The rhinoceros in the room

rhinoceros.jpgI read a few chapters of Steven Johnson’s Everything bad is good for you over the weekend. (I am usually a little behind the curve on these things 😉 I was struck by the following quote:

I worry about the experiential gap between people who have immersed themsleves in games, and people who have only heard secondhand reports, because the gap makes it difficult to discuss the meaning of games in a coherent way. It reminds me of the way the social critic Jane Jacobs felt about the thriving urban neighborhoods she documented in the sixties: “People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is. People who do not will always have it a little worng in their heads – like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers’ descriptions of the rhinoceroses.”

The Jane Jacobs analogy is so good. This experience is familar to somebody who has moved between cultures, and who tries to explain what one is like to somebody from the other.
I think that we can observe something like this in many of the library discussions about gaming and social networking. For somebody who has not internalized the experiences, the tempation is to assimilate it to some other part of their experience. As in “Oh, it is like ….”. But, thinking it is like something else means that you may have it a ‘little wrong’, and miss the real meaning.

7 thoughts on “The rhinoceros in the room”

  1. I saw that rhino in 1993, when I first began training librarians on how to use the Internet. At least I’ve *seen* a computer game, if only in pictures…

  2. This is my number 1 beef. Half of my work is in the overlap between the digital games, digital library and education sectors. And yes, there is such an overlap.

    I do a lot of workshops, presentations and articles to the library community in this area. Often, if I don’t have enough context and background at the start, then I get “What the hell are you on about?” type questions. So, I have to spend some time explaining (usually with an actual games machine, or a movie of same) some concepts for a portion of the audience. Or, with a paper, using some of the word allocation on setting the scene.

    It is, however, getting easier. The number of people who are actively employed in the library sector who have never played digital games is easily in a minority, especially in the under 40’s. Many of the older librarians have children or grandchildren with game platforms, so it is often difficult to avoid. Remember too, that the average age of a gamer is in their mid-30’s, and over a third of regular gamers are female. Two stereotypes buried. Also, in many digital library organisations, most of the staff are gamers; certainly the case in OCLC.

    I’m doing a workshop in August in Holland entitled From Dewey to World of Warcraft: Libraries and Digital Games. From the comments I’ve had from likely and actual attendees (all of them library workers), I may be able to ditch the introduction to games altogether.

    Recommendation. If you don’t already, then play some games. Ignore the hype and media controversy; only 3 percent of games have the highest classification. Many games are thought provoking, involving, highly innovative and make varied use of technology. Crucially, the handhelds especially make great use of wireless multiplayer gameplay and data transmission – there is a lot going on there for digital library researchers to study and consider.

    Try one of the handheld consoles such as the Sony PSP or Nintendo DS, and games such as WarioWare, Trauma Center, Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, Brain Age, and Lumines. Happy gaming.

  3. This is so ‘Ouch’ for me. I ‘get’ social networking, tagging etc. because I signed up for Flickr & use it regularly. I get podcasting, because I bought an MP3 player & downloaded podcasts (including from The Podcast Network, which I am listening to now about 3G telephones). Clearly I read blogs. I learnt a lot – by doing. I did not understand why anyone would want a camera with their phone, until one day I was out walking – with my phone, but without my camera, and wanted to capture a wonderful scene. I still have not changed my phone, but at least I understand why someone would want one with a camera. I have read lots about gaming in libraries, talked to one of our staff who is an admitted gaming addict, but I still have not tried it. So as I said in a meeting yesterday – I still don’t get it. But at least I believe that it can be useful – even if I don’t have a use for it at the moment. Looks like I am going to have to try it.

  4. Anne,

    Here’s my “7 points to consider” for people new to digital games:

    1. Don’t get distracted by the technology at first. A good chess player focuses on strategy, rather than what the chess pieces are made of. Focus on the gameplay. Figure out the game. What do you have to do to progress through the game? When you’ve got to grips with a few games, then it’s time to start thinking about what is going on (e.g. how and why you came up with certain strategies to master the game), and how the technology plays a part.

    2. You will lose at first. This is good. Learning is often best from mistakes and failure. Digital games give you instant feedback on the consequences of your actions, which is why simulation-oriented digital games are increasingly used in schools and colleges. Anyway, a game that you win at first time is a waste of time. Limited satisfaction from completion. The best games are those that are not too easy, but not too hard; they make you want to come back and have “one more go” in order to try something different and progress.

    3. There are many different genre of games, such as card-playing, shooting, racing, puzzle, platform, adventure/exploration and so on. An increasing number of quirky games are difficult to place into traditional digital game genres (I mentioned some in previous comment); these are often worth checking out.

    4. Some genre are more involving than others. At the extreme end are online role-playing games. These can take up huge amounts of time. While it is good to try a range of games and genre, start with less time-consuming ones.

    5. You shouldn’t need to buy any kit. There will be relatives, work colleagues and neighbours who play digital games, so have a go on theirs.

    6. If you play a game for a while and it isn’t fun or interesting, then drop it and choose one from another from a different genre. Games should be fun, not seeming like work or a chore. There are so many genres of game, no-one likes them all; some you will find boring, some interesting, a few you will adhere to.

    7. Gameplay is far, far more fun when it is multiplayer. This can either be online, in the same room clustered around a console and TV (Xbox, PS2, GameCube), or in the same area on a handheld (PSP, DS). This adds several dimensions and dynamics to the gameplay and what is going on. It is often hugely fun to beat a work colleague, friend or relative. Digital games are also a great social leveller; class, income, age, gender, nationality and all the other demographics matter not a bit when it comes to who wins.

    Enjoy your gameplay.

  5. Very interesting — and relevant to me, because our library is just now grappling with any number of strange and exotic beasties, from rhinoceroses to hippogriffs — oops, I mean wikis, blogs, tagging, etc. Someone threw Library 2.0 into the agenda of our IT committee the other week, and — shame! — I had to admit I was totally ignorant of what that entailed. (I’m less ashamed now of course, since discovering that few other people seem clear on what it is either!)

    So here we go again, off on another great adventure of discovery and exploration, and who knows where all this stuff will take us. But the excitement is tangible (at least at my desk), and Library 2.0 may be just what we need to recapture the enthusiasm that we seem to have lost over the past decade.

  6. In 1985 we introduced Macintosh 512 computers at the Austrian National Library in Vienna. We had two issues: first – as many at that time experienced, librarians tried to talk into the mouse. We invited them over lunch break to train their hand-ey coordination with one of the early space-invader games. Worked great. They felt a bit guilty because of playing during work time but they figured out the mouse-thing fast. Secondly, in an environment where people chose the profession of a librarian to escape the ever faster wave of new-fangled technology, the computers were creeping up to them at a frightening pace. Yet they liked the Mac. To an extent that they told their superiors that working like this is really fun and great – with the result that the supervising organization of the library seriously considered ending the program as work should not be such fun.

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