The Collected writings of Justin Hoenke

Originally published on 8BitLibrary.com (December 2009-July 2011)

8BITLIBRARY.COM: The Collected writings of Justin Hoenke by Justin Hoenke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at www.8bitlibrary.com.

If this is the future, count me out.

REVIEW: Picross 3D

Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow: Berlin, Germany (May 20-21)

Wii 2 on the way? Don’t worry.

Video Game Collection Development (UPDATE!)

Video Game Collection Development 101 VERSION 2

Gamer’s Advisory: Minecraft and other “do what you want” video games

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 5 of 7)

Retro Gaming

Instruction Manuals

Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow

The Best Snow Day Ever

REVIEW: Super Mario All-Stars: Limited Edition

8BitLibrary’s Games of the Year

REVIEW: Stick Golf HD

REVIEW: Canabalt


5 Video Games That Should Be On Every Library Holiday Wish List

EVOLUTION: Board Games-Video Games-Social Games

Goodbye physical stuff.

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (SESSIONS 3 to 6)

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (SESSIONS 1 and 2)

Review: NHL ’94 (Sega Genesis)

Review: Super 7 (iPad)

Review: We Rule Gold

The Library is the Modern Arcade

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game

Cataloging Video Games at your Library: A brief introduction

Library’s game to attract teen patrons (via the Portland Press Herald)

The Importance of Play

Sell it!

Building a Gaming program from the ground up

REVIEW: Tail of the Sun

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 4 of 7)

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 3 of 7)

REVIEW: Yoshi’s Story

Video Games at the Library on Tour

REVIEW: Wii Fit Plus

Video Game Collection Development 101

REVIEW: Mega Man X Collection

REVIEW: Street Fighter IV (PS3)

REVIEW: A Boy and His Blob (Wii)

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 2 of 7)

REVIEW: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 1 of 7)

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom

REVIEW: A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia

REVIEW: Super Mario 64

The Iron Man of Gaming Tournament: A Program Idea

Should we be adding older games to our library collection?

REVIEW: Wii Music

REVIEW: WarioWare Smooth Moves

Educational Use for Little Big Planet

Review: Shadow of the Colossus

Teaching Empathy (via Library Gamer)

How to convince your administration that gaming is right for your library


Justin’s Essentials for starting a gaming program at your library

REVIEW The Beatles Rock Band

REVIEW: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

REVIEW: Mario Kart Wii

If this is the future, count me out.

Originally posted July 13, 2011

My son Finn has this really strong desire to watch me play Super Mario Brothers Crossover on Google Chrome.  I don’t mind it at all, but there’s only so much side scrolling one gamer can take (the plus side?  My son can now identify Samus).  With that in mind, I decided to seek out a new game for my Google Chrome netbook.  I wanted something quick and easy that would make my son giggle.  After much internal resistance over the past year, I decided to give into the Angry Birds phenomenon last night.

Twenty levels later, I leave the experience thinking only one thing.  If this is the future of gaming, count me out.  

Just how did this game take off?  Well, it’s very easy to see.  It’s easy to pick up, you get to destroy things, and the birds and pigs are all cute and shit.  The controls are simple, so simple in fact, that my 2.5 year old son even figured it out (granted, he’s a born gamer but anyways).  All of these things combined make it ripe for mass consumption.

But that’s not to say it is a good game.  Level after level, you’re faced with the same task…get those pesky pigs by launching birds from a slingshot.  Yes, the puzzles appear to get harder, but in reality all that you’re making attempt after attempt based on luck.  There’s no real strategy to the game.  You launch birds and hope to knock pigs down.  And that’s where it gets addicting.  There’s the illusion that there’s some thought behind the game.  You start to believe that you can become an Angry Birds master.  The catch is that you can’t.  You can only hope that this bird launch will do the trick.  You are hooked.  Goodbye precious hours of your life.

