In gathering my resources for my presentation at NJLA Conference this year, I came across this awesome TED talk given by Jane McGonical, Director of Game Research and Developement at the Institute for the Future. She was one of the designers who worked on “I Love Bees“, the alternate reality game (ARG) to promote Halo 2, as well working on an independent basis to create ARGs designed to use game play “for good”.
BTW, she is also like my new gaming idol! (Don’t worry JP, you still definitely in the top ten!)
Anyway, she discussed the concept of connecting gaming and gameplay to real world problem solving. You can watch for yourself below, but she draws some very insightful and meanigful connections between the values, emotions, and experiences of the gamer and how those assets can be bridged to the real world in truly revolutionary ways. Put it this way, when she argues that if we want to solve the worlds problems we HAVE to spend more time gaming… she got my attention. That is a huge statement.
Hope you all find it as inspiring as I did and continue to remember that gaming has been, and continues to be, a much more rich, complex, and meaningful experience than stereotype and popular culture convey.
Our guest post today comes from Devin Burritt, Associate Director at the Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor, ME. I’ve had the chance to sit down with Devin a few times and talk about games and libraries and I come away from every conversation feeling so inspired. -Justin
Question: why do we ask people “What was the first book you read?” when instead it should be “What was the first story you experienced?” For me, it was Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo.
Epiphany. I didn’t hesitate as I had before; I immediately knew it was Final Fantasy VII for the PSX. I played Final Fantasy VII with three of my best friends everyday in the summer between 8th and 9th grade in what can only be called a communal caffeine fueled storytime. The story was the most compelling, and confusing, one I had ever seen in my young life. When my PSX was out of the picture, I bought the PC version to play on my own. When my new copy of Windows XP wouldn’t play it in college, I found a hack that allowed for compatibility. Ever since that summer I played other turn based RPGs with pure abandon, 8-12 hours at a time until the work week starts or it is completed.
This made for an easy transition when I, later in life, discovered kid lit. For those of you unfamiliar with old school turn based rpgs, most of the stories were based on a hero with a humble background making an epic change in the world, –or an anti-hero–, while growing as a person themselves. What better crossover is there than children’s and teen literature, where the protagonist often has low expectations placed on them, is put in a difficult situation and expected to rise to the challenge changing themselves, the community, or the world?
File this under #makeithappen.
We did it, yo.
As you know, 8bitlibrary.com (along with Robin Brenner of noflyingnotights.com) headed up a campaign to create an ALA Comic Book & Graphic Novel Member Initiative Group which would serve to unite all of the different “factions” within the Graphic-Novels-in-Libraries world.
Thanks to all of your help and support in getting the word out, we got all the signatures we needed and on Sunday January 9th 2011, the ALA’s Committee on Organization voted to make this group “official” in the ALA! John Chrastka of the ALA said I could announce the creation as “effective March 15th, 2011” so him, Robin & I, along with our ALA staff liaison Tina Coleman, could work out the deets.
I’ll add everyone who signed already into a list of people who want info on the group. If you didn’t sign but wanna be part of the group, just click here and send me an email using that form letting me know you want to be part of the group! Our first official meeting will be at ALA Annual 2011 in New Orleans, so please come out to that (as if you needed another reason to come to NOLA).
SO, what’s next for 8bitlibrary.com‘s #makeithappen initiative? At the ALA Mid-Winter meeting of the Games & Gaming MIG (which was attended by Brandon & I of team 8bit as well as a few members of the Emerging Leaders group on Video Games me & Justin are mentoring), we pretty much decided we’re going to move forward and turn the MIG into The ALA Games & Gaming Round Table. We’ll obviously keep you in the loop.
And one last thing: I’m running for ALA Council. You know I’m all about “make it happen” so I’d love if you gave me & my running mates a “thumbs up”:
I was inspired to write this article after a discussion in the LibGaming Google group, of which I’m part. It was a lively discussion about what librarians should know about gaming, and there were lots of participants. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, for what was said in that discussion certainly informed this article greatly.
