“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.”
― William Saroyan
(Please assume that the word “man” in the above quote refers to all humanity. Ladies are not excluded.)
We’re about two months away from International Games Day, so bringing attention to this ALA-sponsored event can’t happen too soon! But let’s assume that you are a librarian who doesn’t subscribe to the notion of games in libraries. Let’s start with the basics:
Why should libraries promote games or gaming? As addressed in the link, there are a few reasons. First: games attract people. We think of games as being purely for children, and bringing children into the library (and the attending parents / guardians) is never a bad thing. But it’s more than that: there are plenty of games (this last was said to be a favorite of Kennedy and Kissinger) that engage adults as well. Pew Internet studies have found that over half of adults play video games! The Wii has demonstrated a following with older adults, especially with games like bowling, tennis and exercise (Wii Fit). There really is no age at which people stop playing games. So games can be a way to appeal to anyone in your community.
Secondly, there is the aspect of learning and literacy. These are the days when it’s possible to teach yourself to play guitar or drums, even piano by playing games. Traditional literacy is also made more accessible with the right games. Digital literacy and the use of new technologies can occur even without any prior instruction. (Best part of that article: “… within five months, they had hacked Android.”) Games inspire learning and creativity, and are an essential piece to lifelong learning.
Something else to consider: toys and games can change behaviors for the better. For example, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a library with toys and games to assist in treatments for children with disabilities. Other games can help stroke victims with rehabilitation. Pew Internet has found that teens who play games with civic qualities (defined as “simulations of civic or political activities, helping others, and debating ethical issues”) are more likely to be engaged in real civic events and decisions. Games can be social, cooperative, educational, even cathartic.
Gamification is something that is being explored as a new way of improving not just education or knowledge, but even organizations. To gamify a process means to change the process so that it resembles a game, including elements like rules, competition, rewards, etc. Games can alter behaviors, stimulate and motivate learning and learners, and connect people, both locally and globally. Ann Arbor Libraries have devised an extremely popular approach to teach how to use the library, as well as to encourage attendance at its summer programs. MIT is heavily invested in game theory and structure, especially as it pertains to new technologies. Businesses are benefiting from this idea. Maybe your library is next!
If you’re asking yourself why you should start adding games to your services, I’d ask: seeing all the potential benefits, why haven’t you already? And here are some resources to help you along that path!