I’m very happy to have the next entry in this series be a profile of Hugh Rundle, one of the many interesting local library folks I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with here in Oz. This is partly because – full disclosure – last year he invited me to submit a piece to a fabulously provocative library journal he helps edit. (And no, it wasn’t about games! Well, maybe in passing.) I’m glad to have a chance to repay that honour… which this totally does, right Hugh? And the fact that we get a short burst of Hugh’s typically insightful analysis and prognostication doesn’t hurt, either.
Hugh Rundle is a librarian at the City of Boroondara Library Service in Melbourne, Australia. Hugh blogs at hughrundle.net and serves on the Editorial Board of In the Library With the Lead Pipe. He also wrote a chapter for the ALA publication Planning our Future Libraries: Blueprints for 2025 and was chosen to be part of the inaugural cohort of the International Network of Library Innovators – Oceania.
Hugh, thanks for your time! Please tell us about your history with games.
I’ve never really considered myself a ‘gamer’, but when I think about it games have always been a big part of my life. Somewhere in the family album there’s a great photo of me playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’ by myself! Family holidays when I was young included long nights at the shack playing cards – nearly always ‘Solo’. This came in handy in high school when I played 500 every lunchtime without fail for two years. Family gatherings and holidays were always filled with games – Monopoly before the parents got out of bed, cricket in the back yard after breakfast, Squatter or Crib in the afternoon, and Dictionary and Canasta after dinner.
My parents were both teachers so we ended up with a BBC Micro when I was still in primary school. I spent the late 1980s playing BBC Micro classics like Snapper, Labyrinth, Philosopher’s Quest, Moonlander, Cybertron Mission, Great Britain Limited, Eldorado Gold and, of course, Frogger. I also learned to program BASIC and made my own text-based RPGs to play with friends. In those days computer games were pretty simple, so the distinction between a PC game player and game maker was a little blurry. Thinking about it now, there was also a lot more of an emphasis on things like mathematics and logic, rather than eye-hand coordination. That theme continued when we moved Windows machines later – I’ve always been more attracted to strategy games like Civilization, and Total War, where being a klutz isn’t such a handicap.
Where do you think games are now, both in general terms and in relation to libraries in particular?
Games and gaming seem to me to be at an interesting moment where it is now acceptable, even fashionable, for adults to talk about playing and designing games. Games and that horrible term, ‘gamification’, are widely and seriously discussed in education, business and also libraries. With digital games in particular, I’m noticing a much more confident and widespread push for diversity in gaming culture and games design – game companies are being forced to justify their conference ‘booth babes’ and their refusal to design games with strong female and non-white characters.
I think libraries have a way to go on this before we reach a sophisticated level of discussion and bring games into mainstream library practice. At the moment it seems to me that games in libraries are still mostly discussed either as a lure for teens (in public libraries) or a gimmick to trick students into learning how the library works (in academic libraries).
Where do you see this going, and where could it go?
I’m really interested in how the recent interest in Maker culture and gaming culture could intersect. With the rise of the Web in the last couple of decades we’ve seen an explosion of new cultural works and interactions. Despite what some conservative politicians might have you believe, libraries and librarians have been both participants and keen observers of the changes in publishing and cultural sharing online. Lately this tends to be expressed in the idea of repositioning libraries as primarily places for ‘content production rather than content consumption’.
I think this undersells the opportunities here and misunderstands what is happening. The Maker movement is really just a physical manifestation of what has been happening with culture online, but it’s often easier to understand things when we can physically see them. If you think about something like NodeBots the idea that this is moving from ‘consuming’ to ‘producing’ or even ‘making’ is inadequate. A NodeBots Day starts with making the NodeBots, and ends with a Sumo Bot battle. The people involved in all this are neither producers nor consumers – they are participants. This is really a very old way of ‘doing culture’ where a community prepares for a big event together, participates in the particular cultural event, and then celebrates afterwards. It’s like trying to work out who are the ‘producers’ and who are the ‘consumers’ in a big traditional family Christmas lunch – the question doesn’t make any sense.
Looking back on my days coding BASIC games on the BBC Micro, I think there’s a big opportunity for public libraries to provide opportunities for communities to not just play together but to use games as the glue for a bigger cultural experience. Joining the dots on maker spaces, games and participatory culture can see libraries taking a lead role in things like getting more girls and women into computer coding by offering fun and supportive environments like NodeBots days. Ronald Dow once said that “A library is a place where readers come to write, and writers come to read.” When it comes to games, I think libraries could be places were gamers come to design, and game designers come to play, and everyone comes to participate together.
The future of gaming is Christmas Dinner.