When I talk about the massively multiplayer games as I have recently, I do try to keep in mind the practical applications and information useful to libraries and librarians. It’s been on my mind lately because I’m working on a project with ALA gaming expert Julie Scordato that touches on the topic, and it seems like there’s a lot hitting my radar lately.
MMO programs aren’t a simple, easy fit for libraries but game-savvy librarians do invest themselves in learning about them, typically on a personal level initially. That interest quickly blends over to professional considerations, and can offer rewards in innovative patron services.
Then again, that’s true of any of the library gaming activities if they are more complex than Sorry and Rock Band. If you want to run a role-playing game, you need to read and learn, and most of all play. RPGs are not plug’n'play games and all along I’ve said “gaming is experiential; you need to do it to get it.” That’s largely true of all the games we might offer. But there’s more value to be had from games like the various MMOs than strictly providing activities for patrons, too. You can get value from it, and more than just a chance to have some fun. (You get that as a nice sideperk.)
Did you notice when Harry Potter or Twilight or Diary of a Wimpy Kid were first starting to get hot? How many books in the series were out before you took notice? Now I’ll ask: do you know what MMO the middle schoolers are playing on your computers? If you answered “Runescape“, you’re several years out of date although that free MMO is still very popular. Chances are better that they’re playing Cartoon Network’s “Fusion Fall” or some other.
Does it matter? Personally, I say you should know about it, just like you know something about the series I listed even if you haven’t read all the Wimpy Kids books yourself. Moreover, you may be surprised to learn that the elegant and literary Lord of the Rings Online has recently changed over to free-to-play, making it more accessible for library use. Librarians should be lining up to develop game-related programming based on this franchise.
NETWORKING: MMOs AS THE NEW GOLF
I mentioned the R U Game? seminars in a previous post, the mini-conferences taking place in World of Warcraft (Saurfang realm, Alliance) where speakers assemble to talk about gaming in libraries to attendees coming from around the world. Michael Pate and Michael Porter still run the active Libraries and Librarians guild on the Aerie Peak server (Alliance), welcoming all library staff and their families. The Cognitive Dissonance guild on Sisters of Elune formed from a group of educators exploring the concept of MMORPGs and their relationship to education. Peggy Sheehy of the WoW in Schools project introduced me to this group.
If fantasy worlds of swords and dragons are not your fare, Scott Turnbull (software development manager at Emory University Libraries) recently established a “corporation” [fantasy players: think "guild" or "clan"] in the science fiction space game EVE Online . His purpose is to assemble a place where professionals with similar interests ‚ whether librarians, academics, educators, scholars or non-profit and community leaders ‚ can “experience one of the deepest online gaming experiences available. We encourage members to share and discuss their experiences, [and] talk about it’s application for universities, libraries and schools and discuss what kind of impact we see from gaming on the players.” Contact him in-game as Aynder if you’re interested. Like most pay-to-play MMOs, there is a free trial option for you to see if it is going to be a game experience you want to pursue.
Libraries=books according to our oft-quoted OCLC study, and I hope never to see the day come when the two words have lost all association with each other. There are a ton of non-fiction books out there but science fiction novelists has been looking into MMOs for awhile now, and that might be more digestible fare. These that I’ll mention I have read myself, acknowledging there are many more out there.
Arguably the first author to write about avatars in massively multiplayer virtual worlds is Neal Stephenson, writing Snow Crash eighteen years ago. Snow Crash is an odd book but an excellent one, with both popular and critical recognition. Stephenson breaks some of the conventional “rules” of novel-writing, so English majors unversed in science fiction tropes might be engaged or quite put off.
Author Dennis McKiernan, fellow local resident and friend, wrote Caverns of Socrates a few years later. Sadly, it is now out of print but WorldCat tells me you can lay hand to over 300 library copies, either on your shelves or through interlibrary loan. Superficially about games and gamers, the book ultimately addresses questions of the very nature of reality. I know Dennis does not play MMOs or computer games, but he’s a hardcore old school tabletop gamer who is a wickedly clever storyteller and game designer in his own right. The thought-provoking book is well worth the time to hunt it down.
I’m in the middle of reading Diane Duane’s first Omnitopia book, finding her take on the experience of MMOs to be knowledgable, convincing, and reflective. The political and social machinations in progress promise a compelling story I’m eager to finish reading.
IN THE END
Massively multiplayer games are only continuing to grow in popularity. I could make a case for the ultra-casual games like Farmville being the wave of the future although, speaking honestly as a hobby gamer, such games make my eyes cross as I shake my head in disbelief. But my response exposes a fundamental truth about games: we all have different tastes in games. The flip side to that divisiveness is that we all like games of one kind or another, as humankind has enjoyed playing games from preliterate days. Part of our job as librarians today is to figure out what games and game activities will best serve our patrons. For some, it will be through our knowledge of the massively multiplayer games.