By Billy Tuite —
To listen to the full interview about the library’s expanded video game initiative go here.
At a glance, the Robert S. Swanson Learning Center is simply a traditional library, a never-ending sea of paperbacks and periodicals, but there’s much more than meets the eye. Tucked away behind room 106 in the University Library is one of the most fun and progressive spaces the campus has to offer: the Gaming and Digital Innovation Lab.
This initiative to get video games in the library came about as a combination of three separate projects. Collection Development Librarian Cory Mitchell had established a selection of contemporary games last fall, Assistant Professor of Art and Design History Dr. Andrew Williams wanted some older vintage games for his Interactive Media courses and Library Technician Matthew Decker-Maurer wanted a place for high-end PCs in the library to meet computer needs on campus. Thus, the GDI Lab was born this past March.
“This was primarily unused storage space for a while,” Williams said. “It was really fortuitous that everything came together with our initiatives.”
The library’s collection of console and PC games consists of more than 500 titles: 362 new, 186 old. The games were selected based on popularity, excellence in design and, in the case of the vintage collection, historical significance.
“Basically, we’re shooting for representative examples,” Mitchell said. “We had a list of important titles in each different genre: adventure games, roleplaying games, sports games, everything.”
The GDI Lab, in which these games can be played, is a gamer’s paradise. Couches, televisions and powerful computers line the perimeter of the room. The shelves under the televisions are filled with consoles, from the classic Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System, to the more modern Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
One might perceive such a fun atmosphere to be counterproductive to students, but Circulation Supervisor Linette Greske argues that “there’s no end to the potential for the GDI Lab.”
“There are certain perceptions of a library space and what it should be used for,” Greske said. “We thought about that, but after doing so I think we were more convinced that we needed to start the lab.”
The University Library wants the GDI Lab to be an integral part of the curriculum and serve as a “makerspace,” especially for Game Design and Development majors.
“My main goal with my classes is to promote digital literacy and awareness,” Williams said. “With the amount of people that are going to be graduating with Game Design degrees, games are going to be an increasingly pervasive element of our society.”
So pervasive, in fact, that they transcend into other fields of study. Decker-Maurer cites examples of psychology students coming in to learn about how people play games differently in social multiplayer settings and language arts students discovering unique characteristics of video game storytelling.
“There are different groups across campus that are starting to figure out how this lab serves as a learning space, as well as a relaxing and socializing space,” Decker-Maurer said.
One such group that has tackled the latter aspect is PONG, University of Wisconsin–Stout’s multiplayer gaming club. PONG has sponsored several events and tournaments in the lab, including one last semester, which saw students play the popular fighting game “Tekken” with their feet using “Dance Dance Revolution” controllers.
The GDI Lab is able to serve all of these uses because it allows students and faculty alike to get hands-on with all of the library’s games and features.
“The mission of a polytechnic university is to do things that are more applied and experiential,” Williams said. “Rather than having just a museum-based archive where the objects are locked away, we consciously decided that we wanted to make everything interactive.”
If you’d like to check out a game from the library’s modern collection, visit their circulation desk. You can also donate your own games and consoles, or you can suggest a title you’d like to see added at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear the full interview for this story go here.