More Than Just a Game...

By Daniel A. Freeman |

My parents never bought me a Nintendo when I was a kid. They had this crazy idea that reading was the best way for me to learn and entertain myself, so I had to go over to my neighbors house when I wanted to play The Legend of Zelda or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. I’d go back home after playing and describe how cool these new games were to my parents, who inevitably rolled their eyes, frustrated at this trendy, expensive new toy their son was dying to have.

As I write this from the 2008 ALA TechSource Gaming, Learning and Libraries Symposium, I can’t help but think how far gaming technology has come since the days of 8-but graphics and cheap midi sound effects. At this symposium, gaming is hardly a game—it’s a rapidly evolving and increasingly important part of our profession. More and more, librarians are using gaming to help students of all ages learn, to help adults improve and hone their skills, and to draw young people into a lifetime of library use.

This was the tone from the beginning of the conference, when Marc Prensky gave an engaging and insightful keynote address that drew heavily from his book Don’t Bother me mom, I’m Learning. According to Prensky, during all those hours I spent annoying my parents by playing video games, I was learning, too! That’s right, video games are for much more than entertainment—they teach reasoning skills, critical thinking, and help children learn to perform under stress. As Prensky put it, a video game is “a problem that you pay $50 for your child to solve.”

There were plenty of demos and plenty of chances to see and try out new technology, but the focus of the sympsium was not drooling with anticipation over new games—the focus was on how to use gaming.  Nowhere was this more apparent than in the jam-packed room that hosted Kathy Makens Outreach 2.0 presentation. Makens described how libraries are building programs from the ground up that use gaming to bring users of all age groups into the library. By applying Library 2.0 concepts to gaming, she argued, we can make gaming more useful, practical and fun while promoting library and/or school services in the process.

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that gaming and gaming technology should be limited to children or teenagers. Allan M. Kleiman gave a fantastic presentation today called “Grandma’s got a Wii”. He discussed the growing movement to bring videogames to seniors, and gave dozens of meaningful examples of how libraries and community centers are using Wii to help seniors lead more active and fulfilling lives.  He showed this fantastic video of seniors playing Wii:

From the opening address to the raucous open gaming nights that gave attendees a chance to unwind and socialize, the symposium is for people who are serious about playing games. The audience was as engaged as you’ll ever see at a professional conference. You might think that was just because we were talking about games to gamers, but you’d be wrong. These aren’t just gamers, they are people who understand gaming, how it works, what it means, and just how important it can be in the future of education.