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Find more Video Game Starter Kit
My early memories of libraries are nostalgic and warm, full of good experiences. I have those feelings for video games, too. Memories of my entire family and all our friends sitting around our Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), laughing and playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (SMB3), are the most cherished moments of my childhood. Although the story SMB3 tells is whimsical, challenging, and fun, its game play has very little to do with why I loved those times in my life: I cherish those memories because of the time I spent with others. Combining the experience of video games and the experience of libraries is a perfect fit as we transform libraries from temples of books to centers for community engagement.
Video gaming in libraries builds community and fosters good experiences for our users. It helps keep libraries relevant, too. Market studies and sales figures show that practically everyone is playing video games and that the younger people are, the more likely they are to play. Video gaming in libraries, therefore, is not just about having fun—and it is fun!—it also offers a chance for the library as an institution to recognize something that is important in the lives of its users.
I have attended many of the biggest video-gaming conventions in the country over the past year, spreading the good news that libraries are changing by including video games. One of my common tactics for changing perceptions is to take a two-question “survey.” Do you go to your library? The answer is almost always no. If your library had video games, would you go? The answer is always yes. All of a sudden, we’re shifting the idea of what a library is.
People who play video games have a strong passion for them, and this leads to strong opinions on games and gaming. Librarians can harness this passion, using it to draw in new library users and engage existing users, building on their emotional connection with video games to strengthen their emotional connection to the library. Because of this passion and strength of opinion, 8bitlibrary’s idea of a “core video-game collection” was discussed and disputed by the library community. But, for librarians who haven’t started their own video-game programs, these two collections offer great starting points that shouldn’t cause too much controversy: the games are easy to learn to play; they allow many people to play together at the same time; and they are short, so everyone gets multiple turns. These are just suggestions, but, in the words of Toadstool in SMB3, they should “help you on your way.”
The $500 Starter Kit: Nintendo Wii
Nintendo’s Wii console is “pick-up-and-play” by design. The controls operate less by button pushing than by larger, physical motions. The two titles included with the console, Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, are fun collections of minigames that require barely any button pushing at all: you use the Wii Remote to play tennis, bowl, fence, and more.
Mario Kart Wii, $50.
Mario Kart is a gaming franchise set in the Mushroom Kingdom. In the Wii installment the karts are controlled by the Wii Remote, which is used as a “steering wheel,” making this one of the most fun and chaotic racing video games of all time. The breakneck speed, the colorful atmosphere, the throwback music, and the hilarious obstacles you hurl at your opponents (slippery banana peels, an ink-squirting octopus) make this experience one that your users haven’t had at the library before!
New Super Mario Bros., $50.
New Super Mario Bros. for Wii, as an idiomatic successor to the eight-bit Mario titles, can be thought of as “Super Mario Bros. 4.” It’s an up-to-4-simultaneous-player game that has all those classic elements of the greatest gaming experience of all time: there’s familiar game play and nostalgic elements with which parents will connect, in addition to the fun of motion-controlled-gaming that their kids know and love. New Super Mario Bros. is one of the best-ever games for family engagement in libraries. (It also introduced Mario to the penguin suit, which is one of the cutest additions to the Mushroom Kingdom since the bee suit in Super Mario Galaxy.)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl, $50.
1 to 4 players, up to 12 players online.
If Super Mario Bros. was a game franchise that defined my generation, then Super Smash Bros. Brawl is one of those game franchises that defines the current generation of gamers. The game is affectionately referred to as simply Brawl, and, to find proof of this game’s importance in the lives of our users, google the word brawl. The very first search result is a website dedicated to Super Smash Bros. Brawl (rather than, say, the definition of the word brawl). While it is a “fighting” game, it’s a totally fun and family-friendly experience: colorful and familiar characters, speedy and engaging game play, and a learning curve that allows for even the newest players to win. The weapons in the game are cartoony, fun, and nostalgic (think Looney Tunes).