If you’re a librarian, you do readers’ advisory. It may be a small part of your job, if you do cataloging or ordering or hold an administrative position. In fact, you may never do it while on work time, but if you work in a library, people (especially friends and family) are going to ask you if there are any good books out there. Conducting readers’ advisory at the family dinner table is no different than conducting readers’ advisory at the reference desk, and is part of the overall public service you perform as an information and media professional. Given this, you have to read. You have to sample from all genres and formats. You may not finish every book you start, but you need real experience with as much literature as you can get your hands on. Read-alikes, reviews, and guided tools found online can only go so far; effective readers’ advisory begins with reading.
Following this line of logic, effective gaming programs and advocacy begins with game play. If you’re planning on integrating games into your library’s offerings, you need to be at least an entry-level gamer.
You don’t have to be an expert on tactics and techniques for first-person shooters. You don’t have to have an encyclopediac knowledge of the classics and up-to-the minute know-how on new games. It’s not about being the best. It’s not about having a backlist of D&D characters at varying levels for use with multiple editions of the game. It’s about having an appreciation for the medium as an art form and a way to connect with others–and there’s no better way to do that than to actually experience the medium itself. Also, be an active gamer will give you more credibility when you advocate for gaming at your library; you’ll be able to bring your own experiences to the table along with the excellent research and professional writing done supporting games and gaming. What’s more, if you’re familiar with games and gaming, you’ll be able to actually play with your patrons during your game programs, just like I do.
Even if you don’t get into the action yourself, it doesn’t hurt having some know-how on basic mechanics shared by many of the most popular games, so that you can better assist your patrons on getting started with their game play.
You don’t even have to spend money on games to get into the hobby. Kotaku recently did a run down of the best free PC games. Maybe you can give some of these games a spin. If you have a friend that owns a gaming console, chances are they’ll have you over for a game night, or even let you borrow their equipment. Check around your community for gaming groups that get together for Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop games. Gamers of any type are, for the most part, an enthusiastic lot who love to share their passion and welcome new members to fold. If you do end up having to take a financial plunge, don’t be afraid of buying used equipment and games from GameStop, eBay, or Amazon.
What games should you play? Well, as many of them as you can! Just like every book has its reader and every reader their book, there’s a game out there for everyone. If you’re a really competitive person, you may like Call of Duty: Black Ops or Halo: Reach for their online multiplayer modes. If big guns and tactical positioning isn’t your thing, and you prefer something a bit more fast-paced, then Super Street Fighter IV might be a good choice. Not up for that level of competition? Team Fortress 2 is one my favorites, because it’s just plain fun, even when you’re losing. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is already a popular game among your teens, most likely; why not give it a try yourself?
Like racing and fast cars? There’s lots of great racing games out there, both realistic (Need for Speed: Shift, Gran Turismo 5) and not (Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Blur, and Split/Second). Mario Kart is always a fun, cartoony racing game that makes a great centerpiece for a party. Maybe you love puzzles. There is no shortage of puzzle games out there, but if I might suggest the excellent Portal, or the rather addictive game Plants vs. Zombies, which while not strictly a puzzle game certainly fires the same neurons as a puzzle game would.
If you love fantasy and science-fiction and always wanted to live those types of stories, try these role-playing/adventure games: Dragon Age: Origins, the Mass Effect series, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, or any game with Final Fantasy or Zelda in the title.
Maybe you’ve played video games in the past and drifted away from the hobby. Well, I’ve excellent news for you. The Nintendo Wii has a feature called Virtual Console, which lets you purchase and play the old school classics for the consoles from the ’80s and ’90s. Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and many others are right out your fingertips. Perhaps reconnecting with an old favorite is the best way to start your new gaming journey.
And to think, I just touched on video games! Board games are infinitely more varied. If you want something quick and easy, yet addictive and engaging, try Pictureka or In a Pickle. Chess, checkers, Connect Four, and Clue are old favorites that never fall out of popularity. I love Stratego because it’s highly tactical in its game play, much like the video games I enjoy. There’s also many, many card games out there, traditional and new. Collectible card games such as Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh are great. Go to your local Target or Wal-Mart and look at the board games; you’ll find lots to explore. Also, hit up FunAgain Games to see some excellent, less mainstream games. And by the way, Monopoly is so yesterday: Settlers of Cataan is where it’s at now.