I’m a strong supporter of gaming entering mainstream culture, but this isn’t the way that I was hoping it was going to happen.  We need games to be recognized as a legitimate form of literacy, as a way for people to learn, understand, and interact.  Knocking pigs off of wooden structures with birds is just putting us a few steps back.  We need to highlight games that teach skills such as reading, writing, social interaction, and more.  We need games that change lives, not waste precious time.

And that’s my goal as I continue to write here at 8BitLibrary and join together with some amazing librarians to help start up the Games and Gaming Roundtable within ALA.  I hope to shed some light for the world on how important these games can be for the people experiencing them.

REVIEW: Picross 3D

Originally posted July 5, 2011


WHAT?  Picross 3D is a sort of sequel to other handheld Nintendo Picross games (see here andhere) which finds the user chipping away at numbered blocks in a puzzle like manner in order to reveal a picture.  It’s sort of part puzzle, part sudoku, part trinket collecting, and more.  And it’s really addictive

WHY? I gave this game a shot a few months ago and since then I’ve been thinking about it nonstop.  The simple puzzle mechanics of the game combined with the ability to work towards an end where youget something (hey, everyone loves a blocky dolphin) has got me hooked.  It takes just enough brainpower to keep the player learning and working towards a goal and at the same time saves just enough energy for fun.

WHO? I really think Picross 3D could be a gateway drug into video gaming for many non gamers.  When I play the game, I imagine it having the potential on a non gamer as say, something like Angry Birds has had on the world…something that sucks up time, is enjoyable, and requires some planning to play.  The game will require a tough sell though…”hey, you figure out puzzles by decoding numbered blocks and the prize you get is a blocky dolphin/dog/Nintendo character”.  I recommend talking up the game as an investment.  It is something that may seem clunky at first, but the potential for a rewarding experience are there.

Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow: Berlin, Germany
(May 20-21)

Originally posted May 21, 2011MAY 21S

The Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow comes to the District Central Library Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

Another installment of the Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow (which I posted about in the past here) happened over the last two days in Berlin, Germany.  I had the opportunity to once again talk via Skype with Christoph Deeg and the wonderful librarians who attended the program on Saturday morning.  I’ll turn the mic over to Christoph:

The gaming Roadshow is a great success! We had many participants. In addition to children and adolescents, and adults were also interested librarians from Berlin and Potsdam and the surrounding area as Fürstenwalde with it.

In the afternoon at 16:30 we had a special guest at the road show, we were visited by the Ambassador of the United States, Philip D. Murphy and his wife and a son. The ambassador did not want to just talk and see what we do so but he wanted to play above all. And thus he was or his family for a half hour of the Road Show.

US Ambassador Philip D. Murphy and Councilman Dr. Jan give Kinect a shot

Many thanks to Christoph and everyone else involved with Gaming Roadshow.  It’s always an amazing experience for me to talk to others about gaming.  I learn so much from you and I take that and do my best to translate what I’ve learned for my patrons here in Portland, ME.  If you haven’t checked out what Christoph and the Gaming Roadshow are doing, click on the link above (use Google Chrome and Google Translate for wonderful results!) and enjoy.  And to end, I can’t think of anything else more fitting:

Gaming! Love!

Wii 2 on the way? Don’t worry.

Originally posted April 21, 2011

Rumor has it that the Wii 2 is on its way.  With reports of Wii system prices dropping to $169.99 at select retailers as well as other bundles of information flying off of the blogs of video game websites (“it’ll be fast!  it’ll have pretty graphics!  it is coming in June!) it’s easy to get caught up in the fever and think that this is the end of the Wii for you library collection and/or programming.

Are we looking at the past?

Well, don’t worry.

The Wii has a strong library of 968 games (as of December 2010) with more to be released in the near future.  The total number of systems that have been shipped is 84 million, making it Nintendo’s biggest home video game system to date.  Chances are that the people using your library will continue to use their Wii systems for their gaming entertainment for years to come, so providing them with games to enjoy is still a solid strategy for library video game collections.


