We all have our personal triggers for disgust. Snakes ick me out, despite my desire to be more of a scientist about it. One time while an exchange student, I struggled to hold my stomach contents when tasting a steaming bowl of blood soup served to me by my hosts. But there are few things in this world that kindle more uncontrollable revulsion in me than the video game Candy Crush Saga.
When my son was a newborn, the poor guy was miserable. At the lowest point, for maybe a month or so, he would wake up every 20 minutes all night long, hungry for formula but crying with pain each time he tried to take a sip. Through these interminable nights, too exhausted to read or do much of anything useful, I would lie in the dark, dozing maybe five minutes at a stretch, but mostly just rotting my eyes, and maybe my brain, playing Candy Crush on my phone, knowing that my kid was going to cry out again for me at any moment.
I have never before, or since, played games on my phone. Nor did I have any particular reason for choosing Candy Crush—I think it was probably just the first game that cropped up for download in the app store when I visited it in delirious desperation on one of these long nights. From the beginning I found the gameplay boring and the aesthetic repellent, and yet hour after hour, sleepless night after sleepless night, I played level after level by the glare of the screen in a sort of new-parent purgatory outside of the realm of time and space.
This game was not fun. It was a nasty itch that demanded continuous scratching.
Nasty Itch or Force for Good?
Games at their worst can be nothing more than distraction. They can be a tool for procrastination. They can be addictive well past the point where we are gathering any pleasure or benefit from them.
And yet, games can also be a powerful force for good in our lives. My grandfather—a stoic, lanky, Edward Gorey-esque Brit with a pencil-thin white mustache—taught me to play cards as a kid. He rarely spoke beyond one or two-word replies to direct questions from my grandmother. And yet I felt deeply connected to him because of the games we played together. Games can be an intense form of communication and social bonding.
Games can be an unexpectedly rich medium for storytelling. They can be a tool to teach thinking skills that is both immersive and engaging. They can instill character traits like perseverance. For those looking for a great read, I would recommend Josh Lerner's Making Democracy Fun, which demonstrates through a series of excellent case studies how game design can even be used as a powerful framework for communities to work together to resolve their most intractable disagreements.
So as we integrate games into our collections, programs, and instruction, how do we make sure we're harnessing them for their full potential?
This month at SLC, we're featuring loads of new articles to help guide you in using games effectively in your school library. Christopher Harris and Brian Mayer offer a brief review of education's past successes and failures with play-based learning and offer practical tips for selecting modern board games for your library. Kathy Lester shares her experiences getting kids coding and designing their own games, while Calypso Gilstrap treats us to a zombie apocalypse-themed breakout. Also, from the archives, don't miss Matthew Winner's comprehensive Video Games for Learning workshop, which helps connect the dots between video games and the skills and dispositions we're working to instill in our learners. Have fun!