Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Why Gaming?

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Why Gaming?

Article excerpt

But They're Not Books!

Why games and gaming in libraries? This question is the most common response from librarians, parents, educators, and even teenagers when I talk to them about gaming in libraries. Why would libraries be interested in gaming, let alone be interested in creating services around an activity that millions of people are already doing at home?

Context will help answer these questions, as will examining some existing, readily accepted library services; but perhaps the easiest framework for responding to "Why?" is to avert the question and compare games to what libraries and librarians already know so well-books. As OCLC's 2005 Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources report makes painfully clear, the library "brand" is books. (1) That is how library users (and non-users) think of libraries--books, more books, and still more books. Libraries have been--and always will be--about books. Librarians know books, we live books, we breathe books, we are books.

But what if librarians contemplate a titillating notion, an idea discussed in Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (Steven Johnson's 2005 best-selling book)? In Johnson's work, he makes many arguments for why games in general, but most intriguing, for the context of the library institution, is his "thought experiment," which provocatively asks: "What if video games had been invented and widely adopted first, before books?"

By default, librarians, parents, teachers, and others try to inspire children to read because of the benefits associated with this activity, and many of us often see video games as an impediment to this endeavor. But what would the world look like if instead we tried to inspire our children to play games based on underlying assumptions about the benefits associated with them? In such a world, Johnson imagines a debate about this new reading "frenzy" that might include the following arguments:

   Reading books chronically understimulates the
   senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of
   gameplaying--which engages the child in a vivid,
   three-dimensional world filled with moving images
   and musical soundscapes, navigated and
   controlled with complex muscular movements--books
   are simply a barren string of words on the
   page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted
   to processing written language is activated during
   reading, while games engage the full range
   of the sensory and motor cortices.

   Books are also tragically isolating. While games
   have for many years engaged the young in complete
   social relationships with their peers, building
   and exploring worlds together, books force
   the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet
   space, shut off from interaction with other children.
   These new "libraries" that have arisen in
   recent years to facilitate reading activities are a
   frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally
   so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting
   alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious
   to their peers....

   But perhaps the most dangerous property of
   these books is the fact that they follow a fixed
   linear path. You can't control their narratives in
   any fashion--you simply sit back and have the
   story dictated to you. For those of us raised on
   interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing.
   Why would anyone want to embark on
   an adventure utterly choreographed by another
   person? But today's generation embarks on such
   adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling
   a general passivity in our children making
   them feel as though they're powerless to change
   their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory
   process, it's a submissive one. The book
   readers of the younger generation are learning to
   "follow the plot" instead of learning to lead. … 
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