Emerging Leaders present best practices for video game collection development
Are you thinking about starting a video game collection for your library? Are you wondering how to take your video game collection to the next level? Join the 2011 ALA Emerging Leaders Team G for a poster presentation on video game collection development at the ALA Annual Conference on Friday, June 24, 2011 from 3:00pm – 4:00pm in Conference Center Room 271-273.
Team G, comprised of Erik Bobilin, Abby Johnson, Kate Kosturski, Jonathan Lu, and Nicole Pagowsky, will present information on issues and best practices when developing a video game collection, including Circulation & Access, Selection & Purchasing, Weeding, and an ideal MARC record. The team surveyed public, academic, and school libraries across the United States and Canada and spoke with experts in the field to find out what innovative ideas might change what we know about video game collections in libraries.
ALA’s Emerging Leaders program allows new professionals to gain experience and create personal networks within the American Library Association by working with a group on an assigned project.
For more information, check out the team’s website: http://bit.ly/libvideogames
JP and I had the opportunity to work with the awesome Team G over the past six months on this program. They’ve done some amazing work with this project that I hope you all will check out if you’re going to be at ALA 2011.
Rumor has it that the Wii 2 is on its way. With reports of Wii system prices dropping to $169.99 at select retailers as well as other bundles of information flying off of the blogs of video game websites (“it’ll be fast! it’ll have pretty graphics! it is coming in June!) it’s easy to get caught up in the fever and think that this is the end of the Wii for you library collection and/or programming.
Well, don’t worry.
The Wii has a strong library of 968 games (as of December 2010) with more to be released in the near future. The total number of systems that have been shipped is 84 million, making it Nintendo’s biggest home video game system to date. Chances are that the people using your library will continue to use their Wii systems for their gaming entertainment for years to come, so providing them with games to enjoy is still a solid strategy for library video game collections.
When it comes to video game programming, I myself believe that you can’t go wrong with a Wii system and a library full of patrons. Most, if not all, of the 4 player games for the system have an insanely high replay value which will keep players having fun. The biggest complaint that will most likely come when the next generation Nintendo system is released is that the Wii is “old and that we want to play something new”. What do I say to that? I say give them options. When the next generation of video games come around, libraries will have to invest the time and money into obtaining these systems and learning about them and what they offer our patrons. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the Wii. Use it as you have always been using it for programs. The games speak for themselves…they are enjoyable and full of entertainment, so let them do the talking.
Video Game Collection Development 101
1. Start small
I still stand by this idea 100%. You don’t have to go for broke with your new collection. I recently had a great conversation with Devin Burritt of the Jackson Memorial Library about starting up a video game collection. He made it happen at his library recently and started off with a small collection of Wii titles aimed at all ages. By keeping things small at the start, you will understand how your collection is being used by your patrons. With this information, you can continue to build your collection and have it guided by patron input. Which brings me to my second point…
2. Know your audience
Who will be playing these games? Your patrons. As fun as it is to buy video games, you have to put aside your personal preferences. Sure, I really dug Elite Beat Agents but you know what? My patrons didn’t. It’s one of the few games that constantly stays on the shelves here at my library. What did I learn from this? Don’t trust my gut reaction when purchasing games. Instead, TALK to your patrons when they’re browsing your game collection. Notice what they’re checking out. Heck, just simply ASK them what they want!
3. Plan ahead
You have to have a plan for your collection. Are you going to collect games for systems that are no longer supported by companies? Are you going to invest in the newest video game systems even though there is a chance they may not take off? Once again, gauging your patrons interests is key to planning ahead. At my library, we recently received a donation of Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation 1 and 2 games. I decided to add them into the collection just to see what people would think. It turns out that they circulate like mad and now I have people asking me to get a bigger selection of older titles. I’ve even had to submit an interlibrary loan request for a title I couldn’t find in print anywhere.
4. Gamer’s Advisory
Over the past year, I’ve found the topic of what I’m calling Gamer’s Advisory key to making a video game collection work in your library. Sure, you will most likely have a rabid set of patrons that will check out your games, but the collection only really starts to show its true worth when you can add recommendations (not just for other games, but for other materials and experiences the library can offer). Keep the patrons coming back for more at the library. Turn the avid gamers onto something that else that they may not have tried in the past.
5. It’s not just about lending physical items out
I’m a big fan of this topic. Libraries are struggling to grasp how to circulate electronic materials in the library. This is cause for some concern, but at the same time it opens up a new door for us. Instead of lending out items, create experiences. Give the patrons something they cannot get elsewhere. I bring up the example of the local Portland, ME store The Fun Box Monster Emporium. They’ve got a row of awesome pinball machines in their store that their customers can play. Why can’t libraries do something like this? Invest in some gaming tools that will give patrons gaming experiences that they can’t get everyday at the local video game store. Personally, I want to buy a Pac Man arcade machine for my teen lounge.
