Library 2.0: Video Games in College Libraries

University libraries offer students a number of benefits and services, from massive collections of literature and films to a quiet place to study or unwind. Some school libraries around the country are now augmenting all that with a surprising addition: video games. Once confined to toy stores and basements, are video games becoming a more culturally legitimized medium? Schools offering Archival Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Why Video Games?

Noted film critic Roger Ebert has famously decreed that 'video games can never be art.' Despite that, schools around the country are beginning to embrace the medium as one worth studying and even cataloging. The University of Michigan, Miami University in Ohio, the University of Texas at Austin and more have started to amass collections of games both classic and current for their students to play and analyze. The reasoning behind it's simple. If classes want to study video games, schools need to have collections of them on hand to be studied.

The question then becomes why colleges want to study video games in the first place. For schools that offer digital arts and game design programs, the answer's obvious. But games have infiltrated other classrooms as well. English courses might use video games as an example of interactive narratives. Media classes look at them as cultural artifacts, and rightfully so. Even if Roger Ebert's correct, something need not be 'art' to have cultural significance.

What Do Librarians Do?

Regardless of questions of legitimacy, bringing video games into libraries opens up a whole new set of problems for schools. Funding to set up video game installations isn't always abundant, especially given that many school libraries have tight budgets to begin with. Additionally, it's not enough for libraries to just acquire games; students also need a way to play them. Acquiring PCs, televisions and gaming counsels may be tough for schools, although occasionally those items come through grants or donations.

Another issue, perhaps more pressing: how does a library properly catalog and display games? Few precedents exist to guide librarians here, and even if schools put video games in their library they're often not willing to dedicate a full-time employee to building that collection. Perhaps it sounds overly dramatic, but librarians in this field are pioneers; they'll establish the rules and patterns for future archiving efforts to come.

A Standardized Canon

Part of the difficulty of maintaining a video game collection is knowing where to start. Unlike films or literature, there's no real agreed-upon body of video games that all students of the medium need to know. In 2007, a panel of experts at the industry-wide Game Developers Conference attempted to establish the beginnings of that body with ten 'must-play' titles. Thus far only two libraries, those at Stanford and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have taken the ten into their collections, but it should give interested archivists a place to start. Those ten games:

  • Civilization I
  • DOOM
  • Sensible World of Soccer
  • SimCity
  • Spacewar!
  • Star Raiders
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tetris
  • Warcraft (series)
  • Zork

How do students learn to interact critically with visual media?

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