Old news / good news

The Danforth house has been in a bit of an uproar lately, so my apologies for not drawing your attention to these bits of news before now. If you’ve been staying on top of things, this is old news but just in case you’ve missed it — these are things you shouldn’t have missed.

November 12th, 2011 is National Gaming @ Your Library Day. Your library has signed up, right? You’ve already got plans to participate? Great! I would expect nothing less of you.

If you’re shuffling your feet and thinking “I meant to but I’ve been busy” … well, as I said above, I can relate too well and sympathize. Follow my lead here: you too can play catchup because it’s not too late! Here is the ALA blog about NGD, with linked information. You can sign up here, and if your patrons and stakeholders have questions about the program — now in its fourth year — you can point them to http://ilovelibraries.org/gaming/.

It was hard not to notice the sheer quantity of news reports in the middle of last month, that gamers playing Foldit (“Solve Puzzles for Science”) solved the structural puzzle of “a protein causing AIDS in rhesus monkeys that hadn’t been solved for 15 years … resolved by Foldit players and confirmed by x-ray crystallography.” (quotation source) For many decades, rhesus monkeys have been the research animal of choice when doing studies of human biology and pathogens, so this is significant. World-changing, even. It’s not even the first protein unravelled by dedicated gamers.

Is it Gears of War they’re playing? World of Warcraft? Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder maybe? No, Foldit is its own game, ostentibly in beta (which is a commonly-accepted way of saying “We’re constantly looking for ways to improve this but it’s working pretty well for now.”). Hundreds of thousands of players around the world are engaged, from 13 year old prodigies who think “it just looks right that way” to systematic visual thinkers determined to head up the scoreboard. Many contribute their computer’s unused processing power to assist, much like the SETI project.

Understanding the biochemical structure of a protein is an essential and necessary step toward battling this disease into submission. Unless you’re someone who thinks AIDS only afflicts those who somehow “deserve” it, or who just denigrate anything positive that others endeavor to do, this is a good thing.

Which game is being played is almost beside the point. This success in FoldIt is rooted in the mindset of gamers around the world: the conviction that problems can be solved, that individual action can make a valuable difference while facing seemingly hopeless conditions with all the odds against you, and that evil can be fought. That sometimes, maybe, we can win.

I personally find that a laudable, honorable, and even heroic effort. I hope in the future, there may there be many more foes vanquished by the sharp wits of citizen science and FoldIt.

At the start of last month, the Videogame History Museum received its initial funding through the crowdsourced Kickstarter site, raising over $50,000 to archive “Every game made for every system, every piece of promotional material made for each game, every revision of every console with specific notes as to the differences, the design progression….” In short, they seek to be the one-stop source documenting the societal seachange that is video games.

(For the record: I prefer to use two words where they use one, for the same reason we speak of “soccer games” and “baseball games” but not “footballgames” or even “cardgames.” They’re all games, and “video” is the descriptor, the adjective modifying the noun.)

They sought only $30k in funding, so it was nice to see them exceed it substantially. But why is this any more than a casual “yay, games?” There is already the International Center for the History of Electronic Games after all, one of the Strong Museum Partners in Rochester, NY.

Arguably, a museum and archives dedicated to video games serves as a benchmark recognizing the impact video games have had on American culture, and on the modern zeitgeist worldwide. Link and Mario are characters recognized, beloved, by millions in every corner of the planet.

Yet as far-reaching as gaming culture is, it is at the same time as ephemeral as the last release, the latest console, and the most recent patch. Preserving our history is an important factor to helping everyone understand and accept what this culture is and has been — perhaps what it might become. Museums are fundamentally teaching institutions, capable of setting their collections in front of the public in a way that explains context and impact. It doesn’t matter if it is a national natural history museum or a museum of postage stamps.

In the same world where we have music museums and baseball halls of fame, I think this is a very appropriate effort. I look forward to seeing more from this group now that their funding is secured.

Game on!