Library’s got game

Library's got game

Illustration by Rhiannon McLay

A library transformed through games; an interesting concept ripe for adventure. Using games as a way to engage and interact with library users has proven to incite discovery and collaboration. Not only this, but, games of this nature are designed to enhance the existing library experience. This means that the catalogue, books and borrowing still remain but are presented to users in a different way. Though libraries haven’t often been involved in the use and development of games there are a select few who have begun the revolution.

Public libraries often provide games for people to play as as part of their borrowable resources. Games can range from traditional board and card games through to console games for XBox, Playstation and more. It is only more recently that public libraries have begun exploring how to really use games as part of the whole library experience, acknowledging the validity of game playing as an end in itself and connecting players to reading according to their gaming tastes.

Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan USA is a leader in the use of games in libraries. Recently, in place of the typical summer reading program, Ann Arbor District Library ran a summer game. The game was not targeted at a specific age group and as a result people in their seventies were active participants, as well as many younger people. The game focused on many library related activities as a means of scoring points, for example using the catalogue, borrowing books and reading. It also rewarded participants’ exploration of the geograhpical area in a local studies contextl. The game drove people to use the library and its catalogue more frequently and expensively and it was fun. Parents also reported that their children were reading more.

Importantly, games in libraries can’t be tokenistic. The worldwide audience of gamers is huge, requiring that any games produced by libraries be fun and robust enough to stand up next to commercial counterparts. Ann Arbor District Library has provided an excellent example of an impressive game, designed and produced by a library, but there are many more.

New York Public Library, with their game Find the Future is helping the community discover the bredth and depth of the content of their collection. The game has been written around the experiences of 500 people who participated in a one night lock in at the librarywhere they explored the collection and created stories about it. Another example is Picture the Impossible, by the city of Rochester, which shows what is possible when a whole community plays a game (keep in mind that Rochester is home to the National Museum of Play). Finally, World of Temasek shows how information from libraries could be important for games. This game is set in 14th century Singapore and aims to teach people about the history of that time through a Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO or MMOG). But games don’t have to be digitally based to connect to a wide audience. The three fold yarn game is a paper based way for people to discover items in the at their local library, linking items by connecting their stories.  These few examples start to show what is possible when libraries engage more deeply with games as discovery, collaboration and content creation tools.

Two national libraries are also doing similar things, one in a game and the other with games results.The National Library of Finland is using a game, Digitalkoot, has been very successful at involving people in the critical (but arduous) job of manually correcting online digitised newspapers, turning the task into one that is both fun and rewarding. The National Library of Australia also has a similar project to engage with crowdsourced newspaper digitisation corrections, without the formal games environment, though their Text Correctors Hall of Fame looks exactly like a games leader board.

As a final example, the Nordjyllands Historiske Museum in Denmark has a game played on mobile phones, connecting their four museum sites. The game is designed for children, who, playing Viking warriors, complete quests which help them learn about the history of the area. This is a great starting point for games which could help anyone explore the history of an area.

This game and the many other discussed point towards the potential for games in library settings. It would be exciting to see a game developed around the history of one area, which over time could have other areas added in as different local councils wanted to be involved. This opens up opportunities for collaborations around games, both from a developer and a user perspective. There are many exciting opportunities for libraries and game to develop together, and we are only just starting to see what is possible, and to consider who can be partners.

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