International Games Day @ your library Game on November 15, 2014!

Sponsor profile: SimplyFun

Posted on September 15, 2014

This month's sponsors, SimplyFun, are focused on games for children and families. Here's their own blurb on what they do:

SimplyFun is THE parental resource for using play to build smarter kids. Our award-winning games and activities promote child success by helping parents focus on social and emotional skill development while practicing academic fortitude. For ages 3 to 103 we keep families connected while helping children learn the value of play & creating memories that will last a lifetime.

For a relatively young company, SimplyFun has been pretty prolific, with over 100 games currently available having won nearly 100 awards in just the last few years! (More precisely, 98 awards as of the end of August, starting from 2012.) Their ethos is similar to that of a combined publisher and bookstore, and will not be unfamiliar to librarians: to "recommend the right game, for the right moment and the right reason". To this end, they have a Personal Shopper to help people find the perfect game for their particular needs at http://bit.ly/1iqYfnT.

Keenly conscious of the educational and skill-development dimensions to their products, SimplyFun are also very well aware that a game nobody wants to play can't educate or develop anyone. They pay equally close attention to the enjoyability of their games and to the extrinsic benefits of play; they have had their games:

The story behind this last point is particularly touching. A number of years ago a mother of two children, one severely autistic and one without those challenges, contacted SimplyFun to say that their game Walk the Dogs (one of their donations - see below!) allowed her to experience something she thought would never be possible in her life… to see her two children laughing and enjoying a game together. Though she had modified the rules to make the game accessible to both kids, that didn’t lessen the joy of their play - or detract from the emotion the folks at SimplyFun felt at realizing the difference their game made in this mother's family. Her story remains a legend in the company, and powers their belief that - through games and play - they could and should provide help to other parents just like her.

[Editor's aside: Yet another instance of the amazing ways in which games and play can connect people across quite considerable barriers!]

Walk the Dogs

Unleash 63 miniature dogs that won't 'flea' from your table!

Grab a leash and get ready to Walk the Dogs! Each player collects dogs from the front or back of a long line by drawing and playing cards. But beware of the dog catcher, who may steal some of your favorite dogs. To win, collect five of the same breed in a row, or have the most dog points in your own line. Woof!

What breeds come in the game?

Poodle, Pug, Brittany Spaniel, Shitzu, Scottish Terrier, Golden Retriever, and Pomeranian...

...and they're all rescue dogs!

Matter

The game of earth, air, water, and fire.

Matter is a game of hierarchy, where each of the four elements has a counter-element that reduces its power. Boost your elementals by connecting matching tiles, and avoid tiles that will weaken them. The winner is the player who masters the elements!

Thank you to SimplyFun for donating copies of both these games to IGD participants in the USA! There may still be a few left if you register now...

Talking Points: Play, inclusion, and community-building

Posted on September 8, 2014

Welcome back folks! This is the fifth entry in our series about the importance of play. If you're just joining us, this series starts here. It also refers from time to time to our series about games last year which you can find here.

I've already covered this topic to some degree in the post on games, sharing culture, and connecting people: games, by providing a framework for interaction, enable a connection between people that requires no other common experience - there's no need to share an age, class, culture, occupation, or anything else; even a common language can be optional.

What I didn't do in that post was call out the fact that this means games and play can not only strengthen bonds that are already there, but work to break down the barriers that artificially divide us - or, if you prefer, to regrow the bonds of our common humanity that have been artificially severed.

They can do this in two ways, which we might label the "active" and "passive" modes.

The active mode is by using the stakes-free experimentation of play and the many tools at games' disposal to explore and undermine the false rationales that justify the mistreatment and exclusion of individuals for things other than the actual consequences of their behaviour.

For instance, games can abstract the systems and dynamics that foster bigotry and division from the specifics of their circumstances. Done well, this can not only give us a certain critical distance and a chance to see them from outside, just as well-written fiction can do, but even to inhabit other positions in those pecking orders. Jane Elliot's "Blue Eyed" sessions can be taken as a relatively extreme, intentionally highly emotional, and not entirely unproblematic example of this.[1]

(Two notes: First, to the extent that calling Elliot's necessarily unfun sessions of behaviour-according-to-arbitrary-rules "games" is a fair description - and before accusing me of trivialising them, bear in mind that I do not consider games any more inherently trivial, or slaves to entertainment, than books are - I would point out that they constitute another example of games tackling vital subjects in ways other media simply cannot.

