Games often bring to mind a children’s activity that is, fundamentally, a diversion. Many believe that games distract from working to become a productive member of society. By the time we are eighteen (so the thinking goes), the games should all be put away into a closet, to occasionally be brought out for adult diversions (often accompanied by the consumption of alcoholic beverages).
This post is not intended to refute these uses for games, or even to apply a value judgment to it. Instead, it aims to describe some of my recent experiences of games being used to have a positive impact on community building.
I’d like to focus on three of my recent experiences: (1) volunteering for the International Game Night at Onondoga Community College, (2) taking part in the first two meetings of the Game Designer’s Guild, and (3) being one of two students in charge of the Library Student Gaming Group this year.
OCC International Game Night
This year the Onondoga Community College Coulter Library focused their game night around enhancing international awareness through scavenger hunts, trivia games, and an assortment of games from around the globe. (Photos of the event are available at the library’s Flickr page.) According to event organizer Pauline Shostack, the event drew approximately 140 participants, the largest group in attendance since this event began in 2008.
Game Designers’ Guild
Professor Scott Nicholson of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies recently returned from a sabbatical at MIT. He is applying some of the ideas formed during his research there by founding a Game Designers’ Guild at SU. The Guild’s first meeting was in mid-September and it brought together a wide variety of individuals interested in different facets of gaming, both to converse and to play.
A currently unreleased game, Johann Sebastian Joust, opened the festivities. The initial social and gaming time was followed by presentations from representatives from the iSchool and Fort Stanwix National Monument. Afterward, there were breakout sections where games were played, attendees conversed with the presenters and in some cases, schedules were set to continue working on the projects started at the meeting.
At the next meeting of, The Fort Stanwix group reported on their progress, and the MOST looked for a group to work with their team in creating an app to bring additional people into the museum and create incentives for returning. During the breakout session, attendees play-tested a board game about lucid dreaming by Casey Koons, an iSchool student. There are two more meetings scheduled for this year: November 16 and December 14.
LIS Student Board Gaming Group
Finally, there is the Library Students’ Gaming Group organized by Kathleen McClure and myself this year. The goal of the group is to bring students together to play and test new games, and even revisit older ones. Though formed by LIS students, all are welcome. (If you happen to find a free hour between 1:00 and 5:00 on Thursday afternoons, we hope you’ll join us in Hinds Hall room 336.)
Why It Matters
These three events all display how games are used as a mechanism to bring individuals together, sometimes with similar interests, sometimes from very diverse backgrounds. Games provide a safe space for interaction and experimentation. They can be a reason for an existing community to gather, the mechanism through which new communities can form, or where different communities can find common ground. What can we learn from these successes, and how can we best utilize games to meet diverse community needs?
Interested in gaming and want to get involved? Join any of the meetings mentioned above, or share your favorite game in the comments section!