Meet the Gamers, Embrace The Others

I just finished up a really interesting article over on LJ: "Meet the Gamers" by Kurt Squire & Constance Steinkuehler. They have some neat ideas on who we should be looking to for direction in the coming years. While I loved the article, I think they focused on the wrong people—gamers. So rather than focusing on everything they got right, I'll just write a quick bit about what I think they may have overlooked. That doesn't mean I think this is a bad article, not by a long shot, I just think the focus is just a bit off. It's not a bad idea to meet the gamers, but you may want to look elswhere for support and direction. You boomers out there might be surprised to learn that games have been the medium of choice for decades now. The millennials we continued to praise for being so "different" are, in reality, not all that different from many of us born after the mid 1960s. Some of us in our 30s and even in our 40s grew up with computers and electronic games and many of us are now living in the same sort of hyperconnected world reportedly occupied only by teenagers. It may be possible that focusing on gamers misplaces our engergies on people who'll probably never see any value in libraries.It's important to remember that games are an escape, especially for hard-core gamers. Since libraries will always be firmly planted in reality (yes, I'm ignoring the entire fiction section, and probably most of AV as well), we're a world away from many gamers. Games require very specialized skills that aren't easily transferable back to the real world. Games also require hours and hours of free time, and plenty of money. While I may disagree partially with this article’s conclusions on the importance of games, and gamers, I do know they represent, very well, the idea that it’s essential to embrace different types of thinking and learning styles if we are going to thrive in the future. This has nothing to do with millennials and how we think they're living their lives, but rather on the movement away from the centralized control of information. I think they are right in saying this is where we need to focus our energies; this is where our world is changing before our eyes.

While it may be true gamers play a role in creating knowledge and adding value to their games, I think it's of very limited usefulness when compared with other groups known to frequent the realm of the microprocessor and TCP/IP: open source hackers, bloggers, and the wiki people. These last three groups create knowledge and information that is easily transferable to others, knowledge that is useful in a wide range of situations, and materials that can be applied, practically, to everyday situations in libraries, homes and workplaces. These "Open Source Knowledge Creators" are a group that shouldn't need any introduction to the LISNews audience. We're all a part of that group here.

The movement towards collaborative creation of authoritative works has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to an ever-shrinking world connected by the internet. For the few of us that choose to actively participate in these new ways of creation, this world has become interactive. New tools enable collaboration and put control of what we create, use, and read in our own hands. Much of what we can do and learn through the computer is now participatory, and I'm not talking about games. We have built a collaboratitve environment that has scaled well beyond anything we could've imagined 10 or 15 years ago. As librarians it's up to us to open up this world (built by Generation X, used by Millennials) to the Boomers, and the Boomers’ parents.

It makes no difference whether those we are serving grew up in a media landscape made up of bits & bytes or one printed on dead trees: as librarians we must strive to bring the best information to the greatest number of people, regardless of format or source. We are in the unique position to show how the social networks enabled by the internet can help all our patrons, not just with traditional library information-gathering skills, but in a variety of situations. Beyond connecting with old friends, kids, and grandkids, we can connect patrons with specialists and experts from all fields, help them with cross-country job searches and give them access to library-sponsored chatcasts with authors. Tools that most of us take for granted—AIM, Wikis, blogs and web browsers—are still Star Trek-like dreams for many people who could benefit greatly if they have the desire, access and training. As the have-nots struggle to develop an understanding of the changing information environment many libraries have moved and are moving to, we must be there to help them.

Like Steinkuehler & Squire, I can't resist imagining libraries in a more collaborative environment. But, while gamers are busy imagining they are on a different planet, we need to be working hard to get information to our users back here on Planet Earth. Libraries with all the goodies—blogs, wikis, and all the other browser-based applications allow our open source knowledge creators who are already creating and sharing content to help us fufil our mission. They already see the benefits of collaboration, open access, and information literacy. They have the skills necessary to carry out the new mission of libraries in the 21st century. Our mission needs to be to convince them, and others, that libraries are not just piles of old dusty books. We know our print collections are current, our digital collections practically unlimited, and our skills as librarians unbeatable, but we must get this message to everyone.

Knowing how to serve the information needs of the digital generation should be, by now, obvious to all of us not merely passing time before retirement. Our days as information monopolists are long over, and we must now realize that thanks to budgets, Google, and poor marketing, many of our users, young and old, no longer see our value. We can no longer work simply as gatekeepers and enablers to the vast stores of information contained in printed sources. As Wendy Lougee put it so well, we are moving into a time of diffusion. Gamers are but one small portion of a large and diverse public of all ages we need to be meeting with, and moving along with. We need to help move libraries forward for our patrons by forcing our vendors to add new features, or moving to systems that will allow us to add our own. While the gamers have their heads buried in their PS2s, we must reach out to those creating real value and content. As librarians we must be able to serve those who can compile their own version of the Linux Kernel, and those who've never touched a mouse before. The gamers will take care of themselves.

I highly recommend “Meet The Gamers.� There is much to be learned in this article. I only suggest we focus our efforts on different groups.


>We have built a collaboratitve environment that has scaled well beyond anything we could've imagined 10 or 15 years ago. As librarians it's up to us to open up this world (built by Generation X, used by Millennials) to the Boomers, and the Boomers’ parents.>While you make some very good points, I think you should acknowledge that Wikipedia, perhaps the best example of your quote above, and other sites as well, were built by Boomers, not Generation X.

I'm a troll and I didn't even know it. There are likely many gamers who don't see the immediate value in libraries, you said it better than I did, I've never claimed to be a great writer.I'm not even sure my dismissal was implied. We all have limited hours in the day, we have just a small amount of time to choose who we try to engage with. How we make those choices is left up to us, but I just see this one group as not high on my list. My experience has shown that if someone is a hard-core anything they have little time for other things.I write this as an ex-hard-core-gamer who wasted years of his life on nothing. Taking a closer look at the life and habits of those who aren't exactly like me was just one small part of thinking through this article. LISNews is just one way I take a closer look at the life and habits of those who aren't exactly like me every day.A few vague generalizations is about all one can put in a single article, but you certainly raise some good ideas for another article, or two.

Good point. We're all limited by our experiences. I think gamers are limited in their focus and this limits their skills. This is probably true of ANY group we choose to define based on some kind of limiting criteria.

I dunno, maybe I have a skewed data set, but all of my friends go much for the books -- fiction and all -- and most of us are hard-core gamers (both electronic and traditional).

On the other hand, it was a friend of mine who is about to start a community access television program on gaming who recently blogged about his distaste for libraries, rooted, I recall, in how annoying it was to return books -- that is, run an errand and walk away with less than what you started with.

As always, I'm amused by discussions of millennials. I'm 31 -- not a millennial by any stretch -- and yet except for the prevalence of instant messaging and cellular phones, I grew up with the same technology that these kids did. And I use it the same way.

With regards to gamers, I've always been impressed with their information-seeking and information-disseminating tendencies. The thing I've seen missing in my interaction is an understanding that there's information that can be found were easily or more reliably in other ways -- not online, not by somebody self-taught. "How did people learn anything before the Internet?" they ask.

And I guess to me it doesn't seem like that big a deal. Gamers are already information-seeking and information disseminating, and the only trick for libraries to reach them is to find out that if we have resources that they don't, and if we can help them. And if we can't help them, because they have no needs they aren't fulfilling themselves, there's no problem. They're doing a very good job.

As for learning from gamers, as the article suggests -- again, maybe I have a skewed data set. But all the librarians I know in real life and online (okay, I guess that really skews the data set) *are* interested in learning more about collaborative forms of information-dissemination. It's not that none of this information is true, it's just that I don't see it as important as learning how to reach populations that don't know how to seek and disseminate information.

... I suppose that the gamer paradigm of information-sharing might be a new way to try to reach otherwise underserved populations, so that could be useful side effect.

First let me clarify. I don't think there will ever be holodecks, at least on the level of Star Trek. The difference between a light show and a hard light show is the difference between walking and flying (without wings). The point was one of comparison. You're looking at gaming as the same as simply TV watching. Its not. Galaxies is very socially active (technically TV could be too but thats another discussion). Online gaming takes fantasy and combines it with reality.

Picture this: You go home, you walk into the living room and sit down. You put on a pair of gloves which activates a full wall screen showing not a desktop but a full blown office. You can do the following...

Pay Bills, check accounts
Make video or audio only calls with family and friends.
Run through headlines of local and larger papers
Open a smaller window to view a tv show or movie
Get out of the chair and use the full view to enter an online community complete with your own full size avatar where you can use your own body as the control to do gaming (with some button functions in the gloves to take care of those fancy jumpkicks), research (astronomy clubs, archaeology, languages etc.), or even act out a Shakespearean play (Be Hamlet, Be King Lear!).
When your done with the accounts and socializing you can change the screen to the beach, bring up the Wurlitzer and play some music while you have supper and clean up the house.

This is all doable. Not today but soon. Everything's in place, the technology exists, its just not common enough. That could take a while. But in the meantime its working its way there, slowly but surely barring the Apocalypse.

On a positive note, one of those online places visited will be the local library (and I do mean local). We'll have all the local information and documentation, local history, local government, state government, some federal stuff. Lotsa of reference information (stuff ain't free you know). We'll still have a physical building with a Children's section and adult nonfiction and still fiction. The collections just are not going to be as big as they are right now and there's going to be some staff who wear those gloves all the time dealing with patrons from home.

And yes that was me about on demand, here's the link. Google got it. :)

"It may be possible that focusing on gamers misplaces our engergies on people who'll probably never see any value in libraries."

As both a librarian and a gamer, I take particular exception to this statement. I work with serials, act in plays, read, watch movies and play an online game. Among other things.

While I don't deny that there are likely many gamers who don't see the immediate value in libraries, I'm also firmly of the opinion that this can be remedied, and resent your implied dismissal of a group of potential users that makes up a considerable portion of the population. Some pretty hard-core gamers also fall into the categories of the bloggers, developers, etc. that you lionize.

Perhaps you should take a closer look at the life and habits of those who aren't exactly like you before brushing them off with a few vague generalizations.

I for one can't wait for the holodeck, but I'd rather my flying car first.I know it's really cheating ignoring fiction et. al. especially for publics. I still think "real" gamers don't much go for the books, and don't think about libraries. I guess I tend to think like an academic when it comes to libraries, having never worked in a public.Wasn't that you that commented about HDTC and pay-per-view movies and on demand music having a big effect on circ numbers since much of what publics circulate. Quite interesting. Jeeze our search engine sucks, I can't find it, but it was one of those comments I just stared at for a bit because it was something I'd never heard or thought of before.>>The person I was talking to spent 2 years reaching Jedi status.Exactly. 2 years of time spent on doing one thing in one game. This is the best way for someone to spend their time? I'm also skeptical about stocking games or trying to get involved with the play. Damn it, I hate when I agree with you, it's just not natural.I don't think games/tv make people smarter because I think people can spend their time making themselves even more, uh, smarter, doing things like learning to write code, reading about something useful, hell, most people would be better off learning to rollerblade just to get some exercise. I see people spending too much time and money trying to relax and/or escape from reality. I'm sure when I'm on my death bed I'm not going to look back and wish I'd spent more time watching TV or playing Doom. So I guess my point here is, there's nothing wrong with a bit of tv/games/whatever, but is that really the best way to spend our limited time? Probably not. I'm no workaholic, but I know when I'm watching Dr. Who, there's probably something better I could be doing.My flying car won't be invented by someone who spent 2 years reaching Jedi status.

How terrible to not have a special category to be lumped into! Quick, someone--coin a phrase for these poor people.

Rochelle, tail-end Boomer

"Since libraries will always be firmly planted in reality (yes, I'm ignoring the entire fiction section, and probably most of AV as well), we're a world away from many gamers."

Unfortunetly you can't do that. Those two sections and all their subsections make up the majority of public library use and are our easiest way of keeping the public happy, i.e. throwing money our way.

Gamers aren't 'gamers'. They're people who enjoy movies, tv, and *books* and also really enjoy the oppurtunity of getting inside of each of those and living out the story. A game, particularly the online PvPs, is just an early version of a holodeck.

The only reason I'm bringing this up is because I just had a long conversation with someone who plays the online Star Wars game (Galaxies I think). I'm pretty sure that if Harlequin ever decides to plug a few millions dollars into developing a similar game where you can go to Pirate World or Mystery World or Regency World, then our circulation is going to drop considerably. This doesn't affect the 'reality' based end of our existence but it does pare down the role and purpose of the library as a whole.

As to the article. I'm skeptical about stocking such games or trying to get involved with the play. The original Mario was good for a couple weeks of play but they've gotten so advanced now that a regular game is worth months of invested time and the community based ones like Galaxies can be counted in years. The person I was talking to spent 2 years reaching Jedi status.

He's 39 this year. Too young to be a boomer, not quite an Xer? Jimmy Wales.

I too read the LJ article - more than once. It is certainly a good read, and it's important for any service organization to know and understand its user community. We clearly need to adapt to societal change and technology advancement - and since I've been working in academic libraries the evidence is that we do this fairly well as a profession. However, I can't help but be somewhat skeptical about the gamers hype. OCLC seems to have bought into it in a big way (see their latest newsletter). I think Blake makes a good point that every generation brings with it unique characteristics and behaviors. We need to adjust, but I don't think as radically as is suggested by the articles I've been reading. I spoke with my 21-year old son about the article and gaming. He tells me that gamers are really in the minority. By his definition a gamer is someone obsessed with game playing - and probably plays about 5 or 6 hours a day. Yes, pretty much everyone he knows - and he as well - play video games to chill out or for a break from study - but most students (millenials) don't think of themselves as gamers - they just like to play a game every now and then and video/computer games are the current mode of game playing (they also play board games in groups - just for fun). My son thought the idea of his library offering games and game playing machines or hosting game competitions to be utterly ridiculous. He said most true gamers have highly sophisticated gaming configurations in their rooms and rarely leave their cocoon for game playing elsewhere. From his perspective he thought that libraries should stick to what they do well - and not try to cash in on current trends. He thought most real gamers would see that as a pretty pathetic attempt to get their attention (sort of like our parents playing some rock and roll to make us think they're hip to our generation - pretty phony - right). That's where you can really get cynical about the whole gaming thing. Is it really something we need to pay attention to - or allow it to modify how we do our jobs or offer services - or is this just a few academics cashing in on a new trend in order to bloat their own resumes. So, who's buying some snake oil?

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