After finishing the "Game folks on libraries" series with the extraordinary Brenda Romero, I didn't want to drop the bar - so we're winding up this year's "Book folks on games" with a bang too! It's a double-header with the Presidents of both the American Library Association (ALA) and its new partner in IGD this year, the Australian Library & Information Association (ALIA). We're very honoured (and also honored) to have them both contributing their thoughts!
Courtney Young (ALA)
Normally I let people's bios provide most of the introductions, but in this case I feel it's a little understated. As the website she set up for her election campaign makes clear, Courtney is a woman of many accomplishments - indeed, it's remarkable to scroll down her list of "Selected Professional Activities" and realise that all this has been compressed into a mere decade-and-a-bit. (At the risk of making her blush - though there's no reason she should - the Endorsements page also makes for some impressive reading.)
Courtney L. Young is the 2014-2015 American Library Association (ALA) President. She is currently the Head Librarian and Professor of Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State Greater Allegheny, and previously held positions at Penn State Beaver and Penn State University Park, Ohio State University, and Michigan State University. Within ALA, she has served on the Executive Board and the Council, and as President of the New Members Round Table. In 2011, Courtney was named a Library Journal "Mover & Shaker". Courtney graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio with a B.A. in English and minors in Black Studies and Women's Studies. She received her M.S. in Library Science from Simmons College. Courtney frequently presents and publishes on issues related to academic librarianship, diversity, virtual reference, leadership, and professional development.
Courtney, welcome and thank you! We know you're busy, so we are both honoured and appreciative. Let's kick off with our first question: what is your past experience of play and games?
I have an extensive history with games and play. My older brothers played all types of electronic games, including handheld sports games and early console games.
We also play board games in my house. For example, I loved playing Monopoly... but the rest of the family was not as much of a fan because the game play took so long. Card games featured too. I used to watch my mother play solitaire, and Go Fish was one of my early favorites.
I also had a love for tabletop electronic games. One year for Christmas I received a Pac-Man system (see http://www.geekvintage.com/images/coleco-tabletop-pac-man-system.jpg). I spent a lot of time working on my high score and getting an extra life!
My first foray into computer gaming was Math Blaster!, designed to help me improve my math skills. My first gaming at the public library was as a pre-teen where I played Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? When my older brother went to graduate school he gave me his Nintendo. I owned some games, but would rent others from video stores as this was before libraries started lending games. I've owned a variety of gaming consoles (Sega Genesis, SNES, PS1, PS2, PS3, Game Boy, Nintendo GameCube, Wii). I still do a lot of gaming.
Thank you for sharing that! What do you see as the current state of games in libraries?
Games are being recognized more widely as important in our society. As a reference librarian I've noticed over the past ten years an increased interdisciplinary interest in game theory and gaming for course-related assignments. It is common on campus to see students gaming together between campuses, be it X-Box or Magic: the Gathering. Libraries hosting open houses increasingly include a gaming component for attendees. My public library colleagues host Wii for Seniors events. More academic libraries are developing game collections. As a natural gathering place in the community, the library is a great place for legal gaming to take place, such as chess tournaments.
And of course, the 2014 ALA Annual Conference's Opening General Session featured Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She designs alternative reality games "that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems."
I still wish I could have been there... where do you see this going, and where could it go?
I believe gaming will continue to be important and a part of everyday life. We know it can play an important role in learning - from my early experience with math skills software, to flight simulators for pilots. Games allow us to be creative and learn new things. They are also fun!
Gaming is a great way to come together as a family, friends, or a community. Libraries of all types play an integral role in fostering opportunities to come together, so through gaming programming (tournaments or even festivals) and collections that is possible. Games have the potential to bridge generations, cultures, and make the world a better place.
Damian Lodge (ALIA)
ALIA’s President, Damian Lodge, is similarly a man of many talents – including, I’ve just discovered, being both a rock musician and a guitar-maker! I had the pleasure of meeting Damian at the recent ALIA National Conference and discovered that on top of that and the professional achievements below, he is also a very affable chap.
Damian Lodge, is a Lecturer in Information Studies teaching in the areas of technology and management at the Wagga Campus of Charles Sturt University, an Australian university with a strong focus on rural and regional Australia with campuses around the country and over 2000 students studying Library and Information Management courses via distance education. Damian has been teaching in the School of Information Studies since 2003 and came to teaching from working in University Libraries for ten years and public libraries before that. He has a Masters in Library and Info Management and a Masters in Business Administration. He has served on the ALIA Board for a two year period (2006-2008) and is currently the President of ALIA. Damian's research interests are in library management and technology and he co-ordinates the Leadership specialisation in the School. He has written articles on staff development, organisational culture, teamwork and technology in libraries.
Thanks for your time Damian! We know it’s scarce, and we’re privileged to have you joining us too. So: what is your past experience of play and games?
I remember growing up as a kid and loading games onto my family’s Commodore 64 with the tape drive. The tape drive was a little faulty, and would chew up the tapes so the games wouldn’t play properly; even when they did work, the graphics were square blocks and the music that played was monophonic… but it was an experience! I was a fan of Space Invaders at the local sports club but I was a very ordinary gamer. Most of my friends in high school played computer games and played Dungeons & Dragons, a game my school tried to ban in the early days (which I think only made it more appealing). I didn’t play computer games in high school but did play with a few music software packages to write music, which in retrospect was still a form of electronic play. My family played board games regularly with Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit the favourites. My parents banned me from playing Monopoly against my sister due to my 'buy everything I land on and become the evil landlord' policy. My sister still won’t play Monopoly with me.
I have spent the last 25 years working in universities and the student spaces have always been full of games, with my favourite being Daytona USA. Why this game I have never understood, as I own two pushbikes and do not own a car – but the game just appealed to me! These days it’s apps, so Words with Friends is very popular and I did get caught up in Flappy Birds.
What do you see as the current state of games in libraries?
Gaming in libraries started slowly, but has really come in to its own with some great new purpose-built spaces in libraries for gaming and play. A brand new library in Melbourne – The Library at the Dock – has some brilliant spaces designed for gaming and play. It has a makerspace, gameplay zone, recording studio and a host of other spaces that really show what you can do with play and gaming in a library environment. As a musician and a guitar builder these spaces in libraries are just fantastic as I can go into the library and lay down some tracks in the recording studio using quality microphones and the latest music creation software then head to the next space and print off some guitar parts with the 3D printer. I may have to try and get a job at this library…
I also recently visited the chess collection and play space at the State Library of Victoria. Every table was in use with a great mix of people playing against each other.
Where do you see this going, and where could it go?
Gaming and play brings people together. My teenage children play games with people halfway across the world. We are all connected and gaming and play allows us to become increasingly connected with people we know – and interestingly, people we don’t. I get Candy Crush invites on a weekly basis and my family can easily spend hours in the evening together playing games on the 4 laptops, 2 iPads, 3 iPhones and an android device which are all loaded to the hilt with games.
In the future we are going to see further development of these devices that enhance the user experience, with far better graphics and sound and an amazing level of interaction and immersion. I am fascinated with smart glasses and how this and other wearable technology will be developed over the coming years. Libraries and the spaces we build are adapting well and are really quite innovative. Librarians understand change and the management of change well, as this is part of our everyday work life due to the nature of our business! We are building great spaces and partnerships, and utilising new technologies to provide services that are bring new people into our libraries every day.
Thanks again to both Courtney and Damian for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions!
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.
I'm very happy to have the next entry in this series be a profile of Hugh Rundle, one of the many interesting local library folks I've had the pleasure of collaborating with here in Oz. This is partly because - full disclosure - last year he invited me to submit a piece to a fabulously provocative library journal he helps edit. (And no, it wasn't about games! Well, maybe in passing.) I'm glad to have a chance to repay that honour... which this totally does, right Hugh? And the fact that we get a short burst of Hugh's typically insightful analysis and prognostication doesn't hurt, either.