When it comes to video game programming, I myself believe that you can’t go wrong with a Wii system and a library full of patrons.  Most, if not all, of the 4 player games for the system have an insanely high replay value which will keep players having fun.  The biggest complaint that will most likely come when the next generation Nintendo system is released is that the Wii is “old and that we want to play something new”.  What do I say to that?  I say give them options.  When the next generation of video games come around, libraries will have to invest the time and money into obtaining these systems and learning about them and what they offer our patrons.  But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the Wii.  Use it as you have always been using it for programs.  The games speak for themselves…they are enjoyable and full of entertainment, so let them do the talking.

Video Game Collection Development (UPDATE!)

Video Game Collection Development 101

Originally posted April 5, 2011

Much thanks to Alex Lent for giving us the nudge to update this post!

1. Start small

I still stand by this idea 100%.  You don’t have to go for broke with your new collection.  I recently had a great conversation with Devin Burritt of the Jackson Memorial Library about starting up a video game collection.  He made it happen at his library recently and started off with a small collection of Wii titles aimed at all ages.  By keeping things small at the start, you will understand how your collection is being used by your patrons.  With this information, you can continue to build your collection and have it guided by patron input.  Which brings me to my second point…

2. Know your audience

Who will be playing these games?  Your patrons.  As fun as it is to buy video games, you have to put aside your personal preferences.  Sure, I really dug Elite Beat Agents but you know what?  My patrons didn’t.  It’s one of the few games that constantly stays on the shelves here at my library.  What did I learn from this?  Don’t trust my gut reaction when purchasing games.  Instead, TALK to your patrons when they’re browsing your game collection.  Notice what they’re checking out.  Heck, just simply ASK them what they want!

3. Plan ahead

You have to have a plan for your collection.  Are you going to collect games for systems that are no longer supported by companies?  Are you going to invest in the newest video game systems even though there is a chance they may not take off?  Once again, gauging your patrons interests is key to planning ahead.  At my library, we recently received a donation of Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation 1 and 2 games.  I decided to add them into the collection just to see what people would think.  It turns out that they circulate like mad and now I have people asking me to get a bigger selection of older titles.  I’ve even had to submit an interlibrary loan request for a title I couldn’t find in print anywhere.

4. Gamer’s Advisory

Over the past year, I’ve found the topic of what I’m calling Gamer’s Advisory key to making a video game collection work in your library.  Sure, you will most likely have a rabid set of patrons that will check out your games, but the collection only really starts to show its true worth when you can add recommendations (not just for other games, but for other materials and experiences the library can offer).  Keep the patrons coming back for more at the library.  Turn the avid gamers onto something that else that they may not have tried in the past.

5. It’s not just about lending physical items out

I’m a big fan of this topic.  Libraries are struggling to grasp how to circulate electronic materials in the library.  This is cause for some concern, but at the same time it opens up a new door for us.  Instead of lending out items, create experiences.  Give the patrons something they cannot get elsewhere.  I bring up the example of the local Portland, ME store The Fun Box Monster Emporium.  They’ve got a row of awesome pinball machines in their store that their customers can play.  Why can’t libraries do something like this?  Invest in some gaming tools that will give patrons gaming experiences that they can’t get everyday at the local video game store.  Personally, I want to buy a Pac Man arcade machine for my teen lounge.

Gamer’s Advisory: Minecraft and other “do what you want” video games

Originally posted April 4, 2011

I have to admit that I haven’t actually played a minute ofMinecraft yet.  However, that’s not to say that I haven’t been pretty interested in the game.  I watch a lot of Minecraft YouTube videos in my spare time and I’m amazed by the stuff that people are creating in this game.