Another resource for us gamin’ librarians: Joystiq
- Gaming news, Reviews of games
Walkthroughs to play games
From Joystiq’s About page: But don’t think that lighthearted jabs and an irreverent tone signals the end of serious business: Joystiq strives to maintain accuracy, to dig deeper, to do away with meaningless PR prattle, to gracefully decline luxury popcorn machines (like in the movie theater!), and to ask the awkward questions, all for you.
The Joystiq Network also includes:
Big Download: A fast and free downloads engine coupled with PC gaming news
Massively: Your best source for all the latest news on what’s happening in MMOs
WoW.com: Extensive coverage of the most popular online role-playing game ever, World of Warcraft
When we think of music games, we usually think of the Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero franchises. These games have been staples of library gaming programs for almost as long as there have been library gaming programs. They all have tremendous social benefits: DDR was getting gamers off the couch long before Nintendo ever put the Balance Board under our feet, and the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series’ have brought music, gaming, and even role-play together while promoting both classic and indie rock.
There’s a problem with these games, however. They’ve gone stale. DDR all but died out after Guitar Hero caught fire, and neither Guitar Hero nor Rock Band have offered much of anything new in their most recent incarnations. True, both Activision and EA have offered new music for download that gamers can use with their respective franchises, but that’s about it. This is great for casual gamers who just want to hang out and enjoy some music while experiencing some degree of interaction, but hardcore gamers (such as myself) have moved on.
True, with a library gaming program, you’ll always have patrons who have never played a music game before; there will always be an audience for anything. But what about your most enthusiastic gamers? What do you do when the teenage boys who crash the doors get tired of Rock Band?
Why, you expand, of course! There are some music games out there that offer the same boons as the more familiar series’ but serve up some fresh game play.
DJ Hero was released late last year. It received generous reviews,but was something of a commercial flop. This has led to Activision, the game’s publisher, being less than supportive when it comes to downloadable content. It’s a shame, really, that this game didn’t get set any sales records; that means there are a good number of gamers missing out on a great experience. Instead of a guitar or drum kit, gamers get a controller shaped as a DJ turntable. The basic game play is the same: press the colored buttons in time with the on-screen display. However, the techniques that DJs use–scratching, sampling, crossfading, and rewinding–are thrown in to spice things up and encourage gamers to get creative. Noticeably more difficult, but also packed with much more personality, than any previous music games, DJ Hero makes incredible demands on a gamer’s dexterity and situational awareness, requiring almost as much raw skill as the most intense shooters. Of course, there are multiple difficulty levels and game play modes (including one that uses a guitar controller for some DJ/guitarist duets), so there’s no need for novice gamers to be intimidated. One thing I really like about this game is its music selection: the soundtrack is comprised of mash-ups of popular songs spanning numerous decades and genres. It’s available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Playstation 2. It might be a bit pricey, but imagine a DJ battle at your next library gaming event.
This is a game that is just plain fun no matter how you look at it. Like the great video games of the past, it is inherently simple, rewards success while allowing for massive failure, has a clearly-defined goal, and–despite its repetitive nature–never gets old.
Developed independently by Dylan Fitterer, Audiosurf uses your music collection to render its levels. You select the song from your hard drive or external storage device (it supports any non-DRM protected format), and from that song the game engine will create an obstacle course. You then pilot a ship down that obstacle course, avoiding gray blocks while picking up colored ones. As the music intensifies, so does the obstacle course: gray blocks are more frequent, while colored blocks are worth more points. There are multiple ships to choose from over three different difficulty levels, and the game comes with some tracks, should you find your digital music collection lacking.
Audiosurf is available for PC either through the Steam online marketplace. If you want it on multiple computers, you’ll need multiple Steam accounts (which are themselves free) and buy a copy for each account.
If Audiosurf is inherently simple and approachable, Beat Hazard is one for the hardcore crowd. An intense experience in both difficulty and presentation, Beat Hazard shares many of the same features as Audiosurft–including using the music from your digital collection to render its levels–and thus many of the same social benefits. Except where Audiosurft is a delightful experience in discovering music, Beat Hazard is a brutal test of skill, timing, and coordination.
As with Audiosurf, the more intense the music, the more intense the difficulty. Norwegian black metal will generate a more difficult game play experience than easy listening. However, the difficulty seems to revved up all over the board in this game; you would think The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” wouldn’t be that intense of a song, but it produced a tricky level in Beat Hazard.
