In case you didn’t know – and you probably didn’t, unless you’re a librarian who has time to read – Saturday, November 3, is International Gaming Day @ Your Library. An American Library Association-organized event, this is THE day to go to your library and play library-sanctioned games with other patrons. That is, provided that your library is participating. And provided that you knew about it. Chances are, neither condition applies. According to ALA estimates, approximately 20,000 people will be Playing Games @ Their Library at around 1,200 participating libraries worldwide. Will you be one of them?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that libraries offer these kinds of programs; they promote literacy and community and other positive things. Despite these benefits, not every library is on board with games (no pun intended). When many people hear the word “games” these days, they think about addicted 14-year-old boys sequestered in their parents’ basements to blow up things in front of a console or a PC who don’t quit playing until they are eventually inspired to kill people in real life. Of course, these awful stereotypes are largely unfounded, but they do unfortunately contribute to the reasons why many librarians are hesitant to participate in gaming programs. The odd thing: at the same time, librarians are proponents of reading banned books, and many banned books contain violence. I credit Jacob for unexpectedly pointing this out when he was a guest lecturer in my social media class last year.
Again, the libraries that do participate in gaming programs provide an amazing service. But I also see issues with the most common approaches. In my ideal world, every day is Games Day. I happen to have other plans this weekend that don’t involve games. Many programs focus on catering to teens, but since the average age of a video gamer is… well… closer to my age, and since nursing homes provide Wiis for their residents to get some exercise, we need to be more age-inclusive in our programming. Also, the public or academic library’s function as a community space is not in question here, but why does a library’s gaming program typically only consist of Game Things You Can Only Do If You Are @ Your Library? Let me explain a few of my ideas.
You don’t need games to have a gaming event.
Buying games – or at least buying enough games to have a decent-sized program – is expensive, and libraries are generally experiencing an increase in business with a decrease in funding. (no, I don’t get it either – but don’t ask me, ask @ Your Government). However, if one of our driving forces behind hosting game events is fostering community, then why not have a “gaming cafe” night in which people who play a certain game – or maybe even different games – can just hang out and talk about games? (I’ll grant extra XP to the librarians who decorate the tables with a d20 or a few Magic cards or something).
Metagaming resource provision ftw.
Talking about games, reading about games, trolling online discussion forums about games, collecting RL items that are related to games… Jacob and I call doing these and other things “metagaming.” But if you are new to a game, or even if you’re an experienced player, you need to find resources that can help you improve your playing. Be aware that compiling metagaming resources for gamers will require a certain amount of understanding about the games for which patrons want to metagame. For example, after the WoW MoP expansion, I wanted to find a good PvP spec for my frost mage’s newly reconfigured/epic fail of a talent tree, but it was difficult. If you didn’t understand that, you need to do a little WoW metagaming yourself before you provide metagaming resources to WoW players.
Also, while I’m on this rant, don’t just put up a page @ Your Library’s Website with links to metagaming resources, and expect gamers will find them. Unless it does better in search engine rankings than WoWWiki, they won’t come. Never once in my 30 years of video gaming have I heard a gamer say, “I think I’ll see what the library can tell me about my leveling my frost mage from 85 to 90″ or similar. No. It’s just not in the gamer’s metagaming vantage point. Which brings me to my third idea.
Librarians have been playing with this idea for a while now: go where they are rather than waiting for them to come to you. We see this in our attempts to run The Facebook Page @ Your Virtual Social Media-savvy Library, and in academic librarians’ away-from-the-library f2f office hours, for example. Gamers won’t metagame @ Your Library or @ Your Library’s Website as much you would like them to, but the interesting thing is that gamers have a constant need for information. My student Caroline Whippey is exploring this broader issue in her PhD thesis research: information seeking in games. A driving factor behind any game is simple: if you don’t learn, you don’t win. When you learn, you must process information by default. This fact should be taught on Day 1 @ Your Library School, right after the professor gives a stern “no, loving books in and of itself doesn’t properly justify your decision to become a librarian” lecture.
When I say “embed yourself,” I mean ***play the games***! Level a frost mage or a sylvari or something. Do lots of metagaming. Then when your fellow players are ready to metagame, you throw metagames at them. Not literally. Throwing things at patrons is bad service. Then again, metagaming without gaming is also a fail. You see my point.
Yep, this takes time and effort.
Gaming is not a resource-free diversion. Even an encounter with a new board game requires acquiring new knowledge, but we do it because it’s fun. We don’t realize we’re learning, or we don’t think about it that way. If you don’t think there’s learning involved in games, sit down with an FPS on an Xbox 360 for five minutes, or throw yourself into an RBG with somebody else’s character, and let me know if you win. But I already know the answer.
Again, about Saturday… I’m sure Games Day is fun and useful for the librarians and patrons who participate, but I wouldn’t exactly call 20,000/6,000,000,000 people a game-changing revolution. I hope ALA will think more creatively in the future about what gaming means in libraries as subsequent Games Days are planned. If nothing else, let’s think of every day as Games Day, because a day without games is… well, just a day, and we already have 364 of those every year. And it does not necessarily have to be a day @ Your Library for people to learn and have fun – or for librarians to help.
I’ll probably spend International Games Day @ Your Library outside enjoying the last of the fall foliage, but that doesn’t mean (1) I won’t be playing a game and (2) I have all the information and people I need to play that game.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.