The inherent value in teen gaming in the library

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s been ages since I’ve updated my blog and this is not because I have been lacking in interesting things to write about, but rather because I have had too many interesting things to write about that I have been busy doing instead of writing about.

A short, completely incomplete update would tell you that I have moved to Toronto and subsequently left both of my previous library internships and begun a new one that is tied to my last term of grad school.

In my current internship, I’m working on a project involving the topic of introducing new technologies into the Teen Zone.  I am doing projects involving the forthcoming integration of Smart Boards, iPads and a video gaming room (called the Game Cube) into the library.  The bulk of the work associated with this project involves a lot of research surrounding the educational/developmental value of video gaming.

Now, I am not of the mindset that materials need to have educational value to have value, nor that public libraries should have to justify the value of materials we select.  It is our job to select a well-rounded collection of resources that will benefit the needs of the community.  It is the community’s job to find the value that each resource brings to their own lives.  We would never feel the need to justify the educational value of a book we have selected, that value is probably there but it would seem almost condescending to the community to prescribe value to the resources we are making available to them with their money.

The fact is, video games in the library have become popular, particularly amongst teens.  As someone who has run lots of teen programs centered around video gaming, the value in gaming at the library is so obvious to me.  It’s obvious when teens who may have been sitting at home playing video games alone are suddenly spending time socializing with other teens while video games happen to be the center of that social activity.  It is obvious to me when showing up for a gaming program opens the door for community involvement and spending a large percentage of their leisure time at the library with they types of teens who hang out at the library.  And it’s obvious to me when gaming programs cause teens to naturally step into leadership roles through helping newcomers feel included, teaching people how to play games, setting up the gaming equipment because they are infinitely more adept at quickly knowing what gets plugged in where than the adults in the room and taking the initiative to plan and execute gaming events they’d like to see happen.  The educational and developmental value the same value that comes through being really involved in and committed to something and if the thing that teens are interested in being involved in is gaming, then we are creating educational opportunities by planning the type of programs in which teens actually want to be involved.  So the educational and developmental value in the actual games themselves was never something I had spent much time pondering.

So that said, I definitely get why the library is putting effort into justifying the educational value of the games we are selecting.  Although gaming-related library programs have been a big thing for some years, the Gaming Cube we are installing is not a library program, but rather a space for gaming that patrons can use at their own convenience, which is a relatively new thing (I know of one other library that offers something like this) and I think when you propose something like this for the first time, you can expect to have to cover a few more bases as you implement it so you can blaze a trail for those that follow your lead.  Library patrons love to complain about teens (I think this is a universal truth, not just in libraries, it’s my personal opinion that they seriously envy teens’ youth and the possibilities ahead of them and are just bitter,) so having a bunch of teens playing video games in a room visible from the study room intended for teens but often taken over by seniors is a perfect opportunity for adults to complain about the fact that we have games in the first place (“in my day…”)  So having a written justification for the educational value of the games and gaming in general is something of a convenient way to help librarians spend our time helping people find books and other exciting resources instead of justifying our programs to grumpy patrons.  Kind of like that one time a patron showed up to the library with no pants on and didn’t understand why we wanted her to leave–we could have spent a bunch of time arguing with her about why it was not okay to hang out in the children’s section of the library with no pants on, or we could hand her a copy of the code of conduct making her aware of the library’s policy (then it’s out of the poor librarian on desk’s hands, if she really doesn’t agree with the policy, she can take it up with the library’s board of directors.)  So although I for sure do not believe we should have to justify our use of video gaming, I think that doing so, especially for something so new, is a smart way to stand behind something we actually believe in.

I was not allowed video games as a kid and thus just don’t have the same aptitude for them as other people of my generation.  My parents didn’t allow (or rather did not invest money in) video games at home because they said they would rot my brain.  And on a personal level, I do agree with them to some degree and will probably not allow console gaming in my home if I ever do raise children–let them go to the library and be force to be around other people and daylight if they want to play video games!  On a professional level, though, I of course see the value in video gaming and when it is in a library or other social contexts I think it can actually be a great thing.  So it is interesting to approach this research from the point of view of a non-gamer (I’m sure there’s some degree of creepy “here we see the typical gamer in her natural habitat” vibes to my research, oops.)

I’m actually finding that I’m really having a great time nerding out about this research.  I’m coming to care about gaming as a valuable library program even more than I already did and coming up with new ideas for the possibilities of really fun gaming-related library programing that has secret hidden educational value for teens.  It’s very sinister.  I’m also getting excited about possibly even playing some of these games (playing them very poorly, that is–side effect of having a game un-rotted by video games as a child is that I am horribly inept at playing video games as an adult)!

One thing I’m particularly excited about is the OUYA, a new gaming system that is fairly cheap (under $100) and runs Android, so it’s completely open source.  As you may recall from earlier posts (particularly those from the summer of 2011 if you don’t recall and are digging around in my archives), I am a huge fan of open source software and the free software movement and I get really excited about ways that open source software can be used in library programs.  Beyond the fact that OUYA (or more likely whichever gaming system that is spawned from the concept of OUYA wins out) is a really exciting addition to 8th Generation console gaming and could create some really neat changes in the gaming world, I think there are some specific possibilities for its use in the library about which I’m really excited.  The biggest being that, because it is open source, it makes it possible and relatively easy for people to make games they design available to a wide audience of gamers, meaning that it will be possible to talk about supporting a local economy when it comes to gaming.  I love the idea of bringing in local game designers to give talks the way that authors might come in to give talks but I also love the idea of having workshops where teens learn to design their own games, possibly even having game design competitions.  This adds several extra dimensions to the educational value of gaming in the library and I’m so excited about it (and about so many other cool things I’ve found while researching console gaming)

So this post is getting long and I should probably end it for the sake of my readers, but I wanted to share this brief article called 10 Truths About Books and What They Have To Do With Video Games by James Paul Gee.  I liked this article for librarians (especially those who are non-gamers like me,  trying to get up to speed on teen gaming in the library) in particular because Gee frames his discussion about the value of video gaming through talking about some of the things gaming and books have in common.  He turns the discussion around and gives some points discussing the value of books as well and as a pseudo-English major, forcing myself to question the inherent value of literature was a helpful tool in the context of reframing my understanding of the value of video games.  Check it out!

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Comments
  1. Evelyn N. Alfred says:

    I wish my library offered a gaming space for teens.

    • Jackson says:

      I think we are among the first to offer space like this with permanently set up games! I know that Detroit Public Libraries’ HYPE Teen Center has gaming space as well though

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