Data Management Lessons from Organizing a Board Game Collection

If you're familiar with Tartan Datascapes, you know that I like to find the data management lessons that live all around us in our daily lives, beyond our research (and if you're new here, welcome! It's lovely to have you here). Recently, I decided to organize my board game collection which had gotten out of control, and I reflected on what lessons it taught me about data management and keeping data organized. So, if you like board games, data management, home organization, or some combination thereof, keep reading!

Before I start, let me clarify that I'm including card games in this category of 'board games.' Gaming purists may disagree on this classification, but I hope you'll grant me some leeway in this post :) My partner and I have over 60 board games, and to gaming enthusiasts that may not sound like a lot (we have friends who own over 200!), but when these games are not organized and hard to sift through, it certainly makes choosing a game for gamenights much more difficult. Also, many of these games put even Monopoly to shame in terms of how complex they are and how long they take to play, so when choosing a game, I want to preserve as much of my mental energy for the actual gameplay instead of wading through a pile of messy, unorganized games! When you think about it, working with our research data can be similar in that it can use a lot of mental energy to try and sift through data that have unclear filenames, stored without good folder/file structure, and without helpful contextual documentation such as codebooks that tell us what the variables are and other important context. We want to save as much of that mental energy as possible for the data tidying, analysis, visualization, etc. and not lose any due to unorganized and unclear data!

After drinking a very strong matcha for energy, I began the board game organization process. Before I even touched the board games, I first took out a piece of paper, a pen, and thought about why I wanted to organize the game collection. Was it because I wanted to find things faster? Did I just want the board game shelf to look cleaner? Did I want to organize games by genre, number of players, or how long they take to play? Once I thought through these questions in my head, I started mindmapping how the organization process might go (below, I've included an image of my mindmapping sketch):

Image of Hannah's hand-drawn board game organization mindmap, which includes the text "Goal: make games easier to find and quicker to retrieve! Organized by: time of gameplay." The mindmap includes 4 main sections organized by time of gameplay: (1) 20 minutes and under, (2) 20 minutes to an hour, (3) 1 hour to 2 hours, and (4) 2 hours or more. The mindmap then includes the text "More energy for mental gameplay!" at the bottom to signify the ultimate goal of the organization activity.

Ultimately, I decided that for my needs, it made the most sense to organize the games by the time it takes to fully play the game. I have a really busy schedule and after some days, I just don't have the energy to play a 4 hour game! But, it might still be nice to unwind with a short 20-minute game. This mindmapping activity can be very useful when organizing your research data, too! Before you start collecting and/or searching for data, think about how you might want it to be organized and set some goals, translating those goals into filenaming schemes, storage locations, and other general data management strategies for your project.

Back to the board games! After creating my mindmap, I started to move the games into 4 distinct piles based on how long their gameplay is. Some of the games were difficult to classify, as they could be included in 1 or more piles. Take for example Terrors of London, a deckbuilding game with the following tagline:

In the shadows of London, terrors stir. Powerful overlords conspire against one another, amassing hordes of monsters to do their bidding. Only one will claim the night and all within it as their prize (Description from Kolossal Games).

The time of gameplay can be highly variable depending on the skill levels and, sometimes, the sheer luck of the players. Because of this, this game could go into either the '20 minutes or less' pile, or one of the other piles with longer gameplay. You might find yourself having to make similar decisions when organizing your data - sometimes, not everything fits into neat boxes, and the most important thing is making sure that you document (write down!) how you are classifying your data organization scheme. In this case, I decided to include Terrors of London in the '20 minutes to 1 hour' category given the strong variability in gameplay.

After about 30 minutes, I had my distinct 4 piles of board games! Now, I was ready to put them onto the shelves (or, in the case of your research data, putting the data into your storage locations). Below, I've included a sample selection from the "20 minutes or less" pile, which includes lots of quick games with fun topics including zombies, donuts, and cats.

An image of some of Hannah's board games in the "20 minutes or less" pile, including "Gonuts for Donuts," "Cat Lady," and "Zombie Flux." The board games all have very unique covers drawn by games artists which reflect the nature of the game. For example, the "Cat Lady" game has a white cat with their paws up on a table, playing with a toy mouse and a ball of red yarn with knitting needles coming out of it.

While I only have one copy of each game, it's useful for your data to try to stick with the 3-2-1 technique, which includes having three copies of your data, on two different storage formats (for example, one copy on your internal hard drive and one copy on an external hard drive) and one copy offsite and/or in the cloud. Of course, based on the type of data you have and any usage and security restrictions placed on it, you may not be able to save your copies of data in these places. Here at the University Libraries, we're always happy to connect you with the right campus support for navigating where you can safely store your data.

I enjoyed my finished product with a nice cup of tea, knowing that I had not only made my board game shelf look much cleaner and tidy, but I would also save future Hannah time and mental energy in searching for games to play after a long day of work. You'll, too, find this same satisfaction after organizing your research data! In this post, I mentioned doing this process as early as you can, ideally before you even start working with data. But, I know that life and research doesn't always happen that way. If you've already started searching for or collecting data and feeling like you've lost control of it, there's still time to organize it! Contact us to get the conversation started - there's no shame in needing help organizing your data!