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VCU Libraries launches collection of critically acclaimed video games

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Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries is building a collection of video games that have significant artistic and cultural value to meet the growing interest of students and faculty in the fields of animation, multimedia, digital worlds and gaming.

Students and faculty are now able to check out video games from the Information Services Desk at James Branch Cabell Library, and can play them at home or in a room on Cabell Library's third floor that is stocked with six gaming consoles — a Nintendo Wii U, an Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and a PlayStation 2, 3 and 4.

"There's a great interest in video games and virtual worlds in the School of the Arts and across the campus," said arts collections librarian Emily Davis Winthrop. "Gaming is emerging as a key area of research. We hope that this collection will support the growing research interests of our patrons and provide inspiration for the many creative endeavors occurring across campus."

So far, the collection features 11 games across various platforms, and additional new releases are expected to be added soon. The games in the collection include critically acclaimed titles such as "Journey," "Flower," "The Last of Us," "Shadow of the Colossus," "Katamari Damacy," "BioShock" and "Child of Eden."

"We are purchasing games for research, teaching and learning — not necessarily for entertainment," Davis Winthrop said. "We're looking for games that have certain aesthetics, that are important to the history of video games, and that have significant artistic direction, unique narrative or cerebral gameplay."

Students may check out the games for three days, while faculty may check them out for longer.

VCU Libraries' Innovative Media department is home to the new gaming lab. It allows students to book up to four hours on one of the gaming consoles, which are hooked up to a 47-inch, 3-D high-definition TV and a surround sound speaker system.

"The process now is that anybody can come and reserve the room for up to four hours at a time," said Eric Johnson, head of Innovative Media. "You come into the Innovative Media department to get the keys to the room and the controls for the console you're interested in."

Emily Davis Winthrop, arts collection librarian, demonstrates playing
Emily Davis Winthrop, arts collection librarian, demonstrates playing "Flower" on a PlayStation 3 in VCU Libraries' video game room.

When VCU Libraries' expansion is complete in 2015, the video game lab will be located in the Innovative Media department on the new building's lower level.

"Right now, we have the beginnings of a gaming lab, which will continue in the new building and will be fabulous enhanced space," Davis Winthrop said. "The new Innovative Media space will be more comprehensive, including the gaming room, a large video wall and additional game design software."

The Innovative Media department also plans to acquire additional video game consoles in the future, Johnson said.

"It'd be great to be able to offer some of the old, seminal consoles," he said. "One of the things that's important is this idea of playing the game in its native environment, as opposed to on an emulator."

VCU Libraries' video game collection is not VCU's sole foray into gaming. The library at VCU Qatar actively collects video games and consoles for use in the library. Breakpoint in VCU Student Commons has an arcade machine that features classic video games such as "Frogger," "Pac-Man" and "Donkey Kong," as well as a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360.

A small yet growing number of university libraries across the country are collecting and circulating video games, Davis Winthrop said. These universities include the University of North Texas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and North Carolina State University.

"It's a growing area of interest and it's starting to take off," she said.

Yet collecting video games poses several challenges for libraries, she said. For example, the video game industry is increasingly moving toward online-only games tied to each individual user's profile, making it difficult to circulate to library users.

Additionally, she said, many games are only available via download rather than on disc, requiring librarians to figure out how to procure, preserve and catalog the downloaded game.

"There are a lot of elements to purchasing video games that are not problems with purchasing books. If you want to download a game on your home console, for example, it's very instantaneous. But for us, I think it's going to require three people to get into a room together and say, 'OK, we're going to download this game.'"

For more information or to reserve VCU Libraries' gaming room online, visit: http://www.library.vcu.edu/services/spaces/cabell/group-viewinggaming-room/

 

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