Games in Libraries – Sort of

It’s the week of GenCon Indy, which means my Twitter feed is saturated with updates from colleagues in the gaming industry talking about the convention. For those who’ve never been to GenCon, it’s an impressive spectacle – about the size of ALA annual, but with a significant minority of attendees in some form of costume. Like ALA, GenCon Indy is the premiere professional event for the gaming industry, but unlike ALA, GenCon is also a huge entertainment event, with games run by and for fans of various gaming media.

The gaming community constitutes a small but growing subculture in many Western countries, with tabletop (think Dungeons and Dragons), LARP (live-action-role-play — similar to those mystery dinner party games), and video games for consoles, PCs, and portable devices proliferating. Unlike comics, which are finding increased footing in the academic world, gaming and its books and paraphernalia still have a significant stigma. Much as “genre fiction” (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western, and romance) is still not taken seriously by many public and academic libraries, gaming books seem to be regarded as exotic yet frivolous ephemera. Of the nearly 200 WorldCat holdings of the most recent D&D Player’s Handbook (a major release from a leader in the field), only 5 were at American universities, though both Oxford and Cambridge universities have a copy in their collections.

Gaming is finding its footing as entertainment in our public libraries, but will we ever reach a point of cultural saturation where building a collection of gaming books as a part of our cultural heritage will be viable? These are usually bound books, far more capable of withstanding abuse than many of our pamphlets, flyers, and other ephemera of our archives and collections. They can serve a dual purpose – like popular literature collections – of source text for researchers and entertainment for laymen. Research in video gaming and its players is taking off, so why is “pen and paper” gaming still languishing in the basement?

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