International Games Day @ your library Game on November 18, 2017!

Games folks on libraries: Richard Garfield

Posted on November 18, 2014

Sorry to post again so soon after the last one - which you should read if you haven't, as it contains a reminder to fill out the survey for this year's event! (Plus other interesting tidbits.)

In fact, strictly speaking I should probably hold this next interview off until next year. But this is too good to sit on, so consider it a post-IGD present!

We are joined for a surprise final "Games folks on libraries" interview by Richard Garfield. (Yes, feel free to use the definite article!) Dr Garfield is among the handful of folks in recent decades - or in history, really - to have successfully kicked off an entirely new cultural form, the trading card game; certainly he is one of the very few whose status as foundational innovator is so clear. Even more impressive, his original creation, Magic: the Gathering, is still growing in both audience and new content after 21 years! Since then he has also published a number of other games (including RoboRally, profiled on this blog in September) and a book that shares some small measure of his encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of games. (The book is linked in his bio below, and highly recommended to anyone interested in the form - and to all libraries, as it's both a definitive work on the topic of games and one of the best textbooks I've read on any subject, with not only abundant and well-organised reference material, but well-designed exercises to encourage readers to apply and integrate what they've learned.) As a student and aficionado of games, not to mention a Magic player since it first reached Oz in 1994, it's been an honour and a pleasure to have corresponded with Dr Garfield to bring you this interview - I hope my fellow gamers gain a similar buzz from reading it!

Richard Garfield designed the first trading card game, Magic: the Gathering, in 1993. At the time he was a math professor, but the success of Magic led to him leaving academics and going into game design full time. Since then he has published half a dozen other trading card game designs, as well as a number of board and card games. Since 2001 he has been consulting on game design with companies including Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and the Pokemon Company. His recent games include King of Tokyo and King of New York (board games) and Spectromancer (PC & iOS). He coauthored a book, Characteristics of Games, which was published by MIT press in 2012.

Richard, thanks so much for joining us! Please tell us about your history with/past experience of libraries.

Libraries were an important part of my youth - I believe in ways more significant than the simple access to books. The books were amazing, and important - but I think what really affected me was the sense that the world of ideas was eternal, and open to all. Not only that, a library was a concrete piece of evidence that the culture I was a part of  valued this intellectual world. I believe this is part of the reason I went into academics.

What is your sense of where libraries are now, both in relation to games and in general?

My mother is a librarian, so I am not totally out of touch, but at the same time really don't think I know what is going on in the world of libraries. A lot seems to have changed. And really - how could libraries not be different? The electronic world puts so much of what a library was at everyone's fingertips. Libraries seem to have many more community programs than when I was growing up, probably at least in part in an attempt to refocus in recognition of this changing informational landscape. I am also not sure of where games are in libraries - but they are certainly long overdue if they aren't there!

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

Despite this wide access to knowledge - that could be perceived as undermining a library's purpose - libraries have an important role in making sure the world of ideas is available to all, and making sure that people know this is important to human culture.  I am sure all these things are being done already, but some natural direction for the future would include:

  • Making sure that this electronic world of knowledge is open to all. Just like no one in the 60s should have been deprived of an encyclopedia, no one today should be deprived of the internet.
  • Acting as an organizer for the world of ideas. The more content is available at your fingertips the harder it is to organize it, and unorganized content is just noise.
  • Expanding what is part of this world of ideas. Games would be an example of something that is important to our culture - more now than ever - which wasn't really a part of the library when I was growing up.

Thanks once again to Dr Garfield, and to all our respondents for the "Games folks" and "Book folks" series!

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