June 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New York Comic Con 2011: Video games take the spotlight at this pop-culture event

More than 100,000 attendees jammed the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in October for the East Coast’s largest pop-culture event—New York City’s 2011 Comic Con—featuring the latest in comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, and movies. Many of the standing-room-only sessions were geared towards teachers and librarians, providing information about video games in libraries, e-books, graphic novels as tools to connect with library users, and more.

Panels were packed with librarians, graphic designers, gamers, and comic book writers. The panelists in the sessions that I moderated on video game collection development and National Gaming Day @ Your Library were librarians who advocate for gaming in their libraries, such as Tyler Rousseau (Monroe Township Public Library, NJ), Megan Kociolek (Nutley New Jersey Public Library), and Chris Murray (Bridgewater Branch, Somerset County Library, NJ), as well as graphic designer Jonathan Rodriguez, and comic book artist Chris Schwiezer.

The most striking aspect of New York Comic Con was that it constantly promoted reading and literacy. A majority of the intellectual properties at the event were based on books, especially comic books. Hundred of video games, movies, and television shows were highlighted, and they all had their genesis in reading. Of the more than 1000 exhibitors, some of the largest and most impressive booths promoted video games. Three major trends related to gaming emerged from the event: mobile gaming, social gaming, and motion-controlled gaming.

Mobile gaming

While mobile gaming has been a mainstream success since the Game Boy and Tetris bundle in the early 1990s, the advent of smart phones and the decreasing cost of mobile technology have brought mobile gaming to a tipping point. Just about everyone who owns a cellular phone has played a game on it. At Comic Con, most video game companies showed off their mobile games, and many independent game publishers featured games that they developed for smartphones. Mobile technology is increasing by leaps and bounds, and now is the time for librarians and teachers to start implementing it in schools and libraries.

Nintendo focused on its new 3DS system, a handheld device that allows 3D gaming without the need to wear glasses, and also had a huge mobile game presence. Super Mario 3D Land is a Nintendo 3DS update of the Super Mario Land franchise from the Game Boy era. It features game play in line with the current Mario cannon of video game story lines, a vast landscape in color and 3D depth, and is both challenging for hardcore gamers and accessible to the youngest mobile gamers. Also present at Nintendo’s booth was the ever-popular Pokémon franchise. In Pokémon Rumble Blast, one of the featured games, the player controls a 3D “toy” Pokémon. It’s not part of the main Pokémon series, but it’s a fun detour from the very serious and existential story line of the previous two main Pokémon games, Black and White. There were rumblings at the convention, but no official announcement, of a follow-up to the story lines of those two games with a future release of Pokémon Grey.

Social gaming

Just Dance 3

Just Dance 3

Black Eyed Peas Experience

Black Eyed Peas Experience

Social gaming has an important place in a growing number of libraries. Most of the games featured at the convention were either intrinsically social or had a social aspect to them. Ubisoft’s Just Dance 3 and Black Eyed Peas Experience are examples of intrinsically social games: the lines blur between the game’s players and the people who are watching the game play. Onlookers are drawn into the game by its use of music and dance.

Nintendo’s Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS provides a definitive social experience and is the perfect game for library programming because it’s easy to learn and play. This new addition to the franchise includes full 3D graphics, old and new maps and characters, and fun additions like karts that can swim under water and fly. Another game with classic characters that offers a social experience is Nintendo’s Kirby’s Return to Dream Land for Nintendo Wii. It encourages four-player cooperation as you play through the colorful world of Dream Land. It’s easy for new players to drop in and drop out of the game without interrupting play, so it really gives a large group of people the empowering opportunity to succeed as a team.

Many other games in the exhibit hall had online social aspects. Activision’s Skylanders: Spryo’s Adventure, a video game created by Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen who were the screenwriters for Toy Story, drew interest from 100 youngsters from four of New York’s Child Aid Society programs who were treated to a special preview of the game. All you have to do is take one of the 30 Skylander action figures, each having unique powers, place it on “The Portal of Power” (that comes with the basic game), and the figure comes to life in the video game to battle menacing creatures and collect treasures. The Skylanders work on all major gaming systems, so you can take them and “The Portal of Power” to a friend’s house and be ready to play.

Motion-controlled games

Motion-controlled games really hit the big time in 2006 with the release of the Nintendo Wii, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Now there’s PlayStation 3’s PlayStation Move and the Xbox 360 Kinect. And most games for smartphones and tablet computers have an aspect of motion control in them by using the phone’s built-in gyroscope or touch screen technology. These games are engaging—the perfect way to help libraries build life-long connections with patrons.

NBA 2K12

NBA 2K12

Take Two exhibited NBA 2K12 for the PS3 (also available for most other systems). The basketball game features legendary players and teams from NBA history such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. While all ported versions of this game are fun, the PS3 version incorporates the PlayStation Move controllers for motion-controlled basketball play.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Nintendo Wii is more focused on hardcore gamers. The game is set as a prequel to Nintendo 64’s seminal classic game, Ocarina of Time, and focuses on the fantasy tale of the villainous Ganondorf and The Master Sword. The motion controls are very easy to use, whether wielding a mythical sword or exploring a fictional world. Reviewers have praised the game and some sources have called it one of the great video games of all time because of the rich story and intuitive game play.

What we can learn

Librarians serving children and young adults must be familiar with gaming in order to better serve this group. The American Library Association (ALA) has established the Games and Gaming Roundtable to offer librarians a forum to discuss ideas about gaming in libraries, to help them support the value of gaming in their schools and libraries, to make them aware of the importance of gaming in library outreach, to offer a networking forum, and to support ALA’s gaming initiatives. ALA members can add this new Roundtable to their yearly dues for only $10.

Looking back at Comic Con, it is obvious that reading drives this event, and the Marshall McLuhan-esque idea that the content of most electronic media comes from print media is apparent. Many of the video games in the exhibit hall incorporated the important characteristics of good stories: strong narrative structure and well-developed characters.

Comic Con is a lot of fun and a great learning experience. So if you’re in New York City next October 11-14, be sure to visit New York Comic Con 2012.

JP Porcaro (jporcaro@NJCU.edu) is head of acquisitions at New Jersey City University Guarini Library and founder of 8bitlibrary.com.