Games in Libraries

Obstacles and Challenges

Why gaming at the library?

Public libraries have a mission to provide a variety of materials in a variety of formats. Board games, card games, and videogames are stories & information, presented in new formats. Libraries are about stories & information, not books. Or, as Eli Neiburger says, we’re in the content business

Games fit library mission

  • Public libraries have a mission to provide cultural, recreational, and entertaining materials, as well as informational and educational materials. Games provide stories and information as they entertain and educate.
  • School & academic libraries have a mission to curriculum support. Games provide stories and information, presented in a new format, that encourage critical thinking and problem solving and accomplish objectives of curriculum frameworks and meet AASL standards.
  • Special libraries have a mission to provide resources and support their industry or profession. Games provide stories and information, presented in a new format, that meet business goals and objectives and provide continuing education for employees.
  • Games have literary value you have to know how to read, to play.
  • Social games encourage language skills through peer learning. In game chat or forums, if “rogue” is misspelled “rouge,” the misspeller will be corrected. “Wield” is another word easy to misspell but easy to learn in a game context.
  • Games encourage literacy activities like reading, writing & creating content about & around the game.
  • Games can enrich vocabulary and expose players to language roots e.g. fighting the flaming monster Incendius can plant the key to unlock the more ordinary word “incendiary” upon later exposure. Crone, spawn, inquisitor, hydromancer, lore keeper, magister, elemental, tainted, and evocation are other examples of vocabulary builders that can readily be found in games.
  • Games meet developmental needs of teens established by the National Middle School Association they encourage social interaction among peers and non-peers, enforce rules and boundaries, encourage creative expression, reward competence and achievement, provide opportunity for self-definition
  • Some games have a cathartic effect in releasing emotions In Grand Theft Childhood, youth reveal that violent videogames in particular help manage anger & frustration.
  • Some videogames are healthy! Dance Dance Revolution gets heart rates up to 140 beats per minute, according to “Project GAME (Gaming Activities for More Exercise)” published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport in 2005, and more calories are burned playing Tekken than walking around the block. A 2004 study: The Effects of a ConsumerOriented Multimedia Game on the Reading Disorders of Children with ADHD. in West Virginia discovered a correlation between playing DDR and improving reading test scores.

What do gaming events and programs bring to the library?

Gaming programs are primarily social events. It’s more about relationship building than gameplay.

  • New users (who may not visit the library) attend and gain insight into how the library may be relevant to them.
  • Regular users may see the library in a new light.
  • All users may be prompted to use other non-gaming library services.
  • Ideally, all users have a positive library experience.
  • Gaming programs epitomize library as 3rd place, creating a community place between home and work/school to socialize and play
  • Some videogame events are also being used to encourage print literacy. In Carver’s Bay (SC), youth who check out books and write book reviews earn extra gaming time.
  • Some videogame events may be educational in nature. Some libraries are teaching game design with local experts or online through Youth Digital Arts Cyber School

Do public libraries circulate or program with videogames rated “M” for mature?

Yes. M for mature means the content is designed for people over the age of 17; is equivalent to an R rating for a movie those games are intended for people over the age of 17. Only 15% of games sold in the US last year were rated M. Some libraries carry M rated games in their collections for adults, or host programs or services using M rated games! It depends on the community.

  • In NY, a library has started an M rated collection for adults.
  • At the Benicia (CA) Library, teens can play Halo 3 if their parents sign a permission slip. Also, they have hosted two tournaments which included Halo 3 (parents signed permission slips for those under 18).
  • Charlotte & Mecklenberg County (NC) hosted a Halo 2
  • At the City Heights Library in San Diego Halo 3 is played regularly during its gaming programs. No permission slip is required. However, it is the belief of the librarians there that the M-rating of the Halo games is not accurate and deserves a T for Teens rating instead.

Is it mostly teenagers that take advantage of these programs?

