6.1 General engagement
How NZ public library staff engage with video games appears to closely correspond with how the general NZ population engages with video games.
69% of respondents from this survey reported that they play video games. This is
comparable to the finding that 68% of working-age adults in NZ play video games (working- age adults being defined as 18 – 64 years old) (Brand et al., 2019). Public library staff who
play video games appear to be on average younger than those who do not, and similarly, a higher proportion of New Zealanders between the ages of 5 – 44 play video games than those between the ages of 45 - 94 (Brand et al., 2019). It is not surprising that NZ public library staff appear to be a representative subset of the NZ population in terms of age and playing video games.
The main reasons respondents gave for playing video games are to have fun, to relax, to socialise, and to pass time. According to Brand et al. (2019), the top three reasons New Zealanders report for playing video games are to have fun, to pass time, and to relax/de- stress. These results are congruent. Social interaction may have been indicated more frequently as an important reason in this study due to the current global pandemic and its impact on social isolation. The main reasons respondents gave for not playing video games are a lack of interest or time, or a preference for other activities, rather than a negative view of video games. Only 9% of non-players said that they dislike or do not enjoy them. Even fewer indicated they perceive video games to be a waste of time, and this contrasts with the higher proportion of players who indicated they play specifically to pass time.
PCs and mobile phones are the most widely used types of video game hardware in NZ households, followed by home consoles and tablets, and then handheld consoles (Brand et al., 2019). The types of hardware that public library staff have video game experience with appears to follow the same distribution. However, while only 19% of NZ households have players who have used a virtual reality (VR) headset, 43% of public library staff appear to have used one. A possible explanation for this is that libraries are often access sites for new technology which is out of reach for many individuals, such as VR (Dahya et al., 2021). A greater proportion of public library staff also appear to have experience with handheld consoles compared to NZ households (41% compared to 8%), but it is unclear as to why this is the case. Overall, 92% of respondents have had video game experience with at least one type of hardware, and 88% have experience with more than one. Depth of experience cannot be inferred from these results, but they demonstrate that most public library staff appear to have been exposed to gaming with multiple types of hardware, even if they do not play video games. Those who do play video games seem to have a greater breadth of experience with hardware. Also, as is to be expected, they seem to engage with wider video game culture much more than non-players.
The majority of public library staff who play video games appear to engage with them often and in-depth. A third of those who play indicated that they consider themselves a “gamer”, which, although an abstract term, suggests that they tie some part of their identity to playing video games. Those who consider themselves gamers appear to play on average more often and for longer at a time, indicating higher levels of engagement.
Most respondents (87%) indicated that they think video games have a place in public libraries. This majority was consistent regardless of whether they play video games or what type of position they hold in libraries. Video game players appear more likely to think they have a place than non-players. The sample size was not large enough to identify whether there is a difference in support for video games between position type.
The main reasons respondents gave for why video games have a place in public libraries were that they are or can be educational, they can be used for engagement with new and existing users, that libraries should provide access for those without, that they are part of wider culture and popular in communities, and that they have social benefits. These viewpoints are all heavily reflected in the literature with evidence to support them, (for example, see Adams, 2009; Levine 2006, 2008, 2009).
Of those who indicated video games do not have a place in public libraries, the main concern expressed was that video games do not fit their idea of what a public library is or does. In contrast to video games having an educational aspect, 1 in 5 of this group said that video games are not educational or of little educational benefit. While these viewpoints do exist in the literature (for example, see Annoyed Librarian, 2008), they only appear in a minority of publications and lack evidence to support them.
Many of the other reasons given for why video games do not have a place in public libraries relate to barriers discussed in the literature, such as a lack of resources, disruption of other users, and content and behaviour concerns. Over ten years ago, the negative attitudes of some library staff were identified as a major barrier to developing gaming in libraries (McNicol, 2011). Although negative attitudes still exist, this study has found that an overwhelming majority of NZ public library staff appear to support video games in public libraries. Other barriers may now be more limiting factors.
Out of all respondents, 18% mentioned children, teenagers, or youth in their response to whether video games have a place in public libraries. This indicates that a not insignificant part of the workforce (almost 1 in 5) is concerned with whether video game services can engage or are appropriate for a younger audience rather than a general audience.
On average, respondents indicated that the impact of video games on society is neutral, but video game players appear to perceive a more positive impact than non-players. The main positive impacts described were social connection, education, and entertainment. This emphasis on social connection may again be related to the current global pandemic’s impact on social isolation. The main negative impacts described were antisocial behaviour, problematic content in games, and obsession or addiction. It is notable that the top positive and negative impacts are opposites of each other (social connection and antisocial
When respondents were asked to what extent they agree or disagree with seven
statements, video game players almost always answered more congruently with viewpoints supported in the literature. They appear to agree more that video games support literacies, can increase general knowledge and skills, have a social aspect, and that being familiar with video game technology can be advantageous. They appear to disagree more that violent video games result in an increase of violent behaviour. This indicates that video game players may be more aware of the impact of video games on individuals.
