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Kindred Gamers: NY Public Library as Video Parlor

Durand.jpg
Asher B. Durand, “Kindred Spirits,” Crystal Bridges Museum, sold by NY Public Library

We all remember when the NY Public Library justified its 2005 sales of important paintings, including Asher B. Durand‘s iconic “Kindred Spirits” (above), on the grounds that exhibiting art was not part of its core mission as a library.

Now it has discovered a pursuit more closely tied to its mission—being a video-game parlor.

In a NY Times article on Saturday, we learned that the grand lobby of the library’s venerable main headquarters on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street was given over on Friday afternoon to “three big screens and throngs of exuberant players.” Local library branches are also hosting video game events, and the NYPL has been acquiring these games for its collections. Let’s just hope this is not where the art-sale proceeds are going.

Mission-driven library officials feel obligated to try to justify the “Game On” initiative on more grounds than merely luring kids into the building. According to the NYPL’s press release:

In the game world, players make their own discoveries and apply what they learn to new contexts.

Games are a mode of active engagement. They encourage
experimentation and risk-taking, and they view the process of solving a
problem as important as finding the answer.

Maybe so. But my experiece as the mother of an earlier-generation video-game enthusiast, who cut his teeth on “Super Mario” and graduated to “Doom,” is that these addictive entertainments suck time from pursuits that libraries formerly regarded as their raisons d’être—scholarship and intellectual growth.

Or, to put it more simply—Paul, enough “Doom.” Go do your homework!

“Super Smash Bros. Brawl” may lure boys into the library (no girls graced the NY Times photo of last Friday’s event), but as the gamers’ comments to the Times’ Seth Schiesel indicate, it’s unlikely to promote a love of the values and pursuits that the institution has traditionally stood for. To pander is not to edify. Using populist programming to draw new audiences to a library (or to a museum, for that matter) does not mean that those visitors will sample the greater riches that the institution has to offer.

I’ve got nothing against these diversions as a way to blow off steam. Come to think of it, the library could be performing a useful service: Parents could try to limit their kids’ gaming to the library, designating the home as a book-filled, video game-free zone.

Good luck with that.

an ArtsJournal blog