Second, just as with fiction and other poetic ways to instil empathy or vicarious experience, there are limits on how much insight can be offered. After all, even if for the duration of the work the experience of persecution is simulated perfectly, the simple fact of knowing that it will end - and that you probably have control of when it will end - utterly transforms the experience. It's similar with any draining experience. Being a carer for an abusive invalid, having water drip on your forehead at irregular intervals, even the mild tedium of involuntary social isolation can drive you insane if you don't know when it will end. One of the strengths of Elliot's approach is that just as her blue-eyed audience are starting to refuse to take it any more, she takes that point - that they want to opt out of this arbitrary BS, but you don't get to do that with real-world oppression - and drills it home, by inviting people who have experienced ongoing racism to tell those stories at a time when their audience are primed to be receptive.)

Other games exist that seek to consciously explore these issues: Steal Away Jordan, dys4ia, Dog Eat Dog, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, This War of Mine, and many more.[2] While all these work in different and fascinating ways, and are worth your time and attention, I'd actually argue that besides the value of addressing these divisions consciously and intellectually, play and games do a great job of overcoming them experientially.

This is what I mean by the "passive" mode. Whether or not a game sets out to make us think about these issues, simply by giving us a chance to spend time in the company of those different from us on a somewhat more equal footing - because a game doesn't care who's playing it - we start to break down those barriers. Having to rely on ideas and stereotypes for our understanding of whole groups of people inevitably results in us thinking of them, and relating to them, in those terms. Having experience of a range of specific individuals from those groups means we can relate to them as people, and start to see what they have in common with other people in our life, lessening the power of the group identifier in our reflexive, emotional thinking, and bringing individual humans back into focus.

Again, I'm not asserting that just having a good time together (assuming we can see past our prejudices enough to do so in the first place)  is a substitute for actually reflecting on and consciously attempting to dismantle the systems, symbols and generalisations that shape our lives in destructive ways. The bigot who sincerely thinks that <almost all X are terrible people, just not the X he happens to know, who are actually really lovely (for X), which proves he's not a bigot> is a genuine phenomenon, as well as a joke.

But that experience of the humanity of others is an indispensible complement to that more analytic approach: we are emotional, instinctive creatures as well as intellectual ones, and moment-to-moment most of us live in (and react from) our emotions at least as much as we do our intellects. Just as much of a joke (and just as tragic a joke) as the bigot-despite-his-own-experience is the idealist who understands intellectually that we're all equal and decries discrimination in principle, but who somehow still can't quite get comfortable with Those People - or help them feel comfortable around her.

It's possible to change ourselves at those primitive levels by sheer force of reason, but it's extraordinarily hard and almost never produces any kind of social ease. The best and fastest way to shift those basic, primal levels of our thought is by direct experience: by simply spending time enjoying ourselves in the company of people who are, in some way that matters more than it should, unlike us. And games and play give us a framework for doing exactly that: somewhere to bond together over shared effort and experience, where nothing is really at stake to prime our fear and anxiety responses.

You can imagine how these sorts of positive shared experiences could be provided ancillary to other media (book clubs, art appreciation societies, or what have you), all of which are very much to be encouraged. But only in games and similar playful experiences are they innate - and indeed beneficial, because arbitrary social barriers restrict the pool of possible fellow-players - to the form. Games and play give us an inherent incentive to make room in our lives for others as they really are, not as we think of them or as they are represented by someone else. That's pretty amazing stuff.

IGD Inspirations: Murray State University Library

Posted on September 4, 2014

IGD@yl volunteer Rebecca Richardson gives us some inspiring anecdotes about an annual games event at her library, Murray State University. Any one of these activities could be a great addition to your own event, and many are easy enough to organise that you could add more than one. Read on and be amazed at what one academic library team can do - and, hopefully, inspired to make your own IGD@yl playful in even more ways!

Murray, Kentucky is a fairly quiet town, at least during the summer. However, from mid-August through mid-May, nearly 11,000 college students swarm the community and the town seems to come alive.

Murray State University is well known for Racer Basketball, a spectacular music program, and an innovative library team. With a door count of more than 580,000 people last year, Waterfield Library is a major hub on campus. Students come for many reasons, to use the computers, check out materials, study, take classes, etc. But on the Sunday before classes begin for the Fall Term, students come just to play at Waterfield Wired!

Waterfield Wired is an event that has been happening in the library at Murray State University for the last six years. It is a chance for students to see the library and the library faculty and staff in a completely different lights, that of gamers. This year more than 500 students visited during the 2 hours of game play finding Glow Golf happening in the Reference Room, Laser Tag in the Circulating Stacks, and other games set up in nooks and crannies throughout Waterfield Library.

Around the building there was a Lip Sync Battle,
lipsync

a hilarious competition with Just Dance,
justdance

a righteous round's Glow Golf,
glowgolf

Minute to Win It,
m2wi

and giant versions of Twister,
twister

Jenga,
jenga

and KerPlunk.
kerplunk

With all the pressures of college life, students and faculty both need a way to relieve the stress that grades, assignments and peers can put on them - so gameplay in this university library does not end at 10 p.m. the night of Waterfield Wired.

