Why have games in libraries?

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

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 video games are stories and information, presented in new formats. Libraries are about stories and information, 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 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.
  • 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 video games in particular help manage anger & frustration.
  • Some video games 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 third place, creating a community place between home and work/school to socialize and play
  • Some video game 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 video game 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 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 games are intended for people over the age of 17. 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.

  • 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 program
  • 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.

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

Yes, there are people who only hear what the mainstream media tells them about video games; people who still believe Dungeons and Dragons can lead to practicing witchcraft; people 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, there are often several ways to get to the endgame. Playing a game requires creativity and imagination and can spark conversation about important topics.

  • 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

88% of games have content that is NOT rated M for mature. GTA represents a very small portion of available video games. 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

Games may be 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.
  • 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.

Libraries should host gaming programs to bring in the gamers in the community. Building relationships with the gamers creates 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.
  • 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 by making 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/CDs/games

More links and articles with talking points for library gaming: