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!
As you forge ahead with your IGD plans, you may be focusing on certain age groups: kids, teens, twentysomethings, or beyond! Your target group may shape what type of games you introduce – but fear not should you encounter a mixed combination of groups. Be spontaneous and flexible with adjustments because you’ll never know who will show up until the day arrives. You may soon realize that the level of a game could have broad appeal regardless of one’s age.
People of all ages can play a good tabletop game together, or even a video game. From past IGD events, various libraries have observed people of all ages teaching and playing games together. For instance, in one public library:
[A] tween came wanting to learn Magic: the Gathering and brought her first deck. A group of college guys mentored her in the game, giving her tips and strategies. She left much more confident in her gaming skills, and very excited to teach her friends. We had a gaming group from a local university volunteer for the day as their service project. They brought games and spent the event teaching kids and adults how to play new strategy games. It was a great success, and awesome to see people of all ages learning together.
(As a side note, this story exemplifies the value of having teachers on-site to make games an opportunity to learn and critically assess both one’s play of a game and the structures of the game itself. Games such as Magic teach us how to think strategically, and it’s always helpful to get that reinforcement which builds confidence.)
At a library in Vermont there was a large group of teens that came to a game day; as the day progressed more adults joined, and the teens invited them to play a number of games. At one game of Forbidden Island, a cooperative game where players try and beat the island, a teen, a twentysomething, and two people in their fifties and sixties played together. The island won in the end but everyone involved had to work together to form a strategy and problem-solve. This kind of intergenerational interaction can be difficult to get with other programs.
At the UCLA Library, most attendees at the last two IGD events at the undergraduate library were college students. However, librarians and library staff also attended, bringing their children to learn and play games like Settlers of Catan. An 8-year-old boy taught a library staff member how to play Settlers. A group of young teenage volunteers taught another librarian how to play the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. Games are suitable for a wide range of age groups, and guess what? They do not discriminate!
Consider IGD at your library to attract a diversity of age groups to learn and play together!
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.
(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. 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.