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awesome essay on video games

Rochelle’s daughter contacted me about a paper she was writing. I got interviewed for it, and in the process, I got her to agree to let me publish it here! Actually, she was excited to get it on the web. We’re all so busy writing about kids and games, I figured it would be nice to get a perspective from an actual teenager. Her essay turned out great, especially for a 9th grader!

Video Games Are Good For You by “Juniorette”

Video games are widely known as an excellent source of entertainment, and are, according to some, better than watching TV because of their interactivity. What a lot of people don’t know is that they can be good for those who play them, and are easy to obtain and keep, since most games and systems can be kept together in one area. They come at low cost, usually under thirty dollars.

There are several genres of video games. RPGs, or role-playing games, often include the task of completing quests. The characters in the game are your party, or your team, and there are frequently three to eight in a game, though only some of them may be able to fight at a time, and players have to balance their teams to use all their skills effectively. MMORPGs (Massively-multiplayer online RPG) are online RPGs where people all over the world create custom characters and interact with other people in the game world, joining together to form their own parties and complete quests. In racing games, up to four players, depending on what game, race against each other on different tracks. There are the classic games that are like NASCAR, and there are others that use characters from classic video games of other genres, like in Mario Kart Double Dash. Fighting games are exactly that. There are some that even have their own small plot lines, where the goal is to defeat the strongest character and win the prize. In strategy games, the player controls a wide range of characters that they act as tactician for and direct around a map to defeat an enemy or accomplish a mission. In sports games, the player controls a favorite basketball or football team that they lead to the championship, or a single character, such as in golf or skating games. There are genres to entertain nearly everyone who wants to play a game.

Some parents might think that watching TV is a better way to spend your time than playing Halo 2 (a popular first-person shooter MMORPG). Aaron Schmidt, reference librarian at Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, IL, had this to say on the subject:

“I think games are much more interesting than TV. TV is a ONE WAY operation going from the TV to the viewer. Games are a TWO WAY operation, back and forth, where the viewer can change the world and story. Games let people be creative and interact with their world whereas TV tells people what to think.” (Schmidt 2005)

TV also typically costs more than a video game. With the game there is only one payment (unless it’s a subscription to an online game), but you need to pay continuously to use your TV. Books are an excellent source of entertainment as well that parents might choose over games or TV. Schmidt had this to say about books vs. video games:

“I think books are great, and I think video games are great. Many people don’t realize it, but there can be just as much reading in video games as in books.”

Schmidt also said that the reason some libraries, including his, is that kids like video games, librarians like kids in the library, and therefore, they have video games.

Many people think that video games are the cause of more violent, aggressive behavior in kids and teens. “I’m convinced that violent video games do contribute to adolescents’ becoming more violent, having more hostile feelings, and [experiencing] more desensitization,” Joanne Cantor, recently retired University of Wisconsin professor said. “I think the kids distinguish pretty clearly between the cartoonish nature of a video game and reality,” John Beck, author of a book about video games, said. “I grew up with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd shooting at each other’s heads all the time.” (Anonymous 1.)

Games can be good tools for learning and developing one’s mind. Some wonder how learning in school can be more like a game by using some of the learning principals found in games, such as interaction (simulations of how the student could apply the problem to real life, perhaps), creativity (customizing what the problem is about), being pleasantly frustrating (the student might want to solve the problem because it interests them more), or performance before competence (showing that the student can do something at all before doing it well) (Gee 2-4).

Video game programming and design are now college majors. EA (Electronic Arts) Games, the no.1 video game maker in America, was hiring people from college who had no experience in game design and the wrong art and computer training. “For 20 years, students came out of school and they had to kind of unlearn what they had learned in computer science…the stuff they had learned in art was inappropriate…we had to do a lot of training internally,” Bing Gordon, the Gordon, the company’s chief creative officer, said. The gaming industry was starving for talent. This changed when video game design, programming, and script writing programs were introduced into colleges (Schiesel).

A good game is an interactive structure that requires players to struggle towards a goal. Without interaction, it’s just a puzzle. In some RPGs (role-playing games), players have to figure out a puzzle with clues they get by interacting with NPCs (non-playable characters), or by physically doing the puzzle on the map or in the form of riddles.

Without a goal, the end result of the player’s actions, there’s no point in playing. In many RPG games, the players have several goals over the course of the game that they have to complete before they can win. Without a struggle, the game’s just boring. It’s not fun to walk right through to the end of a game without having to accomplish goals or fight any monsters. Some ways to create struggle to make a game interesting include puzzles, such as riddles, sliding puzzles, and mazes; obstacles, like bosses (a strong enemy character the player has to fight at the end of a level) and the normal monsters found everywhere; and violence in the form of fighting, or a character being attacked in a cutscene (a sequence in a video game that the player has no control over, and is used to advance the plot and portray dialogue) (Costikyan).

Games are wonderful sources of entertainment that come in all kinds of forms. They provide a unique, interactive, and complex activity, at low cost and zero risk. Their design, script writing, and programming are becoming college majors. Games are even better than TV in some ways.

Anonymous. Illinois Governor Says Some Video Games Are Too Violent for Teens. Current Events. February 18, 2005. One page.

Costikyan, Greg. The Problem of Video Game Violence is Exaggerated. Games Don’t Kill People—Do They? June 21, 1999. 8 pages.

Deutsch, David. Playing Video Games Benefits Children. Video Games: Harmfully Addictive or a Unique Educational Environment? 23 November 2005. 5 pages.

Gee, James Paul. Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum. Summer 2005. 5 pages.

omg d00d, not teh LIBRARY!

