One of the most common forms of entertainment nowadays are video games. Regardless of whether on a PC, laptop, console or even a smartphone, we are always exposed to games. But how, or rather, why should one consider bringing this omnipresent phenomenon into a library?
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Why should you implement video games?
Firstly, let’s address a common misconception – some people believe that video games are mostly played by young teenage males, as a form of an escapist fantasy. While that can be true, according to research done by the Entertainment Software Association in 2016, the average age of a video game player is 35, around 59% of whom are males. The research also showed that two-thirds of American households had someone who played video games for at least 3 hours a week, with an average of 1.7 “gamers” per household. Hence, it can be assumed that video games affect a large part of local communities, and not only the younger generation.
Studies have also found that gamers would return to their libraries for “non-gaming activities” after attending a gaming event. Having a video game collection can diversify the library’s offerings and attract parts of the community that may not have used the library previously.
To clarify, the suggestion here isn’t to dangle video games in front of patrons, as if it was a carrot in front of a carriage, to lure them into the library. The games themselves can be a valuable part of any collection, as they can have many different benefits for patrons. Read on to learn more about those benefits.
The only thing that can make a story more vivid than reading or seeing it, is being a part of it. Through the power of interactivity, games can achieve just that. Offering choices to players to change the outcome of the story, or maybe on the opposite end, taking control away from them to make them feel as helpless as the characters they are playing as. Games like The Last of Us or The Walking Dead or even The Witcher 2 take full advantage of player agency to tell a more involved story.
Some games stay with the players because it made them think about hard philosophical questions. What’s my purpose? What is the purpose of life? The Bioshock franchise, Soma or Nier: Automata ask these hard questions from players, and rarely do they provide a ready answer.
Popular video game titles can lead to your users reading more books, connected to said titles. For example, the above-mentioned The Witcher series is based on novels by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski. Or, take World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most played games for nearly 20 years. What started out as a few novels set in the world of WoW have now turned into an essential part of the story within the game, to the point where reading these books are almost necessary to fully enjoy the game’s story.
Presently, many video games are played primarily online, or at the very least they will have some form of online community around them. Being part of these communities includes talking with peers of both younger and older generations; this can help with language skills, content creation, enrich vocabulary and even spur on social development in younger users.
Leadership & planning
Massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) like the above-mentioned WoW, can help users develop leadership and tactical skills, as players sometimes must organize in-game events and craft strategies for 10-20-30+ players. Or, in the case of Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games like Starcraft 2, the players need to manage resources while commanding and progressing an entire civilization.
Video games can help users develop problem solving skills, by providing users with a given skillset, and then constantly challenging and building upon that skillset through puzzles. Games like Portal 1 & 2, the Professor Layton series or even games like Hollow Knight offer great challenges for players.
Video games can inspire users on a career path. After playing a few games, they might decide to become a game developer, designer, or a tester. They could even possibly become a professional esports player. While that last one may sound hard to take seriously, esports have established themselves quite well, with the highest tournament prize pools coming in over 30 million USD.
Video games can also help users develop their researching skills and their information literacy. Certain games like Stardew Valley or Minecraft can lead their users to spend time browsing databases and different websites to find relevant information to progress their games.
Things happen fast in video games, so players need to be just as fast. Hence, playing games can lead to improved motor skills, typing speed and efficiency, hand-eye coordination, and decision-making in the moment. Rhythm games like Guitar Hero, OSU or Beat Saber rely on sensory overload, quick decisions, and dexterous movements.
Are there downsides to video games?
Video games make you violent
This is a common phrase to hear; however video games don’t really make people violent, or at least not any more than any other media does. In the Tom & Jerry cartoons the titular characters drop anvils, throw dynamite, and hit each other with hammers, but discussions about the cartoon making anyone violent aren’t often brought up. Take chess for example – the game is quite explicitly a simulation of war, where the players’ aim is to kill the other player’s pieces and capture their king. And yet, most people wouldn’t relate chess to violence.
Now, this is not to say video games can’t be linked to violent behaviour. Certain types of games can leave a negative impact on players. However, games are versatile in their genres, and not all of them glorify violence with gameplay that’s all about killing one another.
As a sidenote, this is exactly why maturity ratings were introduced; if a game is rated M for mature, meaning it is recommended for people over 18, it shouldn’t be in the hands of a 15-year-old.
Video games are addictive
In certain cases, this is unfortunately true. Some games utilize so-called “lootboxes” which may contain either cosmetic or in-game upgrades. These lootboxes can usually be purchased for both in-game currency or real money. Because of their random nature, purchasing and opening these boxes is basically equal to gambling.
When selecting video games to circulate, it is important to not only select games that don’t rely on lootboxes, but to educate the community on the potential dangers of them.
On a related note, the brain releases dopamine while gaming. As an easy source of this hormone, the players’ brain will constantly want to return to it. Additionally, the feeling of progress and instant gratification can keep players returning to their monitors, creating the escapist mindset.
Video games are unhealthy
Games can be unhealthy on both a physical and mental level. On the physical side, repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are fairly common amongst gamers, especially in their fingers, hands and arms. Eye problems from staring at the screen, a sedentary lifestyle, and posture problems, leading to neck and back pain, are also not uncommon to observe.
On the mental side, some gamers can fall into the escapist category. If they feel like they are stuck in life, they might prefer spending all their time in the game. This can lead to disappearing relationships, negative impact on their academic performance or even being stuck in toxic online communities.
While these things can happen, the most important thing to remember is moderation. Someone playing video games for an hour a day faces much smaller risks than someone playing 6 hours a day. Make sure to educate patrons about the possible health dangers of video games, and if the library provides a space for gaming, regulate the time patrons can spend playing in one sitting.
How can I get started?
When implementing video games there are two major factors you need to take into consideration: copyright and budget.
Despite it sounding the harsher one to overcome, copyrights won’t be the worst enemy. Most EULAs (End-user License Agreement) don’t forbid the circulation of video games, granted only one patron has access to the game at a time. Similarly, when hosting tournaments (for games like Mario Kart, Halo, or Super Smash Bros), an approval from the game publishers might be all that is required.
The biggest hurdle in implementing video games and maintaining their circulation will be the budget. As a popular form of entertainment, new games are constantly being released. And it’s not only the games that are changing; the required hardware is always changing as well. For example, Sony “recently” released the new PlayStation5 (PS5) in November of 2020, a mere 7 years after its predecessor, the PS4, was introduced. As new games aren’t being made for the older platforms, the library will constantly need to update its collection, and possibly even hardware, to stay relevant.
This can of course be a problem, as budgets are tight, and convincing library administration to spend money on games might be a hard sell.
A short summary
As one of the most popular forms of entertainment, video games are likely already a big part of the community. These games, when played in moderation, can offer a great many benefits, socially and mentally. On the flipside, overexposure to games can be detrimental, so striking a balance and educating the community is key to a successful video game collection.
Balancing the upsides and the downsides while keeping the library’s priorities in mind, is crucial when setting up a video game collection. In general, video games can greatly benefit both the community and the library and bring in new library users from all generations.
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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