Gaming-in-libraries legend Eli Neiburger and 8bitlibrary.com contributor Doug Baldwin had their library users battle each other in an online, cross-country Brawl face-off via the Wii’s built-in WiFi capabilities during the last ALA National Gaming Day. Talk about libraries building community!
The $1,000 Starter Kit: Xbox 360
Just like my Wii list, this isn’t your typical collection of button-mashing games. The Xbox 360 is a system that is sometimes thought to be designed more for hardcore gamers, not casual players, but with more than 44 million consoles sold since its release, it’s a system that all kinds of gamers are playing. The titles I include here take the idea of video gaming to new places: your library users will be rocking out, dancing, and participating in some serious sf storytelling.
Dance Central, $60.
Instead of requiring you to dance on a pressure-sensitive mat, as in the gaming-in-libraries staple Dance Dance Revolution, Dance Central for the Xbox 360 Kinect does a constant full-body scan so you and your friends can dance without buttons or a controller. It’s a dance party in a box, and there’s no social activity quite as fun as a dance party!
Rock Band 3 Keyboard Bundle, $130.
Along the lines of fun, controllerless social games, Rock Band 3 combines lots of beloved activities into one game: imagine the falling bricks of Tetris, the timeless experience of karaoke, with real drums and keyboards, all covered in the awesomesauce of rock stardom. All that, and up to seven people can jam to their favorite tunes. Game critics are already calling this the greatest music video game of all time, and the original Rock Band has been called the greatest party game of all time (move over, Candyland)—if you decide to make this purchase for your library, fun will be had by all. With more than 80 songs across five decades of popular music, you are bound to find songs people of all ages know and love. (And more than 2,000 songs are available for purchase, by artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to SpongeBob Squarepants.)
Halo 3, $60. 1–4 local players, up to 16 online players.
Topping off this list is Halo 3, which is one of the crowning-jewel video games for the Xbox 360. Truly the greatest first-person-shooter in the history of video games, it supports online play (so your library users can compete against users in other libraries) and is one of the best examples of science fiction storytelling in the video-game medium. Halo 3 tells the story of the fictional United Nations Space Command, which is engaged in an interstellar war with an alien race. There are futuristic guns and war vehicles, so reserve this game for your teen-and-up audience. Even with the more mature themes, it will be very hard for you to find a teen who hasn’t played this game.
Tips for a Video Gaming Program
Now that you’ve got your gaming console and a few games, what’s next? You’ll need a TV or a projector (which your library probably already owns) to connect your console to, and a space that will allow for an unlibrarylike noise level. Let’s be honest: when people get together, they are loud. If libraries hope to foster community in the twenty-first century, our notions of acceptable noise levels need to change. As those notions of noise change, you know what else changes? Our users’ perception of the library.
Getting Plugged In
Running a Program
Getting people to participate is the easiest part: simply seeing the game being played creates an immediate response and desire to play in others. This is why I suggest an open-play atmosphere: just as our spaces have open reading and open computing, we shouldn’t confine video gaming to set times. Have the TV on, have the games powered up, and go from there. Video games are so familiar to our users that even the shyest will respond upon seeing video games alongside the books. But you can also follow the traditional library programming structure: advertising a date, time, and game is a fun way to gather many, many people to play at the same time!
Enhancing the Experience
Once your gaming program is up and running, all you have to do is make sure everyone attending is getting turns and having positive experiences. And, since the library is not simply an arcade, you can enhance the entire experience by suggesting the gamers take home related materials, such as books, movies, and albums. Library displays that feature similar thematic elements in other media means that we are also increasing some of our circulation numbers. The ideas are up to you, of course, but some obvious examples include pairing books about racing with Mario Kart Wii, displaying rock-star biographies and classic albums with Rock Band 3, and using Halo 3 as a jumping-off point for sf novels and movies.
While all this can help you get started, the sky is the limit for ideas on video games in libraries. Remember, the end goal is to engage and strengthen your community, to give your users valuable experiences and memories—and to have all the fun that can be had in the library!
JP Porcaro is the founder of 8bitlibrary.com and Virtual Services Librarian at New Jersey City University.
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