There was no statistical significance between players’ and non-players’ responses to the statement that someone playing video games on a public computer should give up the computer to allow someone else to print important documents. The average response to this statement was to somewhat disagree. Responses may have been influenced by the policies libraries hold regarding short-term use computers and alternate ways of printing, such as from a personal device.
There was also no statistical significance between players’ and non-players’ responses to the statement that the target audience for video games is typically teenage boys. The average response to this statement was to somewhat disagree.
When asked which age groups they think are included in the main target audience for video games, most respondents (at least 62%) indicated ages 5 – 45. More than 90% indicated
ages 12 – 29. Playing video games does not appear to be related to which age groups were indicated. Only 3% of respondents indicated that all age groups are included in the main target audience for video games.
There appears to be a discrepancy between the perceived main target audience for video games and who plays them for ages 46+. According to Brand et al. (2019), between 40 – 55% of NZ 45 – 84 year olds and 14% of NZ 85 – 94 year olds play video games. Only 23% of respondents indicated that ages 46 – 64 are included in the main target audience for video games, and only 8% indicated ages 65+. This discrepancy is possibly due to a lack of
awareness or exposure to older age groups being interested in video games. There is also the possibility that older age groups are interested in different types of video games to younger age groups. If this is the case, and focus is placed on the types of games that appeal to younger age groups, it could result in an underserved population for public libraries that provide video game services. This would be an interesting topic for further research.
6.3 Library services
To assess what video game services are offered in public libraries today, respondents were asked to report whether their workplace holds a borrowable video game collection or runs video game related programmes and events. While these results may give an indication of trends, they cannot be taken as authoritative figures because respondents may not have possessed the knowledge required to answer with 100% accuracy. Additionally, more respondents are expected from larger libraries, which may skew results. However, larger libraries typically serve larger populations which is expected to make results somewhat representative of what is available to library users. Only 14% of respondents reported their workplace holding a current borrowable video game collection, and 59% reported their workplace running video game related programmes and events. Public libraries in NZ appear more likely to offer video game related programmes and events than borrowable
Access to borrowable video game collections may be declining, as twice as many
respondents reported that their workplace’s collection had been retired compared to those who reported current collections. Collections may be retired due to various reasons, such as low use, collection management issues, or limitations due to the rise in digital distribution of
video games. The reason collections are retired does not appear to be directly linked to the classification labels of titles included, as the rate of inclusion of mature and restricted titles appears similar for both current and retired collections.
Respondents to this survey indicated a variety of types, timings, and frequencies of video game related programmes and events. The most interesting result from the description of these was reported target audience. 51% were reported as targeting children, teenagers, or youth. No programmes or events targeted only adults and only one targeted seniors. It appears that older audiences are not usually targeted alone, possibly indicating that they are underserved by video game services due to the discrepancy found in perceived main target audience for video games described earlier.
To provide a service effectively, staff should be confident in delivering it. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they could confidently explain commonly used video game classification labels to customers. The classification labels for video games are the same as those used for films in NZ (Classification Office, n.d.), and DVDs are often considered a core collection in public libraries, so it was no surprise that a majority of respondents could confidently explain each one and 56% could confidently explain all of them. Respondents were least confident explaining the label R15, which is to be expected as it is the least common of those presented. Playing video games does not appear to be related to confidence in explaining classification labels. However, it does appear to be related to confidence level in discussing video games with customers and running video game related programmes and events. Video game players seem to be more confident in both cases and appear more likely to be the ones running video game related events. This suggests that encouraging engagement with video games may increase the confidence of staff in delivering video game services. Further study would be required to confirm this.
45% of respondents reported that they have had a customer comment on or make
suggestions about video game services to them. The most common type of interaction was a request or suggestion for new or existing video game services. This demonstrates that a demand for them exists. 9% of comments or suggestions involved customers asking for games with a mature or restricted rating, demonstrating a demand for providing these higher rated games. However, there may be logistical difficulties in ensuring games are accessed only by those of the recommended or required age.
Barriers to offering video game services in public libraries were mentioned by fifteen respondents. The primary barriers described were financial, such as theft, damage, and the high cost of video games and equipment, which is further exacerbated by their quick obsolescence. In addition to financial barriers, logistical barriers exist such as intensive demands on staff, a lack of staff knowledge, and inadequate spaces. These barriers reflect those reported in the literature (for example, see Adams 2009; McNicol, 2011; Nicholson, 2013).
Another potential major barrier to offering video game services in libraries is the changing distribution model for video games. The gaming industry is moving towards download-only games, which may impact the ability of libraries to share or lend resources (Lindsey et al., 2018). Digital distribution may help mitigate some of the previous barriers mentioned, such as preventing theft and damage of physical games. Video games could be distributed digitally in a similar way to eBooks. However, there does not appear to be any digital distributors offering purchase, subscription or lending models suited to public library use yet. A rise in the popularity of video game subscription services (e.g. Xbox Game Pass) (Statt, 2021) may indicate an opportunity for this to change.