Videogames the public library system

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Wednesday, 08 July 2009

(19:26:23 CDT)

Videogames the public library system

I read, this morning, Annoyed Librarian's "Getting Them Through the Doors" which is about how annoying (get it?) it is that libraries are using videogames to motivate circulation. The AL post goes on to say, basically, that if all you are trying to do is get warm bodies in the door, then why not appeal to to the lowest common denominators? A little bit of a slippery slope, sure, and you find a reasoned counterpoint in Liz Danforth's "Caverns of Trolls". I'll give you a moment to read both, if you are into that sort of thing, and then I'll go and ramble a bit about it myself.

My take is, of course, that I don't know (the sure-fire Doug response to most thing: "More data required"). If you hold that videogames have no place in the library then you are saying that they have no intrinsic worth, as a medium, and offer no teaching opportunities, have no cultural worth. 90% of them are crap (naturally) but there is a creme of games that offer tons of historical and culturally relevant, not to mention problem-solving and critical thinking, moments. If we are going to allow schlock novels and popular DVDs in, how can we librarians keep videogames out? Then again, we are not having "trashy novel Wednesdays" with a not insignificant chunk of funds going to maintain the program. Well, part of me has to ask, why not? Seriously. The joy of reading is woven into a rich tapestry. How can we get away with Twilight parties and act like contemporary pulp mystery and thrillers are below us? Anyhow...

I am not 100% sure if I am comfortable with the "let's trick children into our library and then get them to sign up for a card!" attitude that so many librarians who support this affect, whether or not they realize that's how they sound. I would have to see good, hard evidence that a kid lured into play SuperMayhem Smash! is going to learn the joys and horrors that is James Joyce when they would normally have never stepped front in a library without said videogame accompaniment. I am fairly sure that's bullcrap. While we are at it, drop the whole "media literacy is literacy, too" because I am pretty sure that's bullcrap as well. If your argument is that kids need to know how to manipulate electronics, trust me, they are fine. Three year olds can figure out videogames in less time than it takes us older folk to figure out how to work our new two-button blenders. If libraries were merely about inspiring people to do what they are already popular and good at, then we would huge banks of televisions and lots of food sitting around.

Seems to me that a moderate stance is needed on this. Some games have a lot of learning opportunities. You just have to unlock the themes. Sit them down with Anchorhead and then have some Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft readings. Let them play with vampires and then discuss Bram Stoker and Dracula as well as the literary build up to it. Let them access Sims but have them act out some story from a novel. et cetera (I'm a horror buff, so sue me). Maybe pick games not quite so "video" and push role playing scenarios, card games, and the like; again tying it in all together. Heck, a few librarians could probably sit down and help write out a game aimed at a literate, longer attentioned spanned audience. Which seems to be the big issue that really is against videogames (and maybe even other media) in a library: our brains react different to those sorts of things, and some of the ways they react different really does seem to hurt our ability to handle information properly. Not that us bookaphiles are elite intellectual warriors, but having once been a hardcore gamer, it is a lot easier to think analytically now that I read more than handle a controller, let me tell you.

Of course, there seems to be the core issue that why not just promote reading activites? I talked about Dracula above, with its daring escapes from a castle, vampire brides, sunset races, ancient evils, and befouled loves. How is that not interesting? Too many librarians admit that when they try a little and focus on books and fun reading, it works. These game parties have an immediate appeal, for sure, but if you want kids to get library cards and start reading, then this seems more likely to be a "warm body swell" than anything else. I'm going to look up some more data on this, but I'm just thinking we call a duck a duck.

Si Vales, Valeo


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