Games where you start out with nothing and you build something have always interested me.  I’ve reviewed one ofmy favorite “do what you want” games here on 8BitLibraryand I continue to play these types of games at home.  One of my recent rediscoveries was the game Wrecking Crew.  Wrecking Crew was part of the small Nintendo Programmable Series.  Chances are that you’ve played one of these three games.  With Wrecking Crew, you are Mario and your job is to break things.  You have a giant hammer that makes it so that you can’t jump.  On each of the 100 levels, you’re charged with finding an optimal order in which you will have to destroy the various elements of the board without making contact with one of the enemies.  That part of the game was good fun and all, but where I spent most of my time was in the level editor.

The level editor let you design up to four of your own Wrecking Crew levels.  This is where you could get creative and let your wildest Wrecking Crew dreams come to life.  Creating impossible and intricate puzzles was what I liked to do the most.  I’d make them into mind bending little adventures that you’d have to study before actually attempting the level.  This feature also got me rather interested in game development.  It gave me a chance to look into how games are constructed and why developers made the choices they did.  The biggest bummer was that the LOAD/SAVE feature that game claimed to have didn’t work (it only worked with the Japanese version of the game).  My mini Wrecking Crew masterpieces could only be enjoyed for as long as the NES stayed on.

It feels like Minecraft is inspiring a new generation of video gamers that love to build, explore, and understandvideo games.  With that in mind, here’s a quick list of five games that any Minecraft fan that you run into at the library may enjoy.

Justin’s TOP FIVE games for people that dig Minecraft:

  1. Wrecking Crew was released originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but you can get it on the Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii (and you can save your levels now!)
  2. Excitebike was released originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but you can get it on the Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii.  It has a really wonderful track editor feature.
  3. Tail of the Sun was originally released on the Playstation.  You can read my review of the game here.
  4. Endless Ocean and its sequel Endless Ocean: Blue World were released on the Nintendo Wii and you can still buy the games here.  In these titles, you do little more than explore a vast ocean full of life and other interesting locales.  Quite a unique adventure.
  5. SimCity and any of the countless sequels (my personal fave was Sim City 3000) are great examples of games where you have to manage resources and build your own city.  I started off with the Super Nintendo version of Sim City.

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 5 of 7)

Originally posted March 30, 2011


This is long overdue, and I am sorry.

As the first title for the Nintendo 64 system, Super Mario 64 changed the way we look at games.  Up until this point, games had been mostly a two dimensional affair, with some lame attempts at immersing the player in a larger 3D having entered the video gaming fray.  It wasn’t until Super Mario 64 that we learned just how much fun it is to run around everywhere in a game instead of just usually going from left to right.

Play a game like Banjo Kazooie or the Jak & Daxter and then play Super Mario 64. Notice anything?  They all share similar game play.  Your view is from behind your main character and you’re in a 3D rendered world.  This “style” of game was created by Super Mario 64. The first time you fired up this game on your Nintendo 64 was the first time you ever played anything like this and let me tell you having experienced it first hand, it was a pretty amazing moment.

These days, these types of 3D platforming games are a dime a dozen.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.   There is an excellent selection of titles just like this out there that will provide hours of enjoyment.  Super Mario 64, being the first 3D platforming game, brings a unique scenario to the table.  Through this title, we can understand how the 3D platforming game has evolved over the years and see just how much influence this one particular title has had on the gaming industry.

These things about stood out to me as I recently replayed the Super Mario 64:

1. Originality

It may be a hard thing for younger students to grasp, but this game was one of a kind when it first came out.  Explain the history of the Mario series and how it evolved from 2D to 3D.  Emphasize just how much of a change it was going from Super Mario World to Super Mario 64. With those ideas established, then have your students look at other 3D platforming games (I recommend the Crash Bandicoot series, any 3D Sonic games (especially Sonic Adventure for the Sega Dreamcast), or the games I mentioned above.  What have those games borrowed from Super Mario 64? Where have they made improvements on the game play of Super Mario 64?

