Why have games in libraries?

Dealing with obstacles and challenges to bringing games into the library.

Why gaming at the library?

Libraries have a mission to provide a variety of materials in a variety of formats. Board games, card games, and video games are stories and information presented in newer formats. Libraries are about access to stories and information in many forms of media, not specifically books. Or, as Eli Neiburger says, “we’re in the content business.” Simply put, games fit library missions:

  • Public libraries have a mission to provide cultural, recreational, and entertaining materials, as well as informational and educational materials. Games provide stories and information that entertain and educate.
  • School & academic libraries have a mission to support curricula. Games can 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 cover a variety of topics and can be used to meet business goals and objectives and even to provide continuing education for employees.
  • Social games encourage language skills through peer learning.
  • Games encourage literacy activities like reading, writing & creating content about & around the game.
  • Games meet developmental needs of teens established by the National Middle School Association because 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 video games encourage exercise! 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 Consumer Oriented 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 (that you can also weave education and skill building into, when appropriate). Many of these events are more about the relationship building that can happen between the library and its community as well as between community members.

  • New users (who may not otherwise visit the library) attend and gain insight into how the library may be relevant to them, exploring both gaming collections and programs as well as other library services.
  • Regular users may see the library in a new light and appreciate being offered new services.
  • Gaming programs epitomize the library as a third place, creating a community place between home and work/school to socialize and play.
  • Game events can be educational in nature.
  • Libraries can host local game designers to talk about designing games and playtest their designs with the community

Do public libraries circulate video games 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. According to Statista, in 2021, only 12% of games released in the USA 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.

What are the arguments of people who think games don’t belong in libraries?

There are people who only hear sensationalized media stories tell them about video games; people who still believe Dungeons & Dragons can lead to practicing witchcraft; people who think games are too recreational for libraries. They may think that:

  • Games are fluff or junk entertainment… Our response:
    • Some are! So are many books! There is a “serious games” initiative in the gaming industry, though, and many games have an edutainment flair. Play is a natural human activity and a valid end unto itself, whether reading a book for fun or playing a game.
  • Games don’t encourage original thought… Our response:
    • Although a gamer may follow a path laid out by a designer, there are often several ways to get to the endgame in a video game. Playing a game requires creativity and imagination and can spark conversation about important topics. Tabletop role-playing games are all about original thought, collaborative storytelling, and critical thinking!
  • Games don’t offer learning opportunities… Our response:
    • 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 also great for skill building, whether its read, writing, math, or social and communication skills.
  • Games are competing with books… Our response:
    • It’s not books OR games, it’s books AND games. And music, and movies, and art…
  • Games are a replacement for traditional print literacy… Our response:
    • Literacy is constantly changing. Today’s youth must be fluent in visual literacy, media literacy, social literacy… Games are one form of media that can exercise literacy skills.
  • All games are violent like Grand Theft Auto… Our response:
    • 88% of games have content that is NOT rated “M” for mature (Statista, 2021). No one objects to chess, one of the games that has been played in libraries the longest, and chess is a war game. If a game features content you do not like, you do not have to play that game. Look for a different game that suits your tastes!
  • Games are addictive… Our response:
    • Games may be addictive for some personality types, like any activity that causes a rush of dopamine or adrenaline, but 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… Our response:
    • Games involve active decision making, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Moreover, games like Dance Dance Revolution or other fitness video games can be 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) 
  • 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
  • Bringing 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
  • Offering workshops on game design
  • Hosting gaming programs to bring in the gamers in the community

What else can librarians do to create rapport with gamers?

  • Don’t avoid putting games in the library simply because you aren’t a gamer – use the opportunity to seek out community experts and network with librarian peers who are gamers
  • Make games part of readers advisory. Learning what kind of games a person likes to play may give insight into topics and themes that interest them.
  • Create “readalike” displays – if you liked this GAME, you may like these books/movies/games

More links and articles with talking points for library gaming:

Bailey, A., McDougall, R. (2014). Tabletop Role-Playing Games. In Teen Games Rule!: A Librarian’s Guide to Platforms and Programs (89-102). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Buchanan, K., & Vanden Elzen, A. M. (2017). Beyond a fad: Why video games should be part of 21st Century libraries. Education Libraries, 35(1–2), 15. https://doi.org/10.26443/el.v35i1-2.342 

Bouyaris, E., Lim, S.-F.,Bartlett, J., & Strang, R. (2021, September 15). Collections, programs, community – let’s talk libraries! Meeple Syrup Show on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=379195713644988 

Copeland, T., Henderson, B., Mayer, B., & Nicholson, S. (2013). Three Different Paths for Tabletop Gaming in School Libraries. Library Trends,61(4), 825-835. doi:10.1353/lib.2013.0018

Hays, L., McNair, K. (Presenter). (2017, April 27). The Name of the Game: Playing Tabletop Games to Build 21st Century Skills [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.webjunction.org/events/webjunction/name-of-the-game.html

Heron, M. J., Belford, P. H., Reid, H., & Crabb, M. (2018). Meeple Centred Design: A Heuristic Toolkit for Evaluating the Accessibility of Tabletop Games. The Computer Games Journal. doi:10.1007/s40869-018-0057-8

Inverse Genius. (n.d.). Games in Schools and Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.inversegenius.com/games-in-schools-and-libraries

Kirsch, B. A. (Ed.). (2014). Games in libraries: Essays on using play to connect and instruct. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Ludgate, S. (2023, December 8). The solution to stagnant games? librarians!. Game Developer. https://www.gamedeveloper.com/game-platforms/the-solution-to-stagnant-games-librarians-#close-modal 

Mayer, B., & Harris, C. (2010). Libraries got game: Aligned learning through modern board games. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Strang, R. (2017, December 22). The benefits of playing games. To Play Is Human. https://toplayishuman.com/2017/12/22/the-benefits-of-board-games/ 

Timothy, A. (2013, January 2). Addiction vs. reflection: Unlocking the potential of games. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/addiction-vs-reflection-gaming-potential-adam-timothy Trudeau, M. (2010, December 20). Video games boost brain power, multitasking skills. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2010/12/20/132077565/video-games-boost-brain-power-multitasking-skills