Beat Hazard’s main differentiation from Audiosurf is that it’s not a racing game, but a twin-stick shooter (also called an arena shooter). I highly recommend a wired Xbox 360 controller for this game (you can hook it up via USB to your PC) as it’s built for this kind of game play. You use one joystick to move a spaceship through the 2D space while you shoot with the other stick, the ship shooting in whatever direction you aim. This makes it possible to move and shoot in two different directions–handy when you’re weaving in and out through waves of enemies. If an enemy touches you, you lose a life; lose all of your lives, and it’s game over. You’re given two screen-clearing bombs to help even the odds, and you can earn additional lives and bombs.
Also different in Audiosurf is an XP (experience points) system. You earn XP for shooting down enemy spacecraft and pulling off high-risk moves; you earn bonus points for surviving for an entire song. Accumulating enough XP will unlock rewards to help you accumulate even more XP.
Beat Hazard is presented with incredibly good graphics; strobe effects, huge explosions, and starships that fill the screen couple with your own music to create some truly memorable gaming moments. A recent update to the game gives gamers the option of removing the strobe effects so that people sensitive to such can still play and enjoy this game. It’s available through Steam, so the same DRM apply to it as do Audiosurf.
So what now?
You’ve downloaded Audiosurf and Beat Hazard to a few gaming PCs in your library, and you’re all set for a DJ battle in your multipurpose room. Use this opportunity to reach out to your teens. Set up a display of books on music, famous musicians, careers in the music industry, and fiction relating to DJ and rock star culture. Load some classical music onto the PCs that have Audiosurf and Beat Hazard to show the participants just how intense (and how much like popular music) classical music is. And don’t forget the opportunities for social interaction and inter-generational gaming. It’s easy to imagine teens trying to outdo each other with this game, playing the same songs and trying to rack up higher scores–or challenging each other to their own favorite music. Allow adults to bring in the music they enjoyed as youth and compare the kind of stages the oldies and classic rock render compared to today’s pop hits.
These games, especially Audiosurf and Beat Hazard, are a great way to demonstrate how gaming helps us interact with our favorite works of art on a more personal level: I really liked the Black Crowes, DragonForce, Metallica, the Smashing Pumpkins, Slipknot, and Dinosaur Jr. before, but I really like them now, as they are tied to my favorite hobby, and I’ve visualized their music in a real, interactive way. I can’t help but listen to a new song without imagining what its Audiosurf or Beat Hazard level would be like. The chance to experience music in an interactive way, and thus discover a new appreciation for it, was one of the things gamers praised about Rock Band and Guitar Hero, except for now they’re not limited to what EA or Activision is able to get a licensing deal with; any music they own can be used in the game. It’s mind-blowing at just how much musical education and appreciation can be launched with these games.
Of course, you’ll want to be careful with ripping music to the computer for in-game use; it’s easy to break copyright law, so delete any songs from your hard drive that are not taken from CDs owned by the library after your program to stay on the safe side of the law.
And by the way, don’t get rid of your DDR, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero collections. You can never have too many games, and you can never have too much music.
What’s in your video game collection?
I’m an avid retro video game collector. The problem? I don’t know too many folks like me. So I’m gonna take a moment and highlight some of my personal favorites in my collection. And if you have a moment as well, I’d like to hear what you’ve got stashed away.
Horrible cover art, but a gem of a game lies inside…which is sort of confusing. You’re Billy “Big Bang” Blitz and you’re doing…something. Levels take the guise of routes which you can go back over and over again until you complete your mission. This gives the game a sort of weird action puzzle type feel and while it can be frustrating, the game has stuck in my head.
KICKLE CUBICLE: NES
As Kickle, it is your job to solve puzzles on Fantasy Land using ice blocks and your deep freeze breath. Sounds sort of lame, but there’s a good challenge lying within this game. They sure don’t make games like this anymore and I wish they would.
It plays Pong. Four variations of Pong. And one, if I remember correctly, was practice Pong which had you hitting a ball against a wall. Not much fun, but damn it looks retro. And it plays retro. And it’s sort of fun.
I have to apply this to libraries in some way:
A great programming opportunity would be to open up a section of your video gaming program to collectors. Allow them to bring in parts of their collection and share it with younger gamers. Have a weekly “museum” at your game night program for these people. We are out there and we need to connect. Librarians can help bring together that community.
I did a display at the Cape May County Library in November 2009 titled “A Brief History of Video Games”. Check out the photos here.
(PS: Yes, while I do love video games oh so much, I do read books as well. Check out my LibraryThing profile here)