We play games on Friday afternoons. My library has a Wii and a Playstation 2, which we set up in our community room. ‘ Teens and tweens are welcome, and many come back week after week to play Rock Band, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Wii Sports, Dance Dance Revolution and whatever other’  games that teens or I have brought in that week. They take turns based on whoever wants to play. ‘ Some enjoy just hanging out and watching. ‘ It’s a relaxed environment that promotes socializing, conversation, and cooperation.

In the spirit of my relaxed gaming programs, I will share a few things that I love about connecting with teens over video games.

The social aspect of cooperative games. Because we offer a lot of four player games, there are opportunities for teens to play together. It’s an obvious benefit for friends, but it also invites teens who don’t know each other to play together.’  Someone will hold up a wiimote and ask, “who else wants to play?” ‘ And that someone is not always me, the teens invite each other to play and seem to bond quickly over the exchanges of the game. ‘ If they all know the game well, they compare strategy, if one does not know the game so well, others teach. ‘ I enjoy watching the instruction as one teen shows another how to hold the Rock Band guitar and which buttons to press on the fretboard, or an older teen shows a younger one how to position the character in Wii Bowling and swing the wiimote to bowl a strike.

Talking about games. Games we love, games we hate, we talk about it all.’  Preferences create common ground.’  I always enjoy references to old school Nintendo titles and characters like Mario and Link or anything Final Fantasy related.’  It’s interesting how much these older games or long running series games have held up over the years.’  As Teens critique the graphics and gameplay, preferences lead to further conversation. I am beginning to buy games to circulate and I took my cues for specific games to buy and which consoles to focus on from these conversations.

Gaming creates safe opportunities for risk. There are few video game related scenes that warm my heart so much as watching boys sing in Rock Band. Maybe this is because most of my gaming teens are boys and I haven’t yet seen too many girls take on the challenge of being the singer. ‘ Maybe this is because teenage boys can be awkward, but the ways in which they embrace it or triumph over it are heartening. ‘ Rock Band is a mock performance. ‘ The only consequence of failure in game is that you can fail a song and have to start over. ‘ Socially ‘ the consequence of failure is that maybe someone doesn’t like your singing, or maybe you sing the wrong words, or maybe you feel embarrassed. In a larger or more critical group this could be a deterrent, and even in this relaxed environment it is for some. ‘ But I know a few boys who just get up and do it. Sometimes they don’t know the song, so they just hum along.’  Sometimes they can’t carry a tune, but sing out anyway and earn the amusement of the other gamers.’  Sometimes they know the song perfectly and impress everyone in the room. ‘ They risk and succeed, which is a good experience to build on. ‘ Maybe someday they’ll play in a real rock band, or have to get up and talk in front of a group of people and the experience of playing Rock Band will be there backing them up.

Playing along strengthens rapport with teens. Obviously, I don’t advocate hogging the controller, but playing video games with a group of teens is a good way to build relationships. ‘ Having a little bit of skill builds more “cred” than none at all. ‘ For example, the fact that I am absolutely atrocious at Super Smash Bros. Brawl does not impress anyone. ‘ Clearly teens will always turn to each other to discuss strategy and probably won’t even pay attention if I comment on the game. ‘ However, now that I am able to play Rock Band on medium, rather than easy, it means that my opinion of the game counts for something. ‘ When I am suitably impressed at teens who can play on expert, they know that I understand the game. ‘  There are not a lot of readers among the teens I regularly see, but there are plenty of gamers. ‘ Playing their games with them is almost like having read the same book. ‘ It gives us a piece of common ground to talk about.

All of this makes me look forward to Friday afternoons. ‘ What do you love about gaming with teens?

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