During the last weekend in February, I traveled to Park Ridge (a Chicago suburb and former place of employment) to attend the library's Gaming and Learning Expo, a grant-funded event for students, parents, teachers, and librarians. I decided to make the trip because I was curious to see what this library was doing with gaming, being one of the first in the area to collect video games. Would this be a time to sample their wares? Or would there be more to it than that?
The expo was held at the local high school (good choice of venue) and was on a Saturday afternoon. The first thing that I noticed when I walked into the cafeteria was how organized it seemed. Volunteers were wearing matching t-shirts, tables were labeled with signs, and a projection screen displayed the hour-by-hour events. In the back of the room, seven or eight video game stations were set up for people to try out. Rock Band, MarioKart, Dance Dance Revolution, and Little Big World were the favorite featured games. Now, this is all I was really expecting. After all, a gaming expo should have games for people to play. But this was not just a gaming expo; it was a gaming and learning expo, so there was a little more to it than that.
Around the room booths were set up, with various gaming representatives from local universities who were available to chat and promote their programs. The presentations, however, were what set this event apart from any other I've been to hosted by a public library. Michael Henson from DeVry University kicked things off with a general gaming q&a session where audience members asked questions about the university’s gaming curriculum paths as well as how best to use games in education. Josh Jones from DePaul University followed with an engaging firsthand look into how 3D animation is created - turning a simple bouncing ball into a leaping dragon - by demonstrating the use of the animation software for us all to see. Simeon Peebler from Flashpoint University addressed the younger crowd and gave tips about how to get into the gaming industry, emphasizing game-making at any age and professionalism especially when looking for that first job. Nate Scheidler, a GamesForEducators.com columnist, targeted the teachers in the crowd and showed some educational online games to use in the classroom as well as not strictly "educational" games but games with educational content (a side effect of the fun) that are currently popular. All of these talks took place in the center of the cafeteria, close enough to the games that you could still listen in, but in their own distinct space with chairs, projection screen, laptops, and microphones in place. Like I said, this event was well-organized!
I like the idea behind this event. If you have a gaming collection you want to show off (and even if you don't), hosting activities and presentations about the gaming industry itself seems a natural marriage. After all, those kids addicted to games may just end up being future animators or game designers. As an exploding field, it's a great idea to show students what their options are - yes, they can design games too! Sure, they're fun to play, but there are some kids that really want to make their own. If you're hosting a career fair anytime soon, this is definitely a field you'll want to include. I would also recommend purchasing game design software (in a school or public library) and teaching youth how to use it. If purchase is not possible, I can bet that there is open source software out there that will do just the same. This would be an excellent after-school activity or public library program; you could also start your own game design club, which could alternate between creating various types of games. In many schools and communities, gaming is hot right now, so that seems the best reason, at least to me, to provide these sorts of opportunities to youth. If they're interested, then why not feed that interest and let them explore it better? Finding out what your community wants and giving it to them is part of the job, moreso in the public library but even so in the school, in my opinion. Students learn better when they are interested and personally connected to the material, so why not choose a format that appeals to them? And by the way, all of these things are actually going on in libraries right now! Isn't it exciting?
So, the real reason I trekked up to Park Ridge is because I was an undercover spy agent for Undergrad (sshh!), who will be hosting their own gaming expo next month. I'm not quite sure how organized they've gotten, but they do hope to provide students with more information about the gaming industry and how one can get involved in it. Check out their Gaming Initiative here.