National Gaming Day invites kids and families to go to their local branch to play everything from Monopoly to "Rock Band."
Libraries are usually quiet, peaceful places made for reading and relaxation. At certain times, though, laughter and friendly banter fill the air as patrons gather to play games.
That will be the case Saturday, when families and gamers gather at Twin Cities libraries, including several Hennepin County branches, to play a few rounds with friends and neighbors as part of National Gaming Day.
Now in its fourth year, National Gaming Day started as an attempt by the American Library Association to harness new social aspects of gaming in a family-friendly context.
"The new video games that were coming out were a lot more social and had room for a lot of interaction," said Jenny Levine, a strategy guide for the ALA.
Video games such as "Rock Band" and "Super Smash Bros." and systems such as the Nintendo Wii, which emphasize teamwork and friendly competition, provided some of the impetus for creating the nationwide event, she said.
Levine is quick to point out that it's not all digital, though. Fans of board games, including current favorites such as Apples to Apples and Loaded Questions, will find plenty to do at the event, too, she said.
"Gaming in libraries goes back to the 1880s, when there were chess clubs forming in libraries," she said.
The popular perception that video games are violent or counterproductive to learning doesn't apply at libraries, she said.
"What you see happening at Gaming Day is that people are very surprised at behaviors that happen around video games," she said. Children learn skills such as collaborative problem-solving, good sportsmanship and taking turns. "You see them getting invested in things outside of the games."
Johannah Genett, a librarian at Ridgedale Library, sees a connection between gaming and the more traditional services of a library.
"Characters, plot and setting are components of both games and books," she said.
There are side benefits, too.
"Hosting programs at our libraries makes the library a family destination," Genett said. "Families come in for a gaming event and leave with new information about a favorite author."
Levine said gaming nights generally get children interested in how a library works.
"One thread we see over and over is that the kids who come to the Gaming Day somehow end up finding something in the library they want to help with -- cleaning, running the gaming or looking at books," she said.
The Hennepin County Library offers several gaming nights a month at its branches, but this is the first time it has participated in National Gaming Day.
More than 26,000 libraries took part in National Gaming Day last year, and Jenny Levine predicts that number will grow. In past years, she said, librarians have seen "kids lining up outside the doors before it even opens."
Cross-generational education is another large component of gaming in libraries, Levine said.
"You get kids teaching their parents how to play 'Rock Band' all the time," she said, while adults share older favorites with their children. "Of course, some of the best anecdotes are when the children beat the adults," she said.
At Hennepin, "the classics never go out of style," Genett said. "Monopoly, checkers and chess are always big hits."
Levine also was quick to point out the societal benefits of hosting collaborative events.
"We do programs where the libraries set up reverse mentoring, where the kids teach seniors how to play video games," she said. "You're just not going to get that anywhere else."
Alex Gaterud is a Minneapolis freelance writer.
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