Hugh Rundle is a librarian at the City of Boroondara Library Service in Melbourne, Australia. Hugh blogs at hughrundle.net and serves on the Editorial Board of In the Library With the Lead Pipe. He also wrote a chapter for the ALA publication Planning our Future Libraries: Blueprints for 2025 and was chosen to be part of the inaugural cohort of the International Network of Library Innovators - Oceania.
Hugh, thanks for your time! Please tell us about your history with games.
I've never really considered myself a 'gamer', but when I think about it games have always been a big part of my life. Somewhere in the family album there's a great photo of me playing 'Cowboys and Indians' by myself! Family holidays when I was young included long nights at the shack playing cards - nearly always 'Solo'. This came in handy in high school when I played 500 every lunchtime without fail for two years. Family gatherings and holidays were always filled with games - Monopoly before the parents got out of bed, cricket in the back yard after breakfast, Squatter or Crib in the afternoon, and Dictionary and Canasta after dinner.
My parents were both teachers so we ended up with a BBC Micro when I was still in primary school. I spent the late 1980s playing BBC Micro classics like Snapper, Labyrinth, Philosopher's Quest, Moonlander, Cybertron Mission, Great Britain Limited, Eldorado Gold and, of course, Frogger. I also learned to program BASIC and made my own text-based RPGs to play with friends. In those days computer games were pretty simple, so the distinction between a PC game player and game maker was a little blurry. Thinking about it now, there was also a lot more of an emphasis on things like mathematics and logic, rather than eye-hand coordination. That theme continued when we moved Windows machines later - I've always been more attracted to strategy games like Civilization, and Total War, where being a klutz isn't such a handicap.
Where do you think games are now, both in general terms and in relation to libraries in particular?
Games and gaming seem to me to be at an interesting moment where it is now acceptable, even fashionable, for adults to talk about playing and designing games. Games and that horrible term, 'gamification', are widely and seriously discussed in education, business and also libraries. With digital games in particular, I'm noticing a much more confident and widespread push for diversity in gaming culture and games design - game companies are being forced to justify their conference 'booth babes' and their refusal to design games with strong female and non-white characters.
I think libraries have a way to go on this before we reach a sophisticated level of discussion and bring games into mainstream library practice. At the moment it seems to me that games in libraries are still mostly discussed either as a lure for teens (in public libraries) or a gimmick to trick students into learning how the library works (in academic libraries).
Where do you see this going, and where could it go?
I'm really interested in how the recent interest in Maker culture and gaming culture could intersect. With the rise of the Web in the last couple of decades we've seen an explosion of new cultural works and interactions. Despite what some conservative politicians might have you believe, libraries and librarians have been both participants and keen observers of the changes in publishing and cultural sharing online. Lately this tends to be expressed in the idea of repositioning libraries as primarily places for 'content production rather than content consumption'.
I think this undersells the opportunities here and misunderstands what is happening. The Maker movement is really just a physical manifestation of what has been happening with culture online, but it's often easier to understand things when we can physically see them. If you think about something like NodeBots the idea that this is moving from 'consuming' to 'producing' or even 'making' is inadequate. A NodeBots Day starts with making the NodeBots, and ends with a Sumo Bot battle. The people involved in all this are neither producers nor consumers - they are participants. This is really a very old way of 'doing culture' where a community prepares for a big event together, participates in the particular cultural event, and then celebrates afterwards. It's like trying to work out who are the 'producers' and who are the 'consumers' in a big traditional family Christmas lunch - the question doesn't make any sense.
Looking back on my days coding BASIC games on the BBC Micro, I think there's a big opportunity for public libraries to provide opportunities for communities to not just play together but to use games as the glue for a bigger cultural experience. Joining the dots on maker spaces, games and participatory culture can see libraries taking a lead role in things like getting more girls and women into computer coding by offering fun and supportive environments like NodeBots days. Ronald Dow once said that "A library is a place where readers come to write, and writers come to read." When it comes to games, I think libraries could be places were gamers come to design, and game designers come to play, and everyone comes to participate together.
The future of gaming is Christmas Dinner.
Hey everyone! So this is another of our new series for this year, the companion to our "Games folks on libraries" series. In it we will be asking folks from the world of books and libraries about games.
