Gaming in libraries: Addressing Contemporary Literacy Challenges Through Play

Estimated reading time for article: 4 mins

By James Johnson

Today’s youth have vast opportunities to access games and other forms of play media. Gaming has long since been a large part of play for generations, however today we see gaming incorporated not simply as tools of play but learning tools for multimedia literacy. Acknowledging the importance of gaming has become vital in implementing literacy strategies and policies for many modern libraries. As gaming develops and becomes a bigger part of society, so too develop problematic concerns surrounding potentially negative aspects of gaming, such as addiction and violence. Though it has been demonstrated that modern games can contain graphic violence and can be potentially addictive, it has also been demonstrated that these issues pale in comparison to the benefits of gaming as promotion for literacy.

Gaming has been present and a part of library culture for quite some time. In the past libraries in the UK installed billiard tables and chess boards to attract more patrons. Decisions to add gaming fixtures in the library was progressive, an attempt to draw more people to a building long believed to be solely for the purpose of quiet, reflective reading.

The games we enjoy today are quite different from those of yesteryear. Board games have evolved into creative, challenging, and engaging mediums of gaming. Video games have grown with technology to incorporate intensely realistic and troubling themes. Concerns have arisen regarding the influence these games can have on our reactions and contributions to violence.

News agencies have reported in the past on violent incidents in the public, suggesting a correlation between violence in reality and violence in video games . But this is not the case according to Ferguson et al. In their 2016 study they found that stating video games are a source for aggressive behavior and violence is too simplistic a response to the issue, and their results suggest the correlation is null

Another concern often voiced regarding gaming is the potentiality of addiction. However, Scott Nicholson suggests that there are plenty of preexisting addictive mediums in the library already, such as books or movies.

In addition to the Ferguson findings, further readings can find links to how video games engage players in new forms of literacy development. Buchanan and Vanden-Elzen write that “Video games do introduce a new literacy because messages are encoded and decoded in new ways”. This introduction of a new type of literacy is extremely important and supporting it as a library service is specifically important.

Children are learning with new mediums. Technology is more than a tool for literacy. Technological literacy is paramount for the development of children to become successful adults in society. I believe that the technology sector will be a primary employer of the next generation. Vivian Alvarez has a similar view in the connection between tech literacy and the future success of our children in the workforce, stating it is “more important than ever before as we foster a generation of students who must be lifelong learners as technology—and its impact on their careers—rapidly evolves throughout their lives”.

Storytelling has evolved and we share experiences with each other using these evolved mediums. Education can be bolstered by incorporating video games to assist in children’s literacy. Librarians Swiatek and Gorsse believe that their profession will inevitably deal with developing and supporting gaming services as core policies become standard.

The components of gaming like education, learning, addiction, violence, literacy, and it’s history are important factors in determining how the library can adopt services that address the complexity and significance of gaming for the community. I think it’s clear that gaming has more positive potential than negative, and like Swiatek and Gorsse, I believe that addressing the need for policy and service development is crucial for the library to continue to stay relevant.

For more information, check out the sources contained in this article:

“Playing Games at the Library: Seriously?” By Swiatek and Gorsse
“Do Video Games Lead to Violence?” By Susan Scutti
“Games and Literacy”  and “Gaming in Library Session: concern about gaming in libraries” by Scott Nicholson
“Violent Video Games Don’t Increase Hostility in Teens, but They Do Stress Girls out.”  By Christopher Ferguson et al.
“Beyond a Fad: Why Video Games Should Be Part of 21st Century Libraries.” By Kym Buchanan and Angela M. Vanden Elzen
“Engaging Students in the Library through Tabletop Gaming.” By Vivian Alvarez

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