And throughout the year you will find students playing games on the computers, faculty incorporating games into their lesson plans and Giant Jenga being played by students in the lobby of the library.

September update

Posted on September 1, 2014

Hello folks! Welcome back - only a couple-and-a-half months to go! Time to get those registrations in if you haven't already... even though we do accept them right up to the day before, the sooner you're on our map the better!

(Especially if you want to participate in the various inter-library events... speaking of which, AADL's fabulous Minecraft Hunger Games just keeps getting more and more interesting... you should hear some of the plans people are hatching behind the scenes, oh my.)

And if you can, help us spread the word to your library colleagues around the world. Don't be fooled: we might be an event that has delighted hundreds of thousands on every continent on Earth, but we're still just a bunch of volunteers and we can definitely use your help to get the word out!

And since one of the best things about the day is how many other people we're sharing it with, we really do mean it when we say "The more the merrier": both because more people are being merry, and because the more we share our enjoyment the more there is for each of to enjoy about how many other people are having a good day alongside us!

All that said, we're doing quite well for enrolments - over 700 already (and our September bump is yet to happen), from 14 countries plus one Commonwealth (Northern Mariana Islands - hello Cha Cha Ocean View Middle School Library!)

Speaking of which, we have updated the map at http://bit.ly/igd14map as at 30 August - if you registered before then and still can't find yourself, please be in touch. Information on the donations should be coming out soon too.

Meanwhile, we hope you continue to enjoy the blog posts - we'll be posting some more special guest posts with ideas for IGD activities in the next little while too, on top of our regular series. (Don't forget to let us know what you've thought of them, whether in the comments or in the post-IGD survey!)

Thanks again everyone!

Book folks on games: Alison Croggon

Posted on August 28, 2014

Our next guest for this series is author, poet, dramatist and critic Alison Croggon. If you enjoy fantasy fiction, but haven't read her Books of Pellinor series or the Gothic-romantic saga Black Spring, I urge you to get hold of one or both! As is often the case, their genre trappings see them more readily recognised by Children's and YA awards, but there are rewards aplenty in the story and in the writing itself for the adult reader. And if you enjoy poetry, you should also seek her out: she brings that same gift for wordcraft to her work there too. You can find her at http://alisoncroggon.com.

Alison Croggon’s work includes poetry, criticism, novels and theatre. From 2004-2012 she ran the theatre review blog Theatre Notes, and was formerly Melbourne theatre critic for The Australian and The Bulletin. She is currently performance critic at large for ABC Art Online and poetry critic and columnist for Overland Journal. In 2009 she was awarded the Geraldine Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year. She wrote the best-selling fantasy quartet The Books of Pellinor, which was shortlisted for two Aurealis Awards and named one of the Notable Books of 2003 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Her novel Black Spring is a 2013 Children's Book Council Notable Book and was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Writing in the 2014 NSW Premier's Literary Awards and the Spellbinding Award in the UK. She has published several collections of poetry, which won the Anne Elder and Dame Mary Gilmore Prizes and were shortlisted for the Victorian and NSW Premier's Literary Awards. This year sees the premiere of two operas for which she wrote the libretti: The Riders with Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne; and Mayakovsky, with the Sydney Chamber Opera.

Alison, thanks for joining us! Let's start by asking: what's your history with games and play?

Like all kids, I liked games. In my day it was mainly board games. And as a family - my kids are now grown up - we still like playing board games like Articulate and even the odd nostalgic round of Happy Families or Harry Potter Uno. It's fun, and it's a fun way of getting together.

I play a lot of video games as downtime from writing. I think it just gives me time out from myself, and they occupy my mind in a way I find relaxing. I mainly play RPGs - though most recently I finished Tomb Raider. Other favourite series are the Metroid trilogy, Assassin's Creed, Zelda, Pikmin... I played Skyrim for literally years. It all began when we bought my oldest son Josh a Nintendo and Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, and I found myself fascinated. I am quite famously bad at video games, but my virtue is persistence - I will play a game continuously until I am good at it.

What is your sense of where games and play are now in the wider cultural picture?

There's a bigger and bigger emphasis now on games as a mode of story telling and meaning, which is where they get interesting: now we have things like Depression Quest and so on, which deal front on with questions and issues in much the same ways that other video arts do. Journey is probably the most famously beautiful example of that, and it really was very moving to play - it surprised and enchanted me. It's a medium that can be taken anywhere.

Where do you see that going, and where could it go?

I guess that depends on the one hand on the imagination of people who make them, which means the possibilities are pretty well infinite. But it's such a huge industry now that there are the kinds of inhibitions that come with any corporate enterprise. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the gaming world at present is how to deal with questions about diversity and representation, and, as the vicious backlash against some pretty straightforward gender criticism from Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates, there are parts of the culture that don't deal with that very well at all.