03 October 2007

Games, Gaming, and Gamers: Why You Want Them in Your Libraries

by Elizabeth T. Danforth

Words you know:
Candyland. Monopoly. Trivial Pursuit. Pokemon.

Words you might know:
Wii. World of Warcraft. Second Life. Dance Dance Revolution.

Words you may not know you need to know:
Halo. Guitar Hero. Club Penguin. Runescape.

What do these things have in common? Games: they are all games and about gaming. And you need to get them on your radar as you move into the library profession.

Why? Reasons are legion. One of the main reasons is that this is where the users are, whether you call them users, patrons, customers, or civilians. Last year games finally outstripped movies as the worldwide choice of entertainment in terms of financial investment in buying and playing them. There are nine million people playing World of Warcraft – that makes the population of Azeroth larger than most countries in the real world.

Do you need more reasons? Start with some things you need to realize:

  1. Gamers come in all ages, flavors, and sizes. Do you assume the typical gamer is a teenaged male, overweight and unfit, living in his mother’s basement? Your beliefs of gamer stereotypes are demonstrably untrue according to the ample research. Forty-two percent of the online gamers out there are female. Only 20% are children. The demographic of those who have ever played video games is 100% of MIT freshmen. The video game generation has more in common in the way they approach life, business, teamwork, advancement, and success than the media’s separation of them into Gen X, Gen Y, or Millenials, partly because of the way they – we? – have grown up with games as the model for how to approach life.
  2. Games and game-playing are good for you, and for the children and teens around you. Over half of all teens engage in “participatory culture,” much of it associated with games, marked by peer-to-peer learning and the development of leadership and other workplace skills. This “hidden curriculum” affects future school and workplace success – or failure. Have you ever read a Pokemon card? Three nested conditional sentences rife with jargon, yet absorbed by kids facing little more than Dick and Jane in school. Small wonder they’re bored; games reward immersion with success. To get the most from the game they check out the Pokemon books too, in order to learn the associated lore and background information. And Grandma doesn’t want to join the family at the Thanksgiving dinner table because she and Grandpa are getting to bowl together – on the Wii – for the first time since she broke her hip. Her arm will be sore in the morning, but not because she couldn’t cut through the potato skin.
  3. Games will be an integral part of tomorrow's libraries, and tomorrow's worlds (yes, plural). Whether you call them MUVEs or MMORGs (multiuser virtual environment, or massively multiplayer online roleplaying games), cyberspace has worlds to discover and libraries will be there. An avatar in Second Life has no use for a can of Coke® except as window dressing; Big Business is having trouble figuring that out. An avatar in Second Life does need information, and a virtual library is one place to come looking for how to make money or buy hair, how to build a prim, or listen to Diana Gabaldon read from her newest novel. And in a recent study out of Syracuse University, 77% of sampled libraries reported that they support games in one fashion or another.

But gamers? In the library? We are heavily about education and entertainment, and games are both. Public libraries especially are increasingly about being a community commons. Some games work best face to face, but where do you go to play? Even online games can be enjoyed shoulder to shoulder with friends, each on their own laptops even as their avatars move together in cyberspace.

"But," you say, "I'm going to work in a business library, a medical library, a special collection. I don't want or need this trivial fluff."

Actually, you might. Maybe you can't see a place for World of Warcraft... but games in general? Yes. The military has invested heavily in online gaming as a recruitment tool. Businesses are regularly using games to recruit and train personnel; it's far more motivating than a powerpoint and the information is internalized faster. Research from IBM shows that leadership skills practiced in online games teaches and rewards success and innovation. Games are being used to help young and old understand the medical procedures they're facing, and to teach them visualization techniques and attitudes that help them battle cancers. Retirement homes are using the Wii for the chair-bound, for socialization and for exercise appropriate to their constrained activity levels. So familiarizing yourself with the world of games, gaming, and gamers should be on even your more rarified agendas.

And World of Warcraft, like Second Life, has been called "the new golf." So you might want to log in and take part in your boss's raiding guild after all. Show 'em the stuff you're made of, your ability to function as part of a team, and how you can be relied on as your mage kicks out the DPS to save your boss from certain death in Zangarmarsh.

Liz Danforth is a professional illustrator, writer, game developer and designer inducted into the Academy of Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame in 1996. She has 17 years experience as a public library paraprofessional and is two classes from graduating from the SIRLS program.


  1. Hear, hear! Gamers can even be old folks like me, or these fine people:


    (great example of the social value of gaming...

  2. Great link, thank you!! Games reach every demographic, and gamers are emphatically not the stereotype.

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