by Steve Zalusky
Many see today as the golden age of gaming, and libraries are playing a huge role in fostering that age.
Gaming offers a wealth of benefits to library users. Besides being fun for players, gaming encourages important values. According to the American Library Association’s Games & Gaming Round Table (GameRT), the games educate as they entertain. For one thing, the games have literary value. After all, you have to know how to read in order to play.
In addition, “Social games encourage language skills through peer learning. In game chat or forums, if ‘rogue’ is misspelled ‘rouge,’ the misspeller will be corrected.” Games encourage literacy activities such as reading, writing and creating content about and around the game.
All of the virtues of gaming in libraries will be on display at our nation’s libraries on Oct. 29-Nov. 4, when they participate in International Games Week at Your Library, which is sponsored by GameRT. International Games Week is an initiative run by volunteers from around the world to reconnect communities through their libraries around the educational, recreational, and social value of all types of games.
Among the libraries celebrating this year is the Chicago Public Library, which will host an event from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Harold Washington Library Center. For its fourth annual celebration, the library plans a variety of activities. One can explore the library for clues during the Mystery League Library Puzzle Hunt.
In the Video Theater, one can also play games like Smash, Mariokart and Splatoon on a big screen. Jackbox Games will be hosting live trivia highlighting its new release, Jackbox Party Pack 4, offering the opportunity to play trivia against an entire audience through your phone.
Local developers and designers will also find a willingly captive audience for their new products. The Bit Bash room will offer a showcase of indie video games from local designers. And in the Tabletop Game Room, library users will get a chance to meet developers and play their games, as well as learn about crowdfunding and find new gaming friends.
In addition, there will be Dungeons & Dragons improv.
Participation in games week was part of the library’s evolution from programming focusing on an event with one-way communication to more of a shared experience. Mariella Colon, a librarian with the Chicago Public Library, said a group of librarians and library support staff were examining adult gamers and their behaviors. That led to the creation of a games committee at the library.
She said, "It all started with all of us who are very into games and very much tied into geek culture and understanding the value of games as a shared learning experience and how we might be able to introduce those sorts of activities for people of all ages but specifically for adults."
The proof of the demand came four years ago, when the library embarked upon its first International Games Day. It started in one room and attracted more than 100.
Colon said exit surveys indicated that half of respondents were in the range group of 20-35 and had only attended the library once or never in the previous year. This, she said, showed that gaming was a service desired by a significant population in the city, as well as by regular patrons who might only have a marginal interest in gaming. "It's really about transforming the library to meet the needs of emerging adults. Introducing games is an easy way to get people in here and then introduce them to other services."
In Chicago, the event has grown, attracting about 300. For this year’s Nov. 4 event with six hours of gaming, the library expects to exceed that amount. Each library participating in games week reflects the goals of each community. In the case of CPL, the focus is on local developers, because, Colon said, “We really want to highlight how huge the game development community is in Chicago,” in terms of both board and video games.
Since Chicago is a hub for game development, the event provides an opportunity to introduce patrons to new products. But the event also enables developers to connect and pick each other's brains about crowdfunding.
Patrons have used the maker space at the library to cut out and print game pieces for their prototypes. Colon said she has seen the proof of how games can make people smarter and nurtures critical thinking skills She said she is exploring how game literacy can be transferred to more traditional types of literacy.
She mentioned a friend with a learning disability who has always had trouble in school. "One day I was asking him what video game he was playing, and he proceeded to give me an hour-long lecture on Smite and the complexities of all the things that he would have to consider. That means forecasting, math, reading, deduction, all these other complicated critical thinking skills that he has problems in more traditional ways of learning.”
Gaming in libraries, she said, also promotes shared learning experiences and builds library communities. “You have people who otherwise wouldn’t interact with each other, revealing themselves and getting to know each other through this safe space that is the game environment. So it seems like an ideal thing to put in a library system, where people are increasingly being tech heavy and seeking outlets to meet people who have their same interest,” she said.
As far as the age limit is concerned, the sky is the limit. “We have had seniors coming in for D & D,” she said. “They went straight to the D & D tables,” she said, But she said, “Kids are challenging themselves to play more difficult games, just so they can play with adults. And they are catching it just as quickly. I saw a 10-year-old playing with five adults, and he was dominating - and he had just learned the game.”
Check this map to find a participating library near you.