Yes, which is interesting, because the average age of the gamer is 35 and rising! We are starting to hear about libraries doing intergenerational programs.

  • Cary Memorial Library, Lexington MA teens mentor students in grades 4 to 6 during Saturday morning gaming sessions.
  • Suffolk (NY) Library has a senior Wii Bowling league, mentored by teens.

Are there people that think that games don’t belong in libraries – what are their arguments?

Yes. They may be people who only hear what the mainstream media tells them about videogames, who still believe Dungeons and Dragons can lead to practicing witchcraft, who think games are too recreational for libraries. They may be people who have not played games. They may be people who do not have children, or whose children don’t (or didn’t) play games. They may feel:

  • Games are fluff or junk entertainment

Some are! So are many books. There is a serious games initiative in the gaming industry, and many games have an edutainment flair.

  • Games don’t encourage original thought

Although a gamer may follow a path laid out by a designer, they are often several ways to get to the endgame. Playing a game requires creativity and imagination.

  • Games don’t offer learning opportunities

Steven Berlin Johnson says that playing a game is like engaging the scientific method: a constant hypothesize/experiment/ evaluate process. You learn something new every time.

  • Games are competing with books

It’s not books OR games, it’s books AND games.

  • Games are a replacement for traditional print literacy

Literacy is changing – there is a new literacy now. Today’s youth must be fluent in visual literacy, media literacy, social literacy …

  • All games are violent like Grand Theft Auto

85% of games have content that is NOT rated M for mature. GTA represents a very small portion of available videogames. No one objects to chess, the game that has been playing in libraries the longest; CHESS is a war game that involves “killing” your opponent’s army and monarchy.

  • Games are addictive

Many games are! Some offer immediate rewards and many require concentrated effort. Many encourage self-improvement. Games may be especially addictive for some personality types: moderating gameplay time, interspersing gaming with other activities, and playing with other people helps. Parents and adults need to set appropriate time limits for youngsters and encourage a balanced media diet.

  • Games are too passive

Compared with TV, movies, or even books? Moreover, games like Dance, Dance Revolution or the games of Wii Fit can be quite physically demanding.

Is it enough to just put games on the shelves? or should libraries find a way to engage the gaming community further?

Libraries should begin with services to gamers such as:

  • Allowing them to play games on the library computers (perhaps in a “club” environment or program) or card/board games at the library tables
  • Purchasing gaming strategy guides for circulation
  • Offering puzzles or board games at the library
  • Treating questions like, “When does Spore come out?” or, “How do I beat Final Fantasy XII?” like serious reference questions.
  • How is this for a unique programming idea? Bring game designers, developers, artists, game-music composers, and other creative thinkers from the professional game industry to talk about what they do and how they do it. Offer workshops in game design. –LizD

Next, libraries should host gaming programs, to bring in the gamers in the community. Building relationships with the gamers create a panel of experts to query when you are ready to circulate games and it creates trust they will be more likely to take good care of the circulating games, and respect the library and its collection, resulting in less theft and damage.

What else can librarians do to create rapport with gamers?

Librarians can learn to think like gamers!

  • Be fearless in risk taking, for we learn from our mistakes, and can always hit the “reset” button.
  • Embrace change! Look forward to it! Find small ways to create a constantly changing environment in the library (hint: beta programs & services).
  • Librarians can use games to connect patrons to books
  • Use games to do reader’s advisory ask, what games do you play? to get a sense of the types of stories, characters, and settings the gamer prefers.
  • Create “readalike” displays – if you liked this GAME, you may like these books/movies/CDs/games

Does this trend of putting games in libraries point to a larger trend?

Yes. Libraries looking for ways to reach beyond their traditional patron base. Libraries are striving to deliver what patrons want. Libraries continue to struggle for relevancy in a world where people are willing to pay money for commercial commodities that libraries deliver for free (Netflix, for example).

More links and articles with talking points for library gaming: