March 24th, 2010

Mark!

Have you played video games at the library

From GamePolitics: I guess Toronto wants to put games in their libraries? Great idea, I'm down with it. This way, ten years from now when I tell someone they should really play Okami, they can just nip down to their local branch and check it out instead of having to scour the secondhand stores for a copy. Groundbreaking, medium-advancing titles will finally be located in an organized system for ease of reference and critical review. Those of us who are interested in gaming on an intellectual level, as opposed to simply rating them as "good" or "bad", "fun" or "dull", will have plenty of material at our disposal without resorting to illegal downloading.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with why they really want to buy games.
The central library in Ann Arbour, Mich., began hosting gaming events in 2004. Now, upwards of 100 people turn out several times a month to play. “The events turn non-library users into library users. It’s not so important how they use the library, it’s that they use it,” said Eli Neiburger, an associate director for the library’s IT department who organizes the events.

I understand why this argument has to be made, as well as other talking points that are brought up, such as the literary value of games (although I question their use of Pokemon as the example, since most of the dialogue in that series consists of "let's fight!" and "oh no your charmander made my rattata his bitch :(" [admittedly, it's been a while since I played Pokemon, so maybe it's improved]) and the introduction to historical context (what better way is there to get teens excited about the "me decade" 80s than with a round of Vice City?) After all, we have to explain to the naysaying traditionalists why we want to put Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now for that matter, next to Lara Croft's adventures in Tomb Raider. One is a deep exploration of the psyche of men who would be conquerors in unknown lands; the second is a reimagining of the first, with the additional depth of the Vietnam conflict as a backdrop; and the last is... a game where a character whose best-known design feature was an accident beats up aliens in Peruvian ruins, or something. Hm.

This is the problem: by making a case based purely on the entertainment factor, the library undermines its own purpose. If the point were simply to get people through the door, they'd move Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill to the front and put all those dusty Brontë stories in a storeroom. Wham, bam, welcome to the library ma'am. It's not enough to state that something should be in a library because it's entertaining, or lurid, or provocative. It needs to go in there because it's information. To needlessly steal and mutilate a phrase which I never particularly cared for in the first place, the media is the groundwork for the archival reiteration of humanity's endeavors.