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Video Games in Libraries: Don’t Ignore Single Player Games

Having been a librarian for 9 years, discussion of libraries and video games has seemed a near constant. Early in my career, I took a webinar on how to use video games in libraries. I even got to spend work time playing Runescape. We held Guitar Hero tournaments. We bought systems. We worked video gaming into our programming. Even after nine years, questions still exist. The videogame landscape constantly shifts. What are libraries doing to offer gaming to their teens? What can they be doing better? What games should libraries own? What systems?

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You have to do what is best for your organization and teens. However, we can discuss some trends and best practices. For a few posts, I will discuss video games for programming.

Conventional wisdom says libraries should offer games where the largest numbers of players can play simultaneously. I wonder how many libraries own Wiis for this reason. Multi-player games are terrific. They get teens involved. They can create community. However, I implore librarians to not ignore single player titles for their library.

Video Games for Libraries

With the rise of Youtube and Twitch, teens are accustomed to watching people play games, sometimes never even playing certain titles for themselves. Watching their peers playthrough video games can often be more rewarding for all of the teens involved.

Video games are often lauded for their increasingly complex storytelling. This is something librarians can/should get behind. Unfortunately, multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros. offer little in complex storytelling or to make difficult ethical decisions that affect the rest of the gameplay. Single player games like Portal 2 (which also offers multi-player), Elder Scrolls, or anything by Telltale Games offer players a richer, deeper play experience.

So what about those watching? Well, they can get many of the same experiences of gameplay by offering their own input to the play experience. These single-player game experiences often turn into a more collaborative gameplay for those involved, whereas many multiplayer games are competition based. One of my favorite videogame moments from my library was watching a group of teens play through Portal 2. Portal 2 can often be a complicated puzzle game, so the teens would work together to solve the levels. It is also quite funny, as GLaDOS, the game’s antagonist, has a biting wit. She also creates a common enemy.

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While players can switch off controllers with these single-player games, those aren’t the only experiences available to them. Super Mario Maker offers gamers the experience of building their own levels, which they can then challenge their friends to complete. Mario Maker allows budding game developers a relatively simple platform for building levels without having to know code. To make good levels, though, understanding game design is key. While your teens may not spend hours learning good level design, their peers will reflexively offer it. “This level sucks!” “I like the part with the Goombas!” Using this feedback, teens can improve upon their design to offer better gameplay for their peers. They can, of course, use the level-making as a collaborative experience, as well. High school teachers and college professors who love to require group projects will forever be thwarted by video gamers!

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When purchasing games for your programming, consider games that also offer a multi-player experience. Portal 2, any Lego game, Minecraft, and NBA 2K(insert year) have been popular with teens for both solo play and to face off in multi-player game modes. Minecraft also allows for creative mode. Try out Little Big Planet or Mario Maker, even Super Smash Bros., to allow your teens a chance to design their own levels.

— Scott Rader, currently playing Infinite Loop