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Game Profile
 Written by John Scalzo  on January 25, 2006

Specials: Harry Potter is the most popular game to people that come to a library. Anybody surprised? Anyone?


It has been one year since the "Great Video Game Experiment" was started at the public library where I work. And in those twelve months I'd have to say it has gone as good as anyone could have hoped. In the end, the numbers don't lie, and a success is all this experiment can be called.

Seventy-seven PlayStation 2 titles have been added to the collection so far with at least a dozen still awaiting processing. Sadly, Culdcept, one of the games purchased in the initial batch of games at the end of 2004, is still on that list. It's a little short of the 100 game target I had thought was reasonable back when I started, but 77 seems like a pretty respectable number.

Jak II was the first game to come back broken at the end of July. We had a pretty good run before that. Seven months and not a single problem to be investigated. And then Jak II comes back with a complaint that it won't start after 8 circs. I pop it in my PS2 at home (because we can't afford a test unit to sit in the library at all times) and sure enough, the game wouldn't advance past the Dolby Surround logo. It looks much less scratched up than some of the titles, but it just won't play.

This has seemed to be a trend as the year moved on. Many younger kids brought back certain titles and say "they're too scratched to play". But when I test them on my regularly cleaned PS2 at home they work fine. So back on the shelf they go. But it wouldn't be unexpected if they didn't work. Library materials get beaten up regularly. It happens. However, a theft ring is something nobody expects.

Late in the year a DVD theft ring managed to run off with several PS2 titles as well including the very popular titles Gran Turismo 4, WWE Smackdown Vs Raw, Lego Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. Lego Star Wars and LOTR were able to be repurchased. Of course the joke's on them because PS2 games are kept behind the desk until someone wants to check them out so the only way to "steal" a game is to check it out on your library card and never bring it back. So we have their names, addresses and phone numbers on file. I hope you enjoy that bill for replacement.

We only found out about these because someone tried to sell some of DVDs to a local GameStop. An intrepid clerk noticed the library stickers on the boxes (they couldn't even be bothered to remove the stickers!) and called the police. A few other titles weren't stolen per se, just regularly checked out and never brought back. These "lost" titles included NFL 2K5, Van Helsing, Alias and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. But all of this is dwelling on the negative. Most of the games have no problems and circulate regularly. In fact, the results of the ten most circulated games shouldn't be that surprising as library favorite Harry Potter takes the crown:

1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2 (tie). Spider-Man 2
2 (tie). Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
2 (tie). Scaler
5. Men in Black II: Alien Escape
6 (tie). Viewtiful Joe
6 (tie). Tony Hawk's Underground 2
6 (tie). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
9 (tie). Katamari Damacy
9 (tie). Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Licensed games, sports titles and franchise titles rule the day. It's what people know and want. But I have also found that it doesn't really matter what we have on the shelf. If it's there, someone will check it out. Perennial unknown classic Beyond Good & Evil and side scrolling shooter Gradius V are numbers 11 and 12 on that list. When all you see is roughly three to seven games on the shelf at any one time building a "quality" collection takes a back seat to building a bigger collection. But the added bonus is that people may play something that they never would have before. Never underestimate the lure of the word FREE.

And that's why when it came time to add more games I stayed mostly with budget titles in the 20-30 dollar range. This meant that many new releases were not added, but having a game for everyone is more important right now than having the newest (and ergo, the most expensive) games. And besides, today's $50 games are tomorrow's budget titles. Hello post-Christmas price drops.

Other libraries in the county system took a different approach to collection building. Some did go for the latest and the greatest. Others focused much more on sports games than I think is particularly fair. Anime-based titles made up a large portion of many other collections. Throughout the whole county, 161 titles are available at four libraries. No library has branched out into Xbox, GameCube or Xbox 360 titles yet and no library has attempted to break the M for Mature barrier.

I've tried to push games with a "tame M" like Neo Contra and games that spawned R-rated movies (which we do own) like Resident Evil 4, but no dice. The M is the roadblock, not the content descriptors. Yet, R-rated movies are everywhere. In fact, many patrons are requesting the new Unrated Director's Cut (read: NC-17) DVDs that have become all the rage these days and they are being added as fast as they can be purchased. It's a strange double standard, but one that almost has to be respected at this point. The collection is too small to fill it with games that can only be appreciated by a small percentage of our patrons.

Looking ahead to this year I have high hopes the collection can grow even larger and to fill in some of the holes. With over 1000 PS2 games available, 77 games, even 161 games, is only a drop in the bucket. I still plan to stick with the budget games mentality. Of course, a budget crunch has foisted this mentality on me this year, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't change. Further complicating matters, the big box store that we purchased our games from has recently gone under. So right now I have no idea where this year's purchases will even come from.

Looking further ahead, the PS3 is a huge question mark. With prices of next-gen games hovering around $60, it will be very pricey to support the PS3 as well as the PS2. Then there's the assumed small install base in this first year of a console that may cost upwards of $500. How many of our patrons will even own one? Also, if you remember, I was told that the PS3 would be our next-gen system of choice mainly because of the backwards compatibility issue. And while everyone in the gaming industry assumes the PS3 will be backwards compatible with the PS2, it is sill unconfirmed speculation at this point. That could cause another wrinkle in the plan.

More complications arise because libraries love a single unified format. It's why you won't see HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies at your local library for a very long time. No one wants to get stuck holding the bag if the studios stop supporting one or the other. On top of all this the release date is constantly slipping and no one is even vaguely sure when the thing will even hit store shelves.

So at the end of the first year, having games in a library has been a complete success. They are popular with adults, children and teens and I've only heard the faintest of grumblings (mostly from older patrons) questioning why a library would carry, scoff, games. They are an accepted part of the collection now and it's hard to ask for anything more than that.

The Video Game Librarian Archive



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