Regardless of how you get into games or what games you get into, you may find this to be a hobby you enjoy and want to keep at. Even if you don’t become a gamer, you need to learn to play if you want to bring gaming into your library. You need to connect with the material, experience first-hand its value for education (both direct and indirect), understand why people love games, and be able to speak the gamer’s language (not the one used by hardcore competitors, necessarily: they make sailors and tattoo artists blush). You need an appreciation for the demographic you are serving and you need to be able to help users engage with games on their level.
So go ahead. Get gaming!
As part of the One Book NJ initiative, each year four books are chosen around which NJ libraries will have discussions and programming as a way to promote literacy around a single book. A book is chosen in each traditional age population from children, YA, teen, and adult. This year’s adult title was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. So… we decided that we wanted to try something a little different in support of One Book NJ and do an alternate reality game (ARG).
As a brief background, an ARG is basically a game in which the movements, actions and goals take place in the real world. However, the other part of this equation is not only the real world application of the gaming elements, but that the “game world” is created by having a story in place that creates the “alternate reality”. The players as such are invited to be part of this story that is taking place in the real world and to themselves engage in the game play elements within that context. Also, there is usually a website created where information can be shared and disseminated, as well as a place for active players to be able to communicate and collaborate with each other to work on the different parts of the game.
ARGs have been becoming ever more popular as they are used to promote new video games, television programs, movies.. even jeans! These types of games work well for marketing new products and services because they actively engage the player or participant, and in many cases offer real world rewards for their participation. If you want to know more about them, or even play one yourself, check out ARGnet.
So… I proposed the idea of doing an ARG as a program to support the One Book NJ initiative to our professional staff, and they really seemed to like it! So for a few weeks we got together and discussed our story, the gameplay elements we wanted to incorporate and developed a timeline for how the game would progress. While being a little intimidated by the process at first (it is our first ARG after all!), we were able to get all the pieces in place by mid August, when we officially “launched the game”.
The story of the game goes something like this: In mid August, the library received a shipment of books that were to be used for programming for One Book NJ. Mysteriously, the books were not here more than two hours, before they went missing. We announced that the books were missing using our website and social networks and “asked” if anyone saw anything mysterious during that time, and to report it if they did. This basically began the story.
The story continued through updates to our website, twitter, and facebook, where we started receiving letters from a person identifying his/herself as “The Mystery Thief” and claiming responsibility for the theft of the books. Finally, we also created a separate website, off of our regular website, where people could visit to find updates and additional information related to the game.
We created ficticious notes with a font resembling magazine cut-out letters and posted them on the website as well. The letters contained hints to a live event during our town’s annual street festival. The event hinted at an opportunity for participants to be able to “find” the books. We also created a book display with additional copies of the book, and copies of the notes referencing our missing copies.
The live event took place on 9/11 during our town’s annual street festival. The library had a table and per the final letter we received, released a clue to the wherabouts of one book each hour. Needless to say, the live event went better than expected with more than thirty teens/tweens dashing around town working the clues to find the books. That day all six books that were hidden were found. When a player found a book, it was theirs to keep as a prize for finding it. It was really was a cool thing to be a part of.
Currently, the game is still going, with four books hidden after 9/11. These are the final four books that were taken by the “Thief”. The clues have been released, this time a little harder as we encrypted them with simple ciphers. We currently have a smaller core of kids working with them. As of yesterday (9/16), one had been found with three remaining. We may also add an element to the story arc and have players work on discovering who the mystery thief is.
This has really been a great experience for us, and a learning experience as well. It was amazing to watch as every copy of the book from our display was checked out, as well as have so many people talking about the book itself, and about reading it after this all started. The real goal of this whole thing was to promote the book, and one book NJ, within the context of the game. We really marvel at how well this was accomplished (considering, again, it was our first go at something like this.) Furthermore, it was an engaging program that promoted literacy and only cost us the copies of the books we gave away.
