Title: Cargo-Bot
Platforms: iOS
Cost: Free

cargo-bot logo Learning to code is a big topic of conversation these days with a lot of discussion about the importance of teaching young people coding and programming skills. Why is this such a big topic of conversation? Because when anyone learns to code/program they have the chance to spend time critically thinking, problem solving, and troubleshooting. All important skills to have in the 21st century.

Acquiring these skills is definitely a part of Cargo-Bot, an app that uses game-play to teach the ideas behind coding and programming. Playing Cargo-Bot requires programming each game in order to achieve a a particular goal. All goals require moving boxes of cargo across or down the screen. And, while the first goals are pretty simple it doesn't take too long for the game to become more complex and require that players think about not just left, right, up, and down but the order of those moves, looping moves, and specifying when and when not to actually make a move.
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“You play Minecraft at work?” Sometimes my friends get jealous, so I explain: “Yeah, I play Minecraft at work, but I'm usually running around the lab helping people, and there's more to it than just playing the game - it's about building community.” Playing Minecraft at the library is a way to get kids in the door and create connections. That I'm a fan of Minecraft outside of work serves as another layer of common ground.

I've been playing Minecraft in our computer lab with groups of kids and teens for about two years now. We've done a lot of different things with the game: free play, adventure maps, working together to survive, player vs. player battles, redstone circuits, pixel art.  At times we've played every other week, sometimes once a month, sometimes once over the summer. I've gotten to know my Minecraft kids pretty well. I know that they are creative and knowledgeable about the details of the game.  I know who loves to explore, who is a fearless monster fighter, who can give me a porkchop when my food meter is low, and who knows how to build a shelter where no zombie will ever find us. And they know me this way as well. They know I probably have a secret shelter hidden somewhere, that if they need a place to hide they can come in, and that my avatar is probably standing there doing nothing because I left myself logged in while I got up to help someone at their computer.

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Full confessions: I'm terrible at video games. I lack the hand/eye coordination needed to work magic with the controllers. But I like to watch gamers. I know I need more practice, and I think that I would love gaming if I didn't get so frustrated. It's a vicious cycle.

Gaming in the library seems to come in cycles. First there was the DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) and Guitar Hero, big spectacles that could be as much to watch as to play. Librarians raved about those parties. Then there was the Wii games - specifically, sports with teens (and also with seniors). Once a niche event, National Gaming Day has expanded and evolved into International Games Day.

This year Minecraft programs have swept through libraries around the country, but the Darien Library in Connecticut took it to the next level, scaling up to make the gaming experience even better. They host a county-wide server. Read More →

“Cancel all your programs on Friday night, and spend some time just hanging out.” I uttered it to a small group of librarians, and they looked at me like I was crazy.'  We were at Sunrise session at Computers in Libraries.'  It was an interesting presentation innovation, and we were practicing the art of brainstorming. The idea hit me like a lightning strike.'  We were asked to share ideas without thinking about the specifics, and it just came out. When the group speaker shared it, there was an audible response.

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I've wanted to host a Minecraft program at my library ever since I began working there last August.'  I mentioned the idea to our teens and quickly saw that there was a captive audience for it. ' Minecraft is the epitome of this year's YALSA presidential theme; with this game you can connect with your teen patrons, encourage them to collaborate, and create amazing things within the game! When Teen Tech Week came along, it felt like the perfect opportunity to test out a Minecraft program.

Working in a small library with limited resources, I knew there would be obstacles to overcome.'  We have eight public computers that are positioned directly in the center of the library and do not have a separate room for a teen space.'  Our lack of computers limited the number of potential participants right from the start since I knew I wouldn't be able to use all of the computers. We also share a network with the other libraries in our consortium so I knew that hosting a server would be complicated.

I was also worried that my Minecraft skills were not up to par. I know a lot about the game, but I have to confess that I don't really play….at all.'  I worried that I wouldn't be able to monitor the players in a way that would work for everyone.'  I worried that I wouldn't be able to help players who got stuck.'  I worried that something would go wrong with the game, and I wouldn't be able to fix it.

Even with all these obstacles, without a budget, and without much technical know-how, I was able to pull off a successful Minecraft program at my public library…and you can, too!

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I have a confession to make. I have neverattended a full weekend LARP event or a full LARP game. I understand the fascination withit, but I have not done so yet. Why am I writing this then? Because I believethat LARP is special. I used to make fun of it, but I've come to understand that it provides a unique outlet for the pressures ofday to day life. Also, I have seen it succeed.

So what is LARP? LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing. The players, like intabletop game, develop characters based off an established setting or system. It is a little more common for the setting to be “homebrewed”, meaning it wasdeveloped by one of the individuals involved. One individual or moreindividuals in a LARP act as GM's. They control the overallstory line of the event, mediate arguments and organize LARP events.

Much of what goes into planning a LARP is similar to a tabletop game. The difference is that LARP eventsare physically acted out. Like one giant exercise in improvisational theater. Read More →

This article is about programming for Tabletop' role-playing games. ' If you have questions about this post or you would like to request that I focus on something specific next, please contact me' @MichaelBuono' on twitter. ' Feel free to share your own programs and ideas in the comments section, or you can reach out to me if your internet shy. My email is mbuono@gmail.com. Have a safe and healthy New Year.

Getting the most out of RPG's in your Library PT. 1: Intro

Getting the most out of RPGs in your Library PT. 2: Collection Development

Programming is easily one of the most difficult parts of our jobs. First of all, it involves a ton of planning. Secondly, it directly involves other humans. That makes it difficult to predict exactly how things will go. ' Before I became a librarian, I was well prepared for the task. In addition to prior job experience, I was a game master. I ran games that spanned years of characters' lives, and that took two years worth of Tuesday nights to run.
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This article is about collection development for Tabletop games. LARP games will get their own love in a post about LARP programming. If you have questions about this post or you would like to request that I focus on something specific next, please contact me @MichaelBuono on twitter.' 

Collection Development for niche hobbies is difficult. The materials are not as well reviewed as we would like, they are expensive and there is a limited audience. My friends and I have easily a thousand dollars worth of books. That says nothing of our dice, figurines or random medieval weapons. But we are fans first, and so we buy things we don't need. There are ways to develop a collection to support the hobby without busting your budget. ' First and foremost, only buy the titles that reflect the interests of your teens. I have included a list of recommended buys at the bottom of the page.

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Title: Slender-man

Platform: ' iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Slender-man is a game created in July of 2012 based on the legend of the Slender-man, who is known to only be seen by children just before he reaches out and grabs them. This game has developed a cult following of teens and tweens everywhere and in particular, at my library. I was first introduced to this game over the summer when I noticed a group of kids playing it on a computer. Suddenly, they all jumped back and screamed. As the screen went fuzzy, an image of a thin man's face appeared on the blinking monitor. “If you see that, that basically means you have lost the game.” One of the teens informed me.

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Thoroughly in the swing of things now? Already bored with what's going on? Happy but ready to add more programming and interest to your services? Whatever the case, maybe some of these innovations, research publications, and other cool tidbits will inspire you.

  • You know your patrons like games. And you may already know of some of the social justice gaming websites and programs out there, like Games for Change or Spent. Now it might interest you to know that there's a new game out there designed specifically to target your ethics, not just to make you live in someone else's shoes or support a cause. Quandary is its name, and it was designed by The Learning Network, a collaboration between MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Take a look at the game here, and then consider if your gaming club might attract new members with an interest in social justice, or if your volunteer group might like to try some gaming. Now that so many teens are so savvy at programming, you might be able to get a group together to create a game that tackles a local issue that they find important.
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