As someone who plays video games myself, I’ve always had to stop myself from getting flummoxed when a parent, or other adult makes a snarky comment about our teens playing games in our teen room.
I’ve been caught in more than one conversation where they’re standing at our YS desk, talking about their own business when all of a sudden they drift off into a tirade about how we “let them play games in there”, or how they remember when the library was about books and studying, etc. I actually get a kick out of replying, “Absolutely. We love gaming in this library”, and then rattle off my list of why gaming is actually important.
Many of the things that teens are learning or experiencing when playing video games, aren’t what teens themselves are going to realize. They don’t know that they’re working on their spatial reasoning; they just know that the zombie was about two clicks back. They won’t tell you that they’re learning about teamwork; they just know that when they’re playing COD(Call Of Duty), they would rather play with three others so that the campaign works better. Most of them can’t quite put their finger on why they liked the newer Tomb Raider over the classic, other than the graphics, but a little conversation reveals how they feel about learning more about her backstory.
Thinking about how to bridge the gap between what they are doing, and what they know they’re doing, along with my love of talking about gaming, led me to start our library’s Teen Gaming Alliance. I wanted to have something that would take us beyond just having tournaments and open gaming, and provide concrete and visible links between practice and theory. It was also a really cool way for me to get some time with our teen gaming enthusiasts.
Gaming Alliance meets the last Tuesday of every month, for about an hour, sometimes two.
We play a game, discuss it, talk about similarities between it and other games, movies, or books, and I ask them what new games they believe I should be ordering.
My average attendance is around 8 teens, with 1 or 2 girls present, though I’m really hoping to get more girls.
What it looks like:A typical meeting consists of Gameplay, Discussion, Turn by Turn, Reader and Gamer Advisory, and then Final Thoughts. For story-driven games we play the game from the very beginning. Players are asked NOT to skip any cinematic or training scenes, even if they’ve already played the game. We want to experience the game together.
Players receive a “Post-Game Stats” sheet also. This handout gives backstory on the game itself, or type of game. On the back, I also include a Read/Watch/Play list.
I often choose games that are popular, but there’s also a definite conscious decision to include games that will bring about deeper discussions while we’re playing. For instance, with the newest Tomb Raider release, we discussed the differences between Lara Croft and Nathan Drake, the protagonist of the Uncharted series. We talked about why there was a need for a “male tomb raider”, when Lara Croft had already been successful. We also discussed the evolution and de-evolution of Lara’s clothing, and even choices the developers made concerning her background and personality. Games such as Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, while not able to play in the teen room during regular hours, got a great conversation started on urban fiction, street lit, and the influence of gaming on behavior.
For collaborative and competitive gaming, I schedule gaming alliance ongoing events. Many of these are teen-suggested! Past themes have included “Monday Night Football”, where we played Madden every Monday for a month, “Black Fridays”, which was Call of Duty Black Ops, “Tekken Tuesdays”, and even “Fitness Thursdays” where we used the Kinnect for Zumba and Just Dance. For these, our discussions tend to include the subtle changes game developers incorporate into long-standing series such as Madden, or how they market Just Dance to make people want to buy essentially the same game year after year. Teens are very observant, and I’ve found that often, they have detailed backstory and information, which makes these discussions really engaging and informative for me.
A couple other things the club has done:
Annual screenings of E3 – Each year, we also host a screening of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This annual event, held in June, is where the top names in gaming announce and reveal upcoming games, new technology and new partnerships. Watching a press conference, learning to take notes, and report back, are all ways that it is used to look beyond just “playing” games, and allows for teens to see games on a different level, and thereby take what they are doing more seriously.
Hosted “Flashback Gaming Days” where we play 1st and 2nd gen systems and held an art contest for teens to design a new game system. We’ve also taken apart a Playstation 3.
Selected the library’s newest console. When trying to decide which new console I was going to purchase for the library, I allowed the teens to vote, creating yet another way for them to think beyond gaming itself, as they often had to try to convince other teens of which system to vote for. Trying to persuade their peers, led many of them to think more about what makes a good gaming system a good system.
We’ve branched out to board and card games as well. Monopoly Mondays and Anomia Tournaments have been amazing.
My two most vocal teens have started to contribute their gaming discussions to the teen podcast.
Gamer Lit can be a hit or miss, but sometimes it can be great. Many popular series have their own companion novels or graphic novels, while others have similar themes to popular books. There are also some beautiful art books based on many games. If you aren’t a gamer yourself, check out this post I did a few weeks ago on games that pair really well with YA books.
My Read/Watch/Play form of booklists, allows me to reach teens at their interest level and then work backwards towards the books if necessary. A gamer will see what movie to try, a movie buff may try a book, etc. I also include apps and character profiles.
I always play the game first. I want to be sure there’s no language or content that will surprise me during our live preview.
LISTEN. Teens love to teach. They want the opportunity to teach me about the games, or news they have about the developers, or even just gamer gossip they’ve picked up. Listening to this helps me with collection development and readers advisory!’
Set some ground rules. Because we are playing 1-player games as a group, I had to make some very basic ground rules about who gets a turn and how turns end. Usually, we make a list, and if you die, or pass a level, you pass the controller.
Use what you have! You don’t have to have the latest console to be relevant! Teens generally like discussing their favorite games, regardless of whether they can actually play them. Hosting a viewing party of upcoming game trailers is a free and fun compromise.
Know a little bit about a lot.
Find a review source you trust. (I live by IGN and Game Informer)
Be Flexible. As with most teen activities, you have to be willing to ebb and flow with the program. A carefully planned discussion can go left when teens discover something else in the game they want to discuss. Don’t get frustrated. LOL
Remember, gamers are often experiencing much more than what is perceived about gaming. There is teamwork, sportsmanship, problem solving, resilience, and more. By elevating how they think about games, and what it is they are doing, teens are able to walk away with a response for those who say they are “just gaming”, or that games have no merit. Putting the power, and the power stick, in the hands of our teens.