The slashdot thread about google’s acquisition of 5% of AOL was of interest to me because of GTalk and AIM. The deal is all about advertisements, and all about IM (which itself is about advertisements (scanning our conversations?), and probably VOIP). Even though Trillian and Meebo make it less necessary to have network interoperability, it’ll be nice to see two networks communicating with each other. As for Google getting tainted with some of AOL’s evil, one slashdotter stated:

I swear, if I get ONE damned Google CD in the mail, EVER – I’ll go to a LIBRARY before I look something up on Google again.

Er…thanks for thinking of us!

gaming in libraries 2005

Everyone else did a fab job taking copious transcripts of the Gaming in Libraries 2005 Symposium . I didn’t have all that typing in my fingers, so I sat back, listened, and jotted down some thoughts when the spirit moved me.

There were many great things about the conference, but there was one thing I liked in particular. And no, it wasn’t the fact that I got to play Mario Kart during the breaks. I was really pleased to hear that the same language I’ve (used and) seen being used to motivate people to get libraries involved with weblogs, RSS, and other social software was the same language being used at the symposium. Both the act of blogging and playing certain games can be seen as learning through gaining membership in a community of practice. Participation is the key. Constance Steinkuehler told the crowd just how much effort is spent by participating in a MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) community. Weeks, months even, are spent in meetings, collecting data, analyzing data and determining a plan of action. To me, this really sounds like writing a research paper. Players are learning how to learn even if they aren’t aware.

And if libraries participate in the social networks of their users, “going to the library” will be less like it has been (often times a last resort), and more like consulting a friend. This similarity was encouraging because it indicates that Libraries are working on the same issues, for similar reasons, though different tactics. When we’re all getting our heads in the same place, joining together to accomplish similar goals…well folks, I dare say we’re part of a movement.

One idea that will likely come through in everyone’s reports is the notion of video games in libraries for their own sake, not as a loss leader for books. In our gaming grant, we stressed that for many people, getting involved with a game is like other people getting involved with a book. Les Gasser went so far as to say that games are now part of kids’ cultural mythology. The idea that games’ storylines have such an impact resonated with me. Just the other day I was talking with a colleague’s daughter and she told me the cut scenes (elaborate animated portions used to forward a game’s plot) in her favorite game are so moving that they made her cry. Games really are a form of storytelling. Try out some games if you need proof.

Another thing I hope everyone took away from the Symposium is a historical perspective on new media in libraries. Many of the speakers stressed that resistance to video games as part of library service is the same force that resisted DVDs, VHS tapes, Magazines, and even Fiction in libraries. The high/low culture debate in libraries is bound to continue.

The Symposium ended with some really great and super practical tips for librarians’ interactions with young people. Beth Galway did a great job illustrating how librarians can take prompts from games to pitch and tailor their services. Her points included:

  • Be a strategy guide don’t be a level boss. In other words, don’t mimic the powerful and intimidating creatures that players defeat at the end of a level. Instead, be a collaborator in their journey.
  • Show, don’t tell. Many kids like learning experientially.
  • Get them started. Let them do. Then see if they need some guidance after a bit.
  • Ask for a demo of expertise. Not only do thing kids like “doing,” they love to shine when they do well.
  • Change the space often. Even if it is simple rearrangement, alter the space that teenagers use every week. This will keep their interest.

Here are the rest of the posts tagged gaminginlibraries2005 on technorati, and here are 154 pictures tagged gaminginlibraries2005 from flickr.

embedded flickr slideshows

Check out HOW TO Quickie: Embedded Flickr Slideshows. I plunked the code into and I like it. You can also see an example below, which is a display of my photos tagged ‘mobilepic.’ This code is flexible in that you can be selective or inclusive in the photos to be shown. The down side is that only one size can be displayed, requiring some serious devoted real estate. The frame size can be changed, but then the photos are cut off.

Off the top of my head I can think of a few applications for this on a library website:

  • Inform people visually about the meeting room
  • Document an event
  • Show off a computer lab
  • Highlight an art collection

and perhaps my favorite idea…

  • Combine an embedded mp3 file with a slideshow of illustrations to create an amazing online storytime! Kids could listen to a librarian as they watch the story unfold. I’m really tempted to try this, but my drawings would probably scare the kids and the whole project would fail. I may need to employ the help of an artist friend, because there’s probably not many public domain illustrations for children’s books. Tho I do know of Ardvark the Aardvark.

Any other ideas?

actions > words

There is a fair amount of grumbling going on about the marketing of the Gap’s website redesign. signal vs noise and Power to the People take issue with this big, orange statement from the Gap website.

image from

The comment quoted by signal vs noise sums it up well:

They’re saying the right things, only they’ve got them backwards. “Latest technologies”, “innovative tools,” and “new features” are pretty much meaningless if the “shopping experience” isn’t better. Now, I don’t want to pick on Gap, but this illustrates (rather well) the point I’m trying to make: Put the people first, then devise simple solutions — the experience is what matters.

This sentiment is really useful not only for our library websites, but our institutions as well. This just another way to state the importance of putting our focus on our users. All of the great technology in our libraries shouldn’t exist for its own sake, but rather should exists because it helps.

However, regarding their criticism of the Gap’s placement of emphasis, I’m not convinced that we need to be telling our patrons that we’re attempting to create an experience. People don’t really want to be told that they are going to have an experience. Talk of experience in PR can smack of marketing jargon and be a major turn off. In other words, it isn’t useful for an institution to proclaim, “We’re user-centered,” or “Come here for an experiential transaction.” Customers and library patrons know full well if an institution is user-centered or if they’ve had an experiental transaction without (or in spite of) being told that they’ve had an experience.

What are we supposed to tell our patrons then? If and only if it were true, I think one great slogan for our libraries would be:

Libraries. We’re easy.

It’s short, catchy, to the point and memorable. The rest of the story would be told with our actions. We’ve got a ways to go before we can pull that one out.