As a continued part of Library 2.0, we were asked to play Runescape which is a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). This is hugely popular with our library kids. After school and on the weekends about half of our comptuers are given over to this game. The kids exchange tips, play together, play against each other, etc. For a computer game, it is a remarkable social event, encouraging real life discussions in addition to the online cooperation. Of course it also starts arguements as kids steal each other's passwords, hack their accounts, etc. I know many librarians hate it and hate the computer time it "wastes". I've never done an RPG or a large computer one like this. I have some friends that do World of Warcraft (which requires the purchase of software and is a subscription based service). Unless we are to block it (which I understand some librarians are doing or are on the verge of doing), it is here to stay. I think it is important that before we block the site or run around prognosticating on the evils of runescape, we should at least try to understand it.
A great deal of reading was recommended to me and I found more on my own.
This article on Runescape from wikipedia is helpful as is the information in the "knowledge base" portion of the runescape website. It is interesting that part of the sucess of this game is that it has a free component and it requires no additional software or downloads but can be played from any web browser. The program is written in java which results in some limits in graphics, but it is fairly good for all that. These are all important elements as to why we see it so much in libraries. My library, like many libraries, blocks all attempts by users to download and save things to computers (an annoying but necessary precaution). Many of our patrons (urban library) do not have computers and/or (high-speed) internet access at home. They would only be able to play a game like this with the conditions (free, works from web browsers) that Runescape provides. Options such as World of Warcraft and Second Life are not a possibility for these kids.
So, my Runescape story...
To begin with I created my character a cute woman/girl with pigtails and a fun blue dress. I named her laughingliz if any of you want to find me online and be my "friend". All that we were required to do for staff day was to make it through tutorial island and add a specific librarian's character as a friend so she would know we really played. All new players are first put in tutorial island which teaches you how to operate controls and perform some simple tasks. They aslo give you various things you will need in the runescape realm. While there are other beginners (or noobs in internet speak) in tutorial island, you do not interact directly with them. I had only a few problems with tutorial island, it didn't seem that much more complicated than Sims which I've played before. There were more controllers and options, all of which are thrown at you at alarming speeds, but other than that it was okay. I was feeling fairly confident because I was having so much less trouble with this than some of my coworkers. And confidence, much like pride, goes before a fall.
With my tutorial island "success", I decided I wanted to understand this whole thing better and I headed off to the real world of runescape to try my hand. I found it very overwhelming at first. I started off as suggested and talked to the various NPCs (non-player characters, basically computer generated characters) to ask for help and advice. There are these tutors and guides. They recommend catching fish or mining to make money. So I caught fish and I mined and I had no idea how that was supposed to become money. In the meantime I was observing the social interactions of my various players (who I guessed were greatly in that teen and tween demographic). I found "listening" to their conversations (which are displayed in text for all to see) one of the most fascinating things. They were recognizing friends, forming groups, social bonds, exchaning myspace pages, etc. Very cool. And since there are no profiles, they accepted me as one of their own and didn't know that I was in fact a 24 year-old librarian spying on them. Marvelous! No clamming up like they normally do when I walk round the bend. In fact I've even had a couple of people offer to be my boyfriend (or bf in internet jargon).
The game is much more chaotic and confusing outside the safety of tutorial island. I had trouble translating skills into money or undertsanding all the steps that go into producing anything, going up levels in various skills, etc. And people kept attacking me! I killed one person and felt just awful about it (I didn't know about running away and he started it) until I realized it was just an NPC. I was rather frustrated about what I should do next as I was having trouble making some of the leaps you need to. I don't like not understanding something or failing at it. My stubborn streak kicked in with a need to "master" or at least get the basics of this game. Fortunately one of my fellow staff members is quite a runescape aficionado and has become my guru. What started out as a simple quest to understand it has turned into a genuine liking for the game. I'm stubborn and wasn't going to give up until I understood the entire thing better and to my surprise it ended up being fun. I don't like fighting other characters or NPCs too well (I've now learned about running away and have been saved a couple of times by other players though I did die once), but I like some of the skills of it and it is just the right balance of mindless/challenging to keep my brain-dead self after work. Unlike many people, I seem to have about a 30 or 45 minute limit for how long I can stand to play. I've played a few times over the last week and a half and managed to raise my skill level in various categories such as cooking, crafting, mining, and smelting. (Numerous attacks finally forced me to spend a little time fighting to raise my levels there, but I didn't like it). I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep playing, but it is sort of fun.
Runescape in Libraries...
Playing runescape has given me a way to talk to kids who've previously been rather wary of librarians as authority figures. In fact one of them is now my runescape friend! I've gone to them for advice and with questions and they like to be able to help the librarian out. Plus it helps me a lot to understand what they're fighting about (in the maybe two incidents we've had over runescape) and what they're doing. I have a lot more respect for the game. Players have to use logic to solve certain puzzles. As you're learning a skill, you will fail a certain number of tries much like in real life. (I've burnt a good deal of bread for example.) That teaches patience and persistence. It takes many steps and some planning to produce some items. Not to mention kids learn computer skills. All of these are good things. Yes, runescape does occupy our computers and our bandwidth, but is it any less valid of a use than some adult who is surfing match.com or playing online chess? (And to be fair I've seen adult patrons who were runescape addicts too). Nope. Plus we're building up kids to like the library as that nice place you can go to play runescape (and maybe since they're already here we can engage them in other activities).
One concern, that fellow Kansas City Public Librarian Clare pointed out in her blog is that according to Runescape rules you have to be 13 to play on the game. (This is because kids uner 13 don't understand the danger of giving personal information online.) To use computers in our kid section you have to be under 13. And yet they're all playing runescape. I was working with a boy today who couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 and yet he's a whiz at Runescape. Here's my thought, it isn't my job to police and enforce the rules that runescape has established. Nor do I want at all to be the evil librarian who prevented the kids from playing a game they love. They'll leave and they won't come back period. I'm not turning them against the library like that. I refuse to be a totalitarian librarian or a parent figure. I'd rather be their friend, help them with the game, with the library, and maybe sneak in a little bit of talk about online security (in brief 45 second bursts). It is something to help our kids be vigilent about, but it isn't ours to enforce. For the most part this game is overly beneficial to our kids, it gets them in the libraries. If librarians give this game a decent chance (I recommend an hour or so, it took me two sessions, maybe 60-75 minutes to get through tutorial island and a little time in the real version of the game) maybe 20 or 3 hours total and it doesn't have to be at once. Even if you don't like it, or don't become a regular player, it will open your eyes to what your kids are doing. You can start conversations with thsoe kids who come in, go straight to the computers, and never talk to you. Ask for help, they'll love it. And I bet they start talking to you more, asking for help with other things, and your relationship with them will expand outside of runescape. This could be a great way to connect to those kids.