November 20, 2017

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Creating a Life-Size ‘The Game of LIFE’ for Teen Read Week

In March 2013, School Library Journal reported on the creation of an Arkham Horror board game by La Vista Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board (TAB) as part of its 2012 Teen Read Week (TRW) celebration. The TAB’s leader, youth librarian and advisor Lindsey Tomsu, a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, recently got in touch with us and let us know that for Teen Read Week 2013, the group created a life-size version of The Game of LIFE.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the game? Was it part of your TAB’s application to get the second YALSA/Dollar General Teen Read Week grant?

Well, The Game of LIFE is the game everyone associates with the tiny cars you fill with little peg people! My teens were pretty mixed between those who had played an older version and a newer version of the game and those who knew the game but had never played before. The grant enabled us an opportunity to spend time over the summer playing the game for “research” purposes!

Why did we decide on The Game of LIFE for our 2013 Teen Read Week? Back in the summer of 2011, my TAB ended up doing a life-size Candy Land game for the kids at the library. The teens had a blast making all the game props. We did the old school version that was pre-candy characters, so we got to make props for the Peppermint Forest, the Peanut Brittle House, Neapolitan Floats, and so on. So that experience led to our idea in the summer of 2012 to apply for the YALSA/Dollar General Teen Read Week grant and do a life-size version of our favorite board game, Arkham Horror. Compared to Candy Land, it was much more work and involved more detail, Over the course of the two and a half months leading up to the 2012 TRW my teens volunteered nearly 353 hours to make that program a reality.

Last summer, I reminded the teens about the TRW grant again and asked for ideas. They really wanted to stick with the life-size game idea and make that our “thing.” They originally thought about doing a life-size version of the original Arkham Horror game board (which, oddly enough, looks a lot like a Candy Land set up), but then they decided they wanted to do something new. They considered Clue and Monopoly, then finally someone mentioned The Game of LIFE.  There were three groups among the teens when it came to deciding on this game—the ones that love LIFE and have played the older version, the ones that love LIFE and have played the newer version, and those who have never played LIFE before. Luckily, my library had a copy of the older one which everyone agreed was way cooler! So that was what we went with for the grant application. As one TAB member Kayla Harbour said, “The theme for TRW is ‘Seek the Unknown’. What, may I ask, is more unknown than life itself?”

What did your teens like best about the experience of creating their own game, and LIFE itself?

I think the teens were really, really excited by the older version of LIFE. They were inspired by the look of the game, the fact that it had way more spots and things to do, the cars were old-fashioned, and the text of some of the spots you could land on were outrageously crazy! For example, they loved how in the older version there were spots about an uncle whose actions progressively got worse as one got further in the game. First, the “uncle” is in some trouble and you give him $1,000, then he leaves you a skunk farm and you have to pay to get rid of it, then he needs to be bailed out of jail—they found this hilarious and enjoyed making fun of the “evil Uncle” throughout our preparations for the game.

Aunt Leaves You 50 CatsWe always enjoy the actual making of the game. The teens and I spent two and a half months working on The Game of LIFE. They really like how creative they can get with making props and coming up with ideas for what can be done. For example, for each career that someone could land on we wanted there to be a prop for that person to carry throughout the whole game. So doctors got scrubs, journalists got fedoras, college graduates got flower bouquets, physicists got goggles, and so on. The biggest element of the creative process was the seven white buildings we had to make. They enjoyed that so much we accidentally discovered while setting up that we made an entire extra building!

How did you tie in reading to the game?

While it might not seem like much, there is actually a lot of reading involved in the game. Each space needed to be read and the teens needed to follow the directions properly. We also added a few elements that involved creative thinking and writing in the game—for instance, when they got married and had children they were required to fill out marriage and birth certificates. I am one who believes that not every program at the library necessarily needs to be connected to reading. While we, as librarians, would love to think that all teens love reading and we have the power to make readers out of non-readers that isn’t really always the case. I use big programs such as our life-size games to give all teens a chance to do something fun and creative. So even if they aren’t big readers there is something engaging for them, such as lots of art, drawing, and coloring—creating!

Can you share practical details for how you set everything up and what it entailed?

To begin with we first sat down with the game board and brainstormed ideas. We went through space by space on the board and thought, “What kind of props could we put here?” and out of those props what could we either make, borrow, or have to purchase. We also go through this step for other general elements of the game—how would we do the buildings, how would we do the peg spouses and children, how would we do the cars? The biggest question of all was how to make a life-size spinner?

Once we had ideas for everything we got to work. While the teens were at school, I made most of the spots for the board and other playing pieces, such as the money and the insurance certificates. We then laminated the game pieces so we could save them and do the game again in the future. I also spent time finding images for certain things—for the spot “wrecked car, pay if not insured,” we taped a picture of Flo from GEICO on the space. I also found things like fake checks (so each player would remember their occupation and how much they would receive on Pay Days), fake birth certificates, fake marriage certificates, and so on.

