International Games Week October 29 – November 4

Talking points: Why games in libraries?

Posted on May 22, 2013

Hey everyone! So one of the things we're planning on doing is offering you some talking points for those conversations about why games are even happening in libraries. This first post will give the overview, and then we'll go into more detail on each point as we go along.

Before we begin, it's important to recognise that libraries are about books. It's right there in the name, after all - "Library" is closely derived from the Latin word for "[place] of books".

But libraries have always been about more than books being in a place. They have been about storing them, yes, but also about making them accessible. Hence the physical care of books is only part of a library's job - we also catalogue them.

Even that is just a means to an end, though, and it's important to recognise this as the familiar physical medium of books - the bound codex - moves into the electronic realm. Ultimately what a library is about is providing a place where a community can share culture, information, ideas, beauty - where human thought can be made accessible for people to engage in self-directed study and exploration. And the community is an equally important part of the equation.

Take the iconic library, the Library of Alexandria. It's estimated it held half a million scrolls. (Note: scrolls. Not codices, not books as we know them. Physical form is not the point.) In addition to shelves, chairs, tables and study spaces, it also held lecture theatres and even dissection rooms. Again, the community of self-directed learners was as much the point as the works they studied (and in turn produced - which leads us onto a whole fascinating tangent for another time).

So that's great and all, but what relevance does it have to games in libraries? Well:

  • Games are a form of culture that is as old as culture. Every known culture (pretty much) has some sort of games. If libraries can support movies and music and other forms of culture, games have a place at the table too - especially since, unlike most other forms of art, the closest thing we have to a public institution dedicated to playing games is usually a casino. [Full post up here.]
  • If we're talking about sharing culture, games are the form of culture that you (usually) have to share to experience. For that reason, games foster socialisation and allow members of the community to connect across demographic barriers like age, gender, ethnic background - even language. [Full post up here.]
  • Further, games develop and reward theory of mind - the mental models we each have of what other people are thinking. [Full post up here.]
  • Games can be serious, poetic and expressive - or trivial, silly and fun - and be so brilliantly or leadenly, just the way other forms of culture can. (Does anyone seriously dispute that, fluff though P.G. Wodehouse's work is, it's completely brilliant fluff?) [Full post up here.]
  • Games are systems, and fostering intelligent literacy about systems is an important educational goal on par with fostering intelligent literacy about words. [Full post up here.]

We'll come back to each of these points over the coming months, but hopefully that will get some ideas flowing. Let us know what you think!

(Click here to start reading the series in order.)

[UPDATE: We also have a companion series, published the following year, on play. You can jump to it from the final post in this series, or click here to go straight to the overview post.]


Bonus TED video: Your brain on video games (because who doesn't enjoy the occasional TED talk?)


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    1. Hi there,
      I’m incorporating material from this excellent series into a case statement for my library’s youth gaming program. How may I credit the posts? Was there a single author?
      Thank you!

      • No no – thank you! Glad these are proving useful 🙂

        I’m the author – Philip Minchin. I edited this blog last year and wrote a fair bit of the content (basically anything in 2013 after May 19 that wasn’t attributed elsewhere was mostly or entirely me). I also invented and organised the Global Gossip Game for IGD ( If you need to know more, I have a bio at

        On that blog I’ve reposted this series about games and added a new set of Talking Points about play (which might in turn get reposted here this year – we’ll see). Like this series, they’re not very scholarly, but for something like this I prefer to present the big-picture, broad-principles view and let people dive in for themselves. (It’s such a rewarding field…) The body of research is growing fast enough that I felt like it would be outdated pretty quickly anyway, and I’d rather people were finding the good new stuff as well.

        If you want to drop me a line, my details are on the bio page above. I’m always glad to hear from folks!

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