rutgers Art Library Exhibition Spaces. Megan earned her MFA (2004) and MLIS (2007) from University of Wisconsin-Madison and has a BFA in Painting (2000) and BFA in Art History (2002) from the University of Illinois- Champaign-Urbana. She currently lives in New Brunswick, NJ and continues to create site-specific conceptual art-work.

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