Thursday, February 28, 2008

*Good* video games news...

I realize that most of the writing I do about video games is to complain about the sexism or racism contained in a game, or to talk about the problems within gaming culture, and that there are times when people coming here must think "and this guy likes games?"

So, I want to thank Mighty Ponygirl for writing this post about libraries in my home state providing access to video games. It's a brief article, but very interesting. Some of the local libraries have started keeping video games as a part of their collections, and have even begun hosting competitions for games like Guitar Hero.

The same article appears in the Houston Chronicle, but allows comments. Which, as you might imagine, are less than enthusiastic. Of course, there's the manditory "what about people who go to the library for peace and quiet?" comment. I have to wonder when the last time someone who makes a comment like that was actually at a library. Many libraries have: computer and internet access, televisions with movie viewing, children's play areas, music listening stations, etc. None of those things have stopped the library from also having plenty of space for people who are looking for peace and quiet. Many libraries have specific rooms set up to allow for groups to meet or for allowing people to view videos or listen to music.

My favorite comment is probably the third one down:
And the degradation of society continues. Is the library system here actually dumb enough to think that by renting video games that the kids will actually maybe check out a book? No...all they are assisting in is the expanded breeding of zombies with no social or intellectual skills.

Ah, yes, the good ol' "Video games will rot your brain!" argument. That never gets old. First of all, is anyone else tired of hearing about "the degradation of society"? Because, really, I'm not seeing it. We hit bumps and snags, but you know what, I think, in the scheme of things, society gets better over time. At what point in time do these people think we were better off? The 80s? The 50s? The 1850s? When were so much more cultured and morally virtuous? We're by no means perfect, and we've still got a long way to go, but, really... we were better off when people of color and women were treated like property, most people in our nation didn't have indoor plumbing, and the average life expectancy was less than sixty years?

Oh, right, when people talk about how society is crumbling, they usually mean either "there's something new that I don't like, and it scares me" or "my moral values are being questioned and opposed, and I don't like it." My mistake.

But, seriously, what does this person think that the library is full of, right now? Nothing but Great Works By Important Dead People? Becuase, as MP points out, there are plenty of, shall we say, socially and intellectually bankrupt books in a library. I used to check out Christopher Pike books all the time when I was young. If Tales From the Crypt and Saved By the Bell got together and created paperback spawnlings, Christopher Pike's books would be the result.

Which is to say: they're total pulp.

Delicious, delicious pulp, but pulp none-the-less.

The points that writer was getting to are a pretty common, though. There's this idea of The Library that's currently at war with what libraries are becoming. It used to be that people thought of The Library as some kind of massive brick or stone structure full of Important Information. Like Ye Olde Hall of Knowledge.

I think that's why we have the stereotype of the librarian as a mean old woman with glasses who hisses at us to be quiet all the time, and why we imagine rows upon rows of old, dusty books on stacks up to the ceiling.

The reality is that the role of libraries has been changing for years. Libraries themselves are changing. They're not just those massive intimidating stone slabs, anymore- they're becoming more and more modern, all the time. Many put as much emphasis on technology and art as they do literature. Libraries are an archive, yes, but they're not just a text archive. They're also a social institution.

As society has changed, so has the function of a library. One of the greatest things about a library is the invaluable service that it provides a society. Libraries not only collect and archive the products of a society, but they provide access to information and services and to the people who would otherwise be unable to share in them.

There's a social benefit in providing access to things like computers and film and, yes, video games. Even if video games were a completely worthless pursuit (which they're not)... so what? I actually think that, yes, the mere fact of getting the kid into the library to play the game has the potential to get the kid interested in books. Especially if, as MP suggests, the staff are using the opportunity to cross-promote related books, like displaying music related books around are in the area where you're hosting a Rock Band competition.

I think that there's still a lot of discussion to happen about how, exactly, we see the role of the library- particularly in the information age, when it's starting to seem like everything is available online and in digital form. But I think that the concept of the library as the Hallowed Hall of Written Text and Knowledge is long over. If someone is completely offended by the idea of the library as community space, I suspect that they're not visiting enough libraries.

In other, related, news:

I mailed my graduate application today. Let the nervousness of Waiting to Hear Back begin.


Amy said...

What great news! I'm crossing my fingers that the libraries around Lansing will follow suit. You're right about the changing nature of libraries; I worked shelving books and movies at the local library as a high schooler, and I remember what a big deal starting to get DVDs into the collection was. The stodgier library assistants complained about how the library "wasn't Blockbuster." Funny, they were used to VHS rentals... I can't imagine what they'd say about this! Thanks for sharing.

EG said...

OK, it's not that I disagree with you--in fact, I completely agree and I have no problem with libraries lending out video games.

But the picture of a modern library that you showed? Looks to me like a Starbuck's or maybe the waiting room of a dentist's office. The picture of the older library (is it Columbia University's Butler library, by any chance?) looks cozy and welcoming.

Roy said...

The two-story one with the lovely red chairs? That's the library at Yale.

I can definitely appreciate the "classic" library- the pictures were mostly because I was feeling visual today. It was surprisingly difficult to find photographs of some of the really lovely modern libraries.

Aoi said...

Your comments are exactly the reason I sent in my library school application yesterday. :o)

Roy said...

That's funny, because I applied to a library and info science school, too.

Good luck!

Aoi said...

You didn't by chance apply to Wayne State did you? (I live in the Metro-Detroit area too.) I know Michigan also has a program, but I thought their deadline had passed? Either way, good luck to you too!

Roy said...

Nope, not Wayne State- I'm looking out of state, and applied to Simmons.

roses said...

Hee! I used to devour Christopher Pike books! (RL Stine too, but I prefered Christopher Pike).

But you're right that the people complaining probably haven't set foot in a library for years... when I went to the library more often, I used to see kids who came to the library to play internet games on the computer all the time. I didn't see the problem, it's nice that kids whose parents can't afford internet access (or just choose not to have it) have a place to come and play games. Same with video games.

Good luck getting into school =)

Sunflower said...

I can't help going that one short step farther and wondering if such folks never go near libraries because they find the archetypal The Library intimidating - but associate that intimidation with Culture. If it's not intimidating to the plebes, it's not real Culture, it's just pop culture or folk culture, and doesn't count [eyeroll].

It seems to me that a kid who goes to the library to play video games is, at the very least, becoming comfortable being physically proximate to books, which is a considerable improvement, and more likely to stimulate literacy, than being uncomfortable around books.

Loved the Yale library pic - bookworm porn!


Sovawanea said...

I will definitely be showing this post to my boyfriend, who currently works in a music and dance library and is in library school, when he wakes up.

Modern libraries really are often ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. I remember the local libraries in Tulsa and at my school having scanning stations for you to check out your own books long before the grocery store put in the self check out lane.

One of the projects that my boyfriend does now is work on system where people can have access to librarians and staff in his library system through IM. I can't think of a better way for kids today to have access to a someone who knows about references and resources beyond google and wikipedia.

Some kids may come to library only for the video games, but if they know where it is and how to get to it, they might actually use it when they have to do a report. Libraries also are a great one stop for tons of other resources. They usually have everything from voter registration to tax forms and often other municipal or county applications and forms are available and rare in this day and age of automated phone systems, the library has real, live people to help you with them too.

Libraries are awesome and the more than can find to offer their consumers, the better.