Interest in our game? Here are some links you can use to see how we conducted the game:
http://www.cranburypubliclibrary.org (our main website, a WordPress blog, where we started our game with posts to the site) – start with the 8/18 post
http://www.cranburypubliclibrary.org/wellington – this was the companion site that was setup to allow players to immerse themselves the alternate reality, follow what was going on, and obtain information.
http://www.twitter.com/cranburypl – Our Twitter account where we posted information about the game, and tried to build buzz toward our live event.
If you are interested in seeing how another library approached doing an ARG, check out the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library (MD) and their games: The Mystery Guest and Find Chelsea. They did a really awesome job in both story development and incorporation of digital media (esp. video) and were an inspiration for us in developing our own ARG.
Any questions.. just email me
So there’s been some press recently on the concept of video games as a form of “art”.
This debate was inspired by recent comments made by film critic Roger Ebert, who claims that not only are video games not art, but that by their very nature they cannot be art. Ebert cites a TED talk given by the lovely lovely Kellee Santiago, who inverts the film critic’s argument by saying that not only will video games one day become art, but that they already are … art.
At the heels of this online debate, comes the news that the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case this Fall involving the First Amendment protections of violent video games.
This is not the first time that video games have come under scrutiny for issues relating to free speech. It seems like only yesterday that the ultra-violent video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came under fire for a secret modification that incorporated a fully nude sex scene into the game. The double standard did not go unnoticed by the media. Here was a game that allowed your character to steal cars, murder cops, and beat prostitutes with a baseball bat. But one scene of completely consensual sex was enough to get the moral guardians in a tizzy. More recently, the game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 became the target of controversy for the inclusion of a mission that allows the player to commit an act of international terrorism on some unsuspecting Russian civilians. (warning, contains really disturbing imagery)
Whether or not video games should be considered “art” is only part of the question. The broader questions are: “Where do video games fall with regard to First Amendment protections?”, and: “Why does it seem that people automatically assume that the only people who play video games are 4 – 12 years old?”. Recent (and even not so recent) studies have already shown us that the average gamer is actually between the ages of 25 – 30, yet public opinion still seems to link “video games” with “kid stuff”. This is why violence in video games has become such a First Amendment issue. Not because they are more violent than your basic Tarantino flick, or that they are more sexually explicit than a Friday-late-night Cinemax movie, but because they’re games; and most people still parse “games” as: “child’s play”.
So where do libraries make the distinction? As self-proclaimed First Amendment warriors, we as librarians have an obligation to preserve the availability of certain materials that others may find objectionable. Yet if we’re hosting game nights for young teens, we might not necessarily want them to orchestrate a terrorist attack on Russian civilians in our children’s section. So how do we reconcile these issues? We can start by recognizing that the medium of video games does not necessarily define the audience; and that not everything with a health bar is family friendly kid stuff. Librarians will defend to the death our right to provide the public with Mapplethorpe, Salinger, and Anne Frank, but that doesn’t mean that we intershelve them with the Doctor Seuss books. ;)
Personally, I would defend video games, even violent ones, as an art form, but only under a very broad definition. Ordinarily, I think of art as something to be enjoyed passively, rather than interactively. In video games, the observer guides the action, and becomes an accomplice in the creation of the art. This does not make video games any less valid than the more discrete forms of art. A masterfully executed level of Tomb Raider can be every bit as beautiful as a perfect game of chess, a Baryshnikov fouetté jeté, a Salvador Dali painting, or a Hendrix solo. But I feel that the interactivity of video games places them into a different sphere of aesthetic appreciation. It is a hybrid of visual art and performance art that defines the participant as collaborator. For this reason, I feel that video games as art form deserve every protection that our Constitution provides. I eagerly wait the foundation of entire galleries devoted to the art of the video game.
Maybe we can get some eccentric billionaire to give us a grant. :)