Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A touch of the confused at the Madison Public Library

For this assignment I went to the Central Madison Public Library, located at 201 W. Mifflin Street. When I first entered the library, I thought that the “interactive games” section might be located by the DVD and Video rentals, so I made my way into that section. After finding nothing that I could use there (except I did see that they keep the graphic novels by the DVDs), I went over to the help desk and asked if she knew where they kept any games, be they educational or other. The woman at the counter seemed a little confused by my request. After a few minutes of searching, she suggested that I either go to the section of books on media entertainment (which I didn’t do) or go upstairs to their children/teen section. She seemed to believe that the games I was looking for would be in the teen section, even though I told her I was looking for any kind of game at all. Once upstairs, the guy working at the counter in the children’s section knew exactly where the games were. He pointed me toward the back corner and said, “Yeah, they’re all kind of mixed together back there. You know…the fun ones and the educational ones.” This statement was pretty telling in that it showed that the conception of educational games as being separate from "fun" exists outside our readings and our class.

Once I was in the game section I noticed that while most of what they offered was “educational” gaming (including games from the Reading Rabbit series, a few How Does it Work games, some Dora the Explorer tie-ins), there were definitely a lot of entertainment games. Today in class we mentioned Oregon Trail, and there was an edition of that on the shelves, a game that to me blends genres. In particular, I saw a lot of Star Wars games. I had a touch of nostalgia when I saw the original Rebel Assault game, along with a few other oldies. They also had a copy of Myst. There were a couple Pokemon games, a few Sim games (Simcopter, Simtower among them), also Roller Coaster Tycoon. And, bearing on our game play and discussion from today, even a couple of Barbie games. I choose to make note of what I saw as the two ends of the spectrum for Barbie: they had a copy of Barbie: Secret Agent and also a copy of Barbie: Fairy Princess.

From these findings it seemed to me that the target group for these games was definitely kids, no doubt about it. I found it interesting that the woman at the help desk seemed completely confused by the idea of the library having games, be they educational or other, while the man working in the children’s section knew precisely what I was looking for. My guess is that a lot of kids come in looking for games, but not too many people on the first floor are. Seeing as how there were some action games, the library obviously wanted the option to be open for games to be (as the clerk put it) “fun.” The fun never got more violent than the assorted Star Wars space battle simulators. I don’t think they had a gender or race in mind. I feel that the library was doing its best to provide games that would teach, while still allowing early teens to find something with a little bit (but not too much) of a punch to it.

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