2. The World of Super Mario 64

While the world in which Super Mario 64 takes place may seem small to the worlds in which games take place these days (I’m thinking of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), at the time of the release it felt like the world was never ending.  Each world had it’s own unique feel, enemies, music, and more.  What are the elements of each of these unique worlds and how do they work together to create a unique feel?  Can these worlds be mapped out visually?  How are they constructed?  Since the game is in a 3D setting, I would recommend usingGoogle Sketch Up to have your students either recreate the Super Mario 64 worlds visually or to have them create their own worlds influenced by the game.

Retro Gaming

Originally posted March 28, 2011

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that I’m first and foremost a retro gamer.  When it comes to the latest and greatest games out there, I haven’t played about 99% of them.  I rely on video gaming blogs and magazines to keep me up to date when it comes to the present.  For most of the time, however, I live in the past.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I grew up with these games.  That’s the big reason why they are still a huge part of my life.  With my video gaming history firmly in place mixed with the librarian thinking part of my brain comes a barrage of ideas on how libraries can use retro gaming to attract and educate patrons.

It's odd to think that these kids were not born when the last NES game was released.

Retro gaming programming at your library is a great way to let the public know that video games have a HISTORY.  8BitLibrary and Piscataway Public Library teamed up and had a Retro Gaming Event in 2010 (Clickhere or here for pics).  These programs are designed to turn your library into a makeshift museum of video game history.  What does this history do?  Like classic books, it will show your community that gaming has a rich background.  Games like Minecraft which encourage players to build and create their own world have their roots in games like  Sim City.  Librarians can find and show these connections to their community.  These connections in video game history will create a rich tapestry of games which we can then use to educate our patrons about the rich possibilities gaming has to offer.

Personally, I really enjoyed the Virtual Boy.

Yesterday’s release of Nintendo’s new handheld 3D gaming system the Nintendo 3DS gives libraries who have the system a chance to offer up the device for testing within the library.  It’s a simple idea…set up some systems for your patrons to play and teach them about the technology.  So where does retro gaming come into the picture?  Nintendo’s tried 3D gaming before with the Virtual Boy.  It didn’t really work out that well and the Virtual Boy died off rather quickly less than 1 year after it was released.  Most people haven’t ever heard of the system and look at you in disbelief when you tell them about it (“why in the hell would they have released that?” is my favorite question I get when I tell them about the specifics of the Virtual Boy.) Giving patrons a chance to play the Virtual Boy at the library will create a unique experience which they’ll most likely not get anywhere else.  It will also open up a lot of discussion on 3D gaming and how this new technology will impact our culture.

Yes, I applied some photo filter to this pic to make it look older.

Which brings me to my final point…can anyone give me a good reason why we shouldn’t lend out retro games and systems to our patrons?  I’ve talked about this topic once before and the more and more I think about it this option seems like a no brainer.  As libraries are squished out from viable eBook lending options and all that other stuff, what does the mission of the library become?  I’m an advocate of giving our patrons experiences over just giving them stuff.  Lending out retro games and systems like the Sega Saturn above gives our community a chance to experience something that they may not have a chance to experience elsewhere.  My recent ongoing affair with X-Men: Children of the Atom for the Sega Saturn was only made possible by the fact that my mother and myself are pack rats who saved every single piece of video gaming history I collected.  While I do enjoy the time I spend playing this game at home by myself (my wife won’t play with me) it would be a lot cooler if I could share this experience with others.

Instruction Manuals

Originally posted March 4, 2011


I am a fan of instruction manuals.  They’re usually the first thing I check out when I buy a new video game.  I have so many fond memories of going to my local mall and into Babbage’s to buy whatever NES and Sega Genesis tickled my fancy.  After the purchase, I’d hoof it over to the food court and scarf down some bad (actually, good) fast food while perusing the instruction manual.

But oh, times have changed.  The internet gives us all the information the instruction manual and more.  I’m finding out through lending out games that many times the instruction manuals just don’t come back.  What do libraries do after that?  Do we shell out money for a new copy of the booklet and make an already pricey item even pricier?