The ChurchFor the last half of September and early October, the teens worked on all the props that we could make. The biggest of these was the 3-D buildings. We ended up purchasing about 60 sheets of foam board for this purpose. The challenge with the buildings in LIFE is that they are so boring!  So we tried to liven them up a bit. The teens added bushes outside the doors and funny scenes within the windows. For example, a Dalek (from Dr. Who) makes an appearance inside one of the fancy houses, the university has a normal classroom scene on one side of the building and a rave going on in the back,and the church has stained glass windows.

The next big thing that the teens had to figure out was what to do with the peg spouses and children. For the spouses we taped two paper towel tubes together, hot glued a small tennis ball to the top for a head, and spray painted them baby blue and watermelon pink. For the babies, my fiancé Gordon Wyant (who works at the Bellevue Public Library) recommended using the tubes that come on library tape. These tubes were sturdier and about the length of a ruler. He got a bunch of those and we hot glued a bigger rubber ball to these for heads and spray painted the bodies. Unfortunately, the rubber balls, once spray painted, were very, very sticky so the teens had to apply baby powder to the “baby” heads in hopes of making them less sticky. As TAB member Peyton Banks said, “They’re sticky just like real babies!”

Kreber, Russell and Harbour with car

Kreber, Russell and Harbour with car

The next big thing was the cars that the teens would use. We decided on a cosplay car contest. No one had to participate, but those who wanted to could design a car out of a cardboard box. The teens then voted on the best “car” costume. Audi Blann’s car had a windshield, steering wheel, and a tail pipe with exhaust (ribbon) coming out of it. Becca Russell and Kayla Harbour combined efforts to make a two-seater car (front and back seats) that had (not-so-safe) baby carrying containers attached to the outside. The winner of the contest, however, was Emily Jones with her “horse,” Sebastian, remarking “Why we gotta all be in cars, huh?”

The SpinnerThe biggest element was the spinner. My teens turned to Gordon for help because they knew that he was really crafty. With some PVC piping, wooden dowels, scrapbook paper, glue, couplings, and a Tupperware container, he was able to make us a fully functional 4-foot spinning wheel. The teens LOVED it! They had to be gentle spinning it (as I told them, “Don’t go all Price is Right on it!”) and it is the part that is the biggest pain to to store for future use.

The thing that my teens love most about getting the grants to do projects like this is the fact that it allows to fund a program that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. And everything can be stored, nothing really goes to waste, and we can redo these life-size games in the future at very minimal cost.

How did this game compare with your Arkham experience? Did they appeal to different kids?

Compared to Arkham it seemed easier, although my teens volunteered a total of 352 hours to make Arkham happen and 319 to make LIFE happen! I think in terms of preparation, Arkham had a heck of a lot more cards that we had to deal with. We spent a lot of time making the cards for Arkham whereas for LIFE it was pretty much me printing them out and cutting them with a paper cutter—the LIFE cards didn’t need to be laminated or fancy.

In terms of playing, LIFE also went a lot faster than Arkham. Arkham is a game that can take an average of six hours to play with the maximum eight players. LIFE was easier because an “encounter” at a spot only took a few seconds—usually you were getting money or paying money—so the most complicated part was the teens remembering where they were standing after they left their spot to spin the wheel.

I don’t think it appealed to different groups of teens. LIFE had broader appeal—Arkham is a very specialized game while LIFE is a game most people have played at some point. I really believe it is the life-size element that attracts teens, whether they played the game or not. It is something totally different and unique as compared to just sitting at a table and playing the game.

What are you most proud of from that week of programming?

How enthusiastic the teens were once again for such a huge program. Volunteering more than 300 hours to make one program happen is not a small feat! I think the teens really do have more fun making such a program happen than the actual event itself. The lead up creates fond memories of what it took to make the program happen.

Do you have any practical advice for other librarians seeking to do something similar?

My advice is if you are going to attempt to do a life-size game to make sure you and your teens will make the commitment to it. Since we are dealing with teens we don’t want such a time intensive program to end up looking boring—we want it to look awesome. So my first piece of advice is to make sure you, as the librarian, and your teens want to make the commitment to such a program. If you’re going to do the program in the first place, commit to doing it right!

Secondly, you will need the funds to do it properly. Before being awarded the TRW grant in 2012 and 2013 we never really did celebrate Teen Read Week much because we didn’t have the funds to spare.  We only have a budget of $500 to last for eight months of school-year programming. We never would have been able to these life-size programs without the help of the grants. So look at the options available to you. Can you get local businesses to donate some supplies you’ll need to make props? Can you ask patrons for donations of props? As part of a bigger library system, can you join together with different branches and combine some of your funds to hold the game and have it go from branch to branch to branch?

