Games in the Library

Video Game Shelf Side 1

Getting games into the classroom is easy when the games are free and short: however, class time is limited, and getting copies of certain games for an entire classroom can be prohibitively expensive. Assigning a game as a class text is also difficult in many programs, as doing so often requires making assumptions about the computer or console that students have access to—not to mention the cost of the game or equipment, and the tech savvy required to get classic games running. Even the availability of games or other digital resources can be challenging. Networks such as Steam have started preserving a wider range of games via digital distribution, but those aren’t necessarily the game that will be most valuable for your class.

I wrestled with this problem when teaching the history of video games, a course where there were far more games than class time could cover, and no easy way to make games playable by more than a few students each round. The same problem can apply even when a single game or simulation would be an important resource for your class. To address some of the problems of play, I’ve started keeping a personal lending library of boardgames in my office. However, that doesn’t work as easily for digital equipment, and it’s a lot to keep organized.

The library is a natural home for games and digital resources, although your institution might not yet have a program for managing them. Some universities have already established game libraries, as the Chronicle covered earlier this year, and outside of academia libraries have been considering the value of games—Scott Nicholson offered a roadmap for these efforts in Everyone  Plays at the Library. The archives of the Games in Libraries podcast offer insight into some of the many project bringing games and gameplay into libraries. The University of Michigan Computer & Video Game Archive is an inspiring dedicated space, while University of California Santa Cruz has an impressive collection of video games available for check-out along with consoles and games within the library. Handing digital materials brings with it new archiving problems, as the Preserving Virtual Worlds project among others has studied. Even board games, with their many fragile or easily lost pieces, represent a challenge to maintain in a playable state.

We’re just getting started with games in the library at my university as library faculty members Mike Kiel and Bill Helman (along with myself and other faculty) are building a new collection with the help of an internal technology grant. We hope that as we start setting the foundation it can expand to cover other digital artifacts—not to mention our own students’ digital work. Some of the questions we’ve had to consider include:

  • Access – A room of video game consoles and play stations requires resources of both space and people that not all institutions have. Checking out materials from a secure cabinet eliminates some of these problems, but makes it less likely for students to see and know about these resources.
  • Storage – Video games can represent a significant investment in a small package, and games can also be fragile. It’s not just a matter of storing games: there are endless numbers of peripherals that may be of value to different programs, and those need to be stored properly while remaining accessible.
  • Maintenance – Technology is constantly evolving, and the equipment necessary to run a new significant game or simulation can be an investment. Keeping a collection running on donations is more likely to bring older games and systems, which might require restoration and maintenance, than it is to bring in newer systems.
  • Scope – There are far more games available than a new archive can possibly support, and faculty need to prioritize in building a foundation that supports their desired class “texts.” Beyond that, students and outside forces can play a big role: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign library, for instance, invites both donations and suggestions of games to buy. Faculty might have their own lists, and libraries can also be a resource for helping faculty new to games and simulations find resources valuable for their class learning outcomes.

Getting games into the library for the first time can be challenging, but the reward is the potential for integrating more diverse games and digital resources into the classroom and beyond while extending time for playful engagement and study. Do you have games or simulations in your library? Are there digital experiences you try to provide your students outside the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons Licensed photo by Flickr user Plat]

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