Thursday, May 8, 2008

Get Your Game On: Gaming at Libraries.

Beth Gallaway’s earned her reputation as one of the most experienced speakers on video game culture. She presented this workshop about how to use games to bring in patrons and enrich both the gamer and the library.

Why should libraries use games?

Well, games provide fun. They tie in with literature, storytelling, learning, and many other advantages to players.

Beth used the example of .hack// is not only a game, but a manga and anime. Each format feeds into each other and enhances each other.

“Gaming is the Medium of choice for the millennial generation” Beth says. Gaming is the medium of choice for information and entertainment.

Some surprising facts back this up. The average age of the gamer is 33 years old, 24% of people over 50. 38% of gamers are females.

I was surprised to learn girls like games with no story, while boys generally like games with a story. I’ve always liked story games, and with the popularity of the Final Fantasy games among women I had assumed otherwise.

Games in libraries provide many things kids need to develop, including social skills and physical skills.

Games help promote literacy in surprising ways. People read in games in many ways.

They use environmental print by reading signs, labels, and maps. They are reading about the game. Gamers are also writing about the game: They’re talking about it on forums and websites.

Gamers are creative: They use fan fiction to tell new stories in the game world. They use the game to create movies made from video games. Librarians can use this to guide them in the technology and the ethics of how to do these things.

For folks worried about copyright, many game creators give limited permission for fans to create fan works based on their game.

But what about violence in games? Turns out a lot of this problem is really blown up by media outlets looking to make a story. 15% of games in 2006 were rated M for mature, but they got 85% of the press about video games.

Librarians can use games in libraries in many ways:

Connecting games with traditional material.

Helping them get to strategies about games.

Research game culture

Collect game materials

Run game events

Play games yourself.

Librarians can ask gamers about movies, TV, and games they like to help them connect with new material.

You can make displays based on thinking like a gamer. “If you like this game, you might like this book.”

She promotes “Fail Early, Fail Often.” Try many things to work with gamers, and learn from failures.

Gamers don’t generally like “Bosses”.

Show, don’t tell

Make it interactive

Have a free for all.

Ask for a demo of expertise.

Gamer Culture supports the idea of help in the place that they need and only then.

Librarians can experience some of the creativity of gamers by looking at creative game material. Online films like “Red Vs. Blue” or web comics like “Penny Arcade” are great example of creative game culture.

She says the easiest thing for a library can do is allow patrons to play games online. There are ways to address some of the issues that come up, like having “Game time” that wont bother patrons trying to study, etc.

She advocates gaming events, but there is some footwork to do a successful program. Research the games you want to use. Provide variety of games, and don’t be afraid to run multiple games at once. Spread the word, and use resources not used traditionally by libraries. Use game store, comic stores, anime clubs, etc. Use community connections, by getting the word out at schools, boys and girls clubs, etc. Best of all, she advocates playing as well. It breaks the ice and it also shows the kids there that you are more than just the person behind the desk saying hush.

She also suggests using multiplayer games for events, with short rounds so the turn over is high and everyone gets a turn. Pick a rated E or T game, and if you want to do a M game, have permission slips. Use things that are easy to learn, but challenging to master. This is so kids don’t get frustrated, but also are challenged. You’ll want to find games that appeal to a wide audience. This can allow libraries to bring in new patrons, and they will be able to help you choose games for the collection if you decide to start one.

She also advocates strongly to involve the gaming community in any choices the library makes in creating a gaming culture. They will help libraries decide what format to buy, what consoles to buy games for, what age ratings to buy for, and what genres to choose. They will also help put a policy for the check out of games, and make these policies gamer friendly and attractive to folks who will come to check out games.

Beth also talks about libraries having gaming culture material other than games in collections, like strategy guides and magazines about gaming. Libraries also have to consider space, theft, and time to develop a gaming collections. By creating a place for gamers, they tend to respect the libraries material and help take care of them.

“We have to stop being format snobs” Beth notes. It’s a grand idea to end on, as games are starting to have the same recognition as graphic novels and anime as worthy storytelling formats.

Beth also mentioned several books about gamers like “The Kids are Alright” by John C. Beck and “Grand Theft Childhood” by Lawrence Kutner. Having read both of these, they are excellent sources for facts about games, and how much research supports the idea that games are healthy and creative, which doesn’t really hit the mainstream media.

Beth Gallaway’s website can be found at

-Sarah “The Dyslexic Librarian” Hodge-Wetherbe, Springfield City Library