For our first entry in this series I decided to try to go big. About the most respected book person I could think of was William Shakespeare, but nobody seemed to have any contact details for him. (Also people kept saying something about plays not being books. But this is the International Games Day @ your library blog so play is OK too, right?) Thankfully I came across one of his most recent collaborators: Ryan North.
Ryan North is the (Eisner-award winning, New York Times bestselling) author of the Adventure Time comic, the web series Dinosaur Comics (qwantz.com), and To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure (hamletbook.com): the book that turns Shakespeare's Hamlet into a choose-your-own-path adventure which became Kickstarter's most-funded publishing project ever when it launched. The book is even better than it sounds, and it already sounds pretty great!
(For starters, its authors are William Shakespeare, Ryan North and YOU! So I could have just read the book and interviewed myself as an even more recent collaborator with Shakespeare... but modesty forbids.)
Welcome Ryan, and thanks for kicking off our series of book folks on games! Clearly you have a love of literature both classic and modern. What can you tell us about your history with games?
My parents got me a NES for my birthday, and the only game we had was Super Mario Bros, and I remember playing that game until I could beat it in a single run without ever getting hit. This was before things like "the internet" so I had no idea that doing runs like this was a thing: if I'd come up with the idea of speed runs on my own, I might've never wanted another cartridge.
At the same time I was reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, which are basically books in game form. Basic games, for sure, but they're lots of fun. To me they seemed like the next step in the evolution of books: sure, you start out on baby books where there's only one story and you don't get to make any choices, but when you're awesome enough you can graduate to non-linear branching-narrative books (ie: Choose Your Own Adventure books) with dozens of stories and reader interaction. It makes sense, you know?
Where do you see games right now, culturally speaking?
In a lot of ways, games are undergoing the same transformation that comics were doing in the 80s. For decades, comics in North America were seen as kids stuff: juvenile distractions that you were meant to outgrow. And then in a cultural shift happened and people started realizing that comics wasn't a genre (ie: superheroes, Archie comics) but it was a medium, and you can do anything in a medium. And we started getting all sorts of stories getting published, and comics started becoming more and more mainstream and more and more acceptable, and now today tons of the most popular movies of the past five years started lives as comics (Batman, Avengers, Ghost World, etc). And while there's still echos of where comics started from ("Biff! Pow!! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!" being a headline that I'm sure comes out at least once a year no matter what we do) there's a much larger mainstream acceptance that comics can be anything.
Including, critically, art.
And also including, just as critically, "in libraries".
I feel like right now games are in that "they're for kids" phase, where we mistrust them because they're fun, and things that are fun must not be good for us. And there are lots of creators working now to show that games IS a medium, not a genre, and that games CAN be art. Computer games like Bioshock Infinite are pushing the first-person-shooter genre as far towards telling an adult story as it can, while at the other end of the spectrum games like Gone Home are figuring out how to tell a meaningful story in a medium where you, as the player, are in control of what happens. Tabletop games are shaking off the hangover from decades of Monopoly and showing that a board games can be fun, entertaining, and don't NECESSARILY have to result in six-hour slogs that leave everyone hating everyone else - and again, Monopoly, I am looking in your direction.
In Toronto we have board game libraries springing up in the public sector (cafes like Snakes and Lattes have a huge library of board games that are free to play, and it only costs you $5 to get a seat at a table) and I would love it if, in a few years, you could take out games from the library (both tabletop and computer) in the same way you can take out books and movies now.
There's a lot of very exciting, very important work being done in games, and it'd be a shame not to have that in libraries just because it's not in the normal book form we usually expect.
Where do you see that going? Where could it go?
I'd love to see games take the same trajectory as comics: more mainstream acceptance, less raised eyebrows at the idea of "games as art", more art being produced that's really really great. If we end up in a future where "I write gamebooks" has the same cachet as "I write books where you DON'T make any choices", where "I design games" carries the same weight as "I design narratives", then I think we'll be in a world with a lot of really interesting art being produced. I can't wait to play it.