By Ruth Monnier
You might have seen the post “ALA Play 2019: Vendors and Pictures.” You might have heard ALA Play is an event on a Facebook page. But how can ALA Play serve you besides being a great social networking event?
Over the last 10 years, gaming has come into its own, especially in the library world. This is evidenced by the founding of the Games & Gaming Round Table in 2011 and books about gaming in the library such as Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages by Scott Nicholson in 2010, and Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris in 2009. Gaming is occurring in all types of institutions – public libraries hosting Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaigns, school libraries with escape rooms, and academic libraries in finals activities. With so many types of gaming (tabletop, mobile, video, RPG) as well as the trend to gamify learning, it is easy to be overwhelmed when trying to learn about new games and to determine if a game will be a fit for your institution.
The most obvious benefit of ALA Play is seeing the games in play. Even though BoardGameGeek provides reviews for a variety of games and YouTube has videos of games in play, it is not the same as playing a game in-person prior to purchase. ALA Play has games to play that have not yet been published or released. Additionally, as you are participating and socializing, attendees will talk about how the game might be or has been used in their programming. If you like being in the know, ALA Play is the place for you.
Another benefit of ALA Play is the one-on-one time with the game designers and vendors, free of conflicts from other conference sessions. It has fewer distractions as you are in a hotel ballroom to interact with the vendors and fellow attendees. In addition, vendors are located at the Gaming Grove in the exhibition hall, so attendees can follow up with any other questions and purchase games later.
Frequently, orientation sessions at ALA Annual Conference provide the tip of watching publishers provide reader’s advisory for book recommendations. Similarly, at ALA Play vendors and game designers are teaching attendees the skill of game advisory. Some of their advisory questions might include your preferences of game play (cooperative play, RPG, etc.), length of game play, or hook of familiarity. Additionally, you can see and learn how to vendors quickly teach and explain rules to participants. Learning how to provide game advisory and explain rules in an efficient manner are useful skills that can come from ALA Play.
Another benefit is learning about the design process for a game. You might learn how game designers consider statistics and probabilities to ensure a fun and challenging game, or what changes were made to the game during the design process. For example, I learned about accessibility concerns at this year’s ALA Play. While playing Meeple Party* (a cooperative game), Chris O’Neill from 9th Level Games discussed how the design team made Meeple Party more accessible to the visually impaired with optional sticker modifications.
ALA Play offers the chance to have additional time to play games, talk with vendors, and talk to fellow attendees without missing other sessions. In my opinion, ALA Play is the best way to start off your conference, literally, with fun and games!
*Please note that Meeple Party will be released in the summer 2019 but is not yet available for purchase. Even though I enjoyed the game, this is not sponsored content.
Ruth Monnier is a Learning Outreach Librarian at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. As a lifelong card player and board gamer, she enjoys playing with friends and is always looking for fellow bid euchre players. Ruth has a B.S. in Education and B.A. in History from the University of Dayton, Ohio and a M.L.I.S. from Kent State University, Ohio.
I went to the ALA Play event a couple of years ago and was really disappointed. I thought we’d have a chance to share our favorite games with each other (I even brought one!), but I just felt as though I was being given sales pitches. It’s fun to try brand-new games, but it’s also fun to try an unknown gem from a few years ago, too. I’d love it if ALA Annual had open gaming space that wasn’t just devoted to brand-new games, complete with vendors. I looked for it, but never found it.