That’s where I turn to http://www.gamefaqs.com.  Basically, it’s like a library for video game FAQ’s, cheats, instructions, and more.  I simply find a decent FAQ for the game with the missing instruction booklet, and print a sticker with the link on it and place it in the circulating game.  If a patron needs the instruction manual, they could follow the link to the GameFAQs site to find their information.  Maybe when QR codes catch on in the world (have they?  They seem like a novelty to me) putting QR code links to the online Game FAQ’s will be the way to go.

Do you have any methods you use for replacing lost instruction booklets?  Do you think games should still come with instruction manuals?

Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow


Recently, I had the opportunity to Skype with Christoph Deeg, Julia Bergmann, and many other amazing librarians in Cologne, Germany about gaming in libraries during the Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow event on February 15 and 16.  For the idea behind Zukunftswerkstatt, I’ll pass the mic to Christoph….

The roadshow is a mobile-future-library. The idea behind is to bring future-technologies such as gaming, mobile internet,  and eBooks to the librarians.  In the first step the roadshow is about the world of video games.  Together with their patrons librarians can try out different games.  After this they are asked to discuss the chances and the risks using games and then the possible next steps to integrate games into their daily business. In germany most of the public libraries rent games.

But most of the libararians do not know much about games and the culture behind them. We believe that in the future games and the internet will be the plattforms where cultural and scientific content is imparted/mediated. That means people will learn, play, work and create with video games – and of course they will have a lot of fun. Because of this we believe that libraries should start to think about gaming and develop new services for this.

What really interested me about the Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow was the community and discussion aspect.  It brings people together not only to experience the games in libraries but to also encourage discussion on how libraries and patrons can work together to bring gaming into libraries.  Instead of us (librarians) running the show, it gives the power to our patrons and lets their opinion dictate the way we handle video games in the library.  Remember, we are the PUBLIC library, and the Zukunftswerkstatt Gaming Roadshow is showing us just how important our public can be.

The Best Snow Day Ever

Originally posted January 18, 2011

Finn not only enjoyed the snow, but also really dug Kirby's Epic Yarn

On Wednesday January 12, 2011, Portland, ME got walloped with snow.  It wasn’t the biggest snowstorm the town has ever seen, but it did shut everything down.  Part of that shutdown was the call I got at 7:00am saying that the library was closed.  While I was bummed that our patrons couldn’t get into our building on a snowy day to relax and unwind, I was a bit giddy inside knowing that I got to spend the day with my family.

Two days before, I had borrowed Kirby’s Epic Yarn from my library.  It was my favorite game of 2010 even though I didn’t get to spend too much time with it.  This time around, I set my goal on completing the whole thing….with some help.  Teaching your two year old about video games and all the talk around that has been swirling around in my head long before 8BitLibrary existed.  Some will say it’s good, some will say it’s bad.  I try to listen to both sides of the story and take a balanced approach.  My son Finn and I have playedBeatles Rock Band quite a bit before taking onKirby’s Epic Yarn, but it was just for a moment or two.  I’d play 2-3 songs on the bass guitar while Finn drummed along.  He picked up some tunes from the game which he can be heard singing (with great alternate Finn lyrics) at the top of his lungs in our apartment almost everyday (EX: BE!   SEA!  OCTOPUS’ GARDEN!  SHAVE!).

Kirby’s Epic Yarn, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be a 15-20 minute thing.  I approached playing this game as a story time between myself and Finn.  I’d do the playing (unless of course, he wanted to) and as the cut scenes were occurring I’d read them to him.  I’d point out interesting things happening on the screen and try to craft an on the fly Kirby narrative as I played the game.  I used Kirby’s apartment as a place where Finn and I could experiment with him getting the hang of the controls.  We dabbled in placing our found items in the house.  Finn wasn’t too interested in this and instead really got into it when I was playing the game.  We gave names to some characters and locales in FinnSpeak©.