Thirdly, while it seems like a lot of work and a lot of money, remember that the great thing is once you have made that initial investment, you can redo the program in the future with little additional cost. Even though Arkham was prop intensive, I am a master box packer and was able to get everything packed away in two boxes. For LIFE it was even better! We put the game space tiles into one book box and put all the other paper props in there too. We painted a box to be a house on fire (for the “House on Fire!” spot) and we put a lot of props into that box so we could save it. We also bought a small mailbox (for the “Attend a Correspondence Course” spot) so we put a bunch of props inside the mailbox and put the mailbox back inside its box! The only prop that is challenging to store for LIFE is the spinner!

What, if anything, would you have done differently?

Honestly, the game play for LIFE was a whole lot smoother than the game play for Arkham. The thing I would have changed is not buying 10 bags worth of Pay Days. My teens love puns so they thought, “Let’s get some Pay Day candy bars and every time we land on a Pay Day spot you can give us our money and chuck a Pay Day at us! It’ll be hilarious!” I did not need that many Pay Days. I think I have ruined Pay Days for every teen that was there. By the time they got to their tenth Pay Day they were like, “No, no more, please!”

What is next for your TAB? Will you continue to apply for grants?

We will continue to apply for grants in the future. We are looking into some local options to possibly help supplement the school-year budget for next year. We, of course, would love to do another life-size game. We might want to do something big that we would need grant funds or we might go smaller. Since our Arkham Horror Gaming Club does a number of complex board games besides Arkham, there are some games that could possibly be held on very little funds, such as A La Carte, a cooking game where most of the props could be made out of cardboard boxes and normal library supplies—the only thing we’d need to buy would be four skillets.

Other than that, my teens are busy working on our Media Club (funded by a Nebraska Library Commission Youth Excellence Grant in 2012) which is an outlet for the teens to create things digitally, including the launching of a teen library website. We also just received funds from the 2013 Nebraska Library Commission Youth Excellence Grant to create a Teen Makerspace, so we are getting a 3-D printer. Lastly, the teens are in the process of creating a teen/child program. This was brought on a few weeks ago when the young daughter of an employee, Emma, was at the library while her mom was working. Emma is around six years old. She kept telling every TAB member that she “works” at the library and showed off the name tag she made. My teens just feel in love with her. Keyahna Wood said, “We should make her an honorary TAB member or something!” That’s when I got the idea of the “TABlets” (I said my teens love puns!) so now they are brainstorming ideas for some type of ongoing program the teens can do for the “TABlets”.

A Sampling of Q&A from the Teens

What do you like best about the game?

Sarah Kreber – Getting to “marry” [actor] Channing Tatum! Haha! But, no, really, I loved how the life-size spinner turned out.

Keyahna Wood – The funny spots on the older version of the board! They were hilarious. I also loved the different things we got to use as props.

Audi Blann – I loved helping make all the props and also getting to make a car for the cosplay contest.

What was your favorite thing about that week?

Sarah Kreber – My friend Juliet Clark, who is a really good artist, decorated the University Building and because she knew I love giraffes she drew one inside one of the windows! It was really cool looking.

Becca Russell – Working on making the 3-D buildings!

Audi Blann – I have actually graduated high school, so I was happy that I was able to come in during the day and help Lindsey set up the room. I was mainly in charge of taping all the game spots down to the floor so they wouldn’t move and then helping place all the props on the correct spots.

What are you most proud of from that week?

Emily Jones – I won the car costume contest with my horse!

Keyahna Wood – All the decorations and props. It was fun just walking around and looking at all the spots and seeing what was there, such as baby dolls (which I made “diapers” for) with presents and baby items in the “a son/daughter is born” spots or the “aunt leaves you 50 cats” spot where we had a bunch of Beanie Baby cats with a cat dish and cat food.

What would you like to tackle next?

Sarah Kreber – So many more life-size games! Ones I could think of doing would include Battleship, Sorry, Operation, Mall Madness, Guess Who, Gloom, A La Carte, Wheel of Fortune, and Deal or No Deal.

Kayla Harbour – I think a life-size checkers could be fun or something insane like Hungry Hungry Hippos! We were joking that we could make little cubby holes out of cardboard boxes painted like hippos that everyone would have to sit inside and we’d use butterfly nets as the hippos’ necks. Lindsey would throw small balls our way and we’d have to use the nets, without leaving our hippo box, to catch the balls!

Becca Russell – I like the idea for miniature games in the future! So creative and so easy to store! I also think a life-size Pentago would be cool or KerPlunk (because a life-size Jenga would kill people!).

Audi Blann – I think life-size versions of TV game shows would be fun. We could make the whole scene of the show. I’d like Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy! That would lend itself to a whole day of life-size TV game shows as a program!

 

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