All in all, I had a blast playing Kirby’s Epic Yarn and I think Finn has a new found love for Kirby as a character.  While I can’t see a practice like this being adopted for story times in a public library setting (prove me wrong, please!), for one on one interaction with a child it is a great way to both teach them about video games and get some story time in there as well.

REVIEW: Super Mario All-Stars: Limited Edition

Originally posted January 3, 2011JAN 3RD

WHAT? To celebrate Mario’s 25th birthday, Nintendo has cobbled together this collection of Mario history.  The package includes a direct port of the Super Nintendo game Super Mario All Stars (which includes Super Mario Brothers 1-2-3 and the Lost Levels), a music CD of musical selections and sound FX from the Mario catalog, and a small book with Mario artwork and insight from the creators.

WHY? Libraries should be purchasing this game for the simple fact that it gives patrons who own the Nintendo Wii a chance to enjoy 4 wonderful games.  The only other way to get these games is to download them through the Wii shop channel.  The addition of a music CD and history booklet also adds to the appeal of this package and will give patrons a good example of the rich (and still greatly underappreciated IMHO) history of video games.

My biggest beef with this set is that IT COULD’VE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER.  Add Super Mario World into the mix as well as more cuts from Mario’s musical history and right there is a better package.  Oh well.  That’s just coming from a hardcore Mario fan like me.  Your patrons won’t notice the difference.

WHO? Anyone with a Wii and an interesting in discovering their video gaming roots should check this out.  It also might be a good purchase for educators looking to use Super Mario in the classroom

8BitLibrary’s Games of the Year

Originally posted December 21, 2010

2010 has been a pretty erratic year for gaming. The mobile and downloadable market has shown that you don’t have to create an triple-A title to be great, or to capture the hearts and wallets of people who don’t even consider themselves gamers. Whoda thunk that with new Mario, StarCraft, and Call of Duty titles, so much of our game time would be spent on Angry Birds? Along with all that’s occurring in screen-based gaming, board games seem to be enjoying a renaissance. At MPOW’s National Gaming Day event, the number of people looking wanting to play non-video games was exponentially larger than those looking to jam out on Rock Band. In the wake of all this change, the one thing we must never lose sight of is the ability for a game to surprise, and the titles chosen by 8BitLibrary writers are no exception.

The following are selections for our fave-rave games of the year. These aren’t meant to be consensus picks, nor should this be mistaken for a definitive list. I just asked people to submit their choices, along with their justifications. Beg to differ? Have something else to add? You know what to do.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn – selected by Justin Hoenke

WHAT? Kirby’s Epic Yarn isn’t the most revolutionary platforming game to come out in the past few years, but it is tons of fun. You control Kirby who is on a quest to find 7 pieces of magic yarn to reunite Patch Land. Simple yet unique game.

WHY? Kirby’s Epic Yarn is both super enjoyable and ridiculously cute. Combine those two with excellent game play and beautiful graphics and you have a winner on your hands.

WHO? Anyone looking for a fun adventure game should check out Kirby’s Epic Yarn. It’s a must for libraries to have…patrons of all ages who own a Wii will get something out of this title.

REVIEW: Stick Golf HD

Originally posted December 14, 2011

WHAT? Stick Golf HD is a simple golf game for the iPad where you are a little stick figure person playing golf on a wide array of interesting courses.  This isn’t your typical golf game.  Courses go up mountains, through caves and more.

WHY? First off, free is good.  Having scrapping the bottom of the barrel searching for good games in the horribly laid out iTunes App Store, I gave up a few weeks ago on finding anything that wasn’t a demo or required me to pay to actually enjoy the game.  Stick Golf HD came along out of the blue as a free app (looking at it today, yup, still free) that was actually enjoyable.  Whether or not this game will become one of those apps where you have to pay for more content or not is to be seen, but for the time being, enjoy the freeness of it.

WHO? I don’t have anything personal against golf, but it’s just one of those sports I’ll never really play.  However, hook me up with Stick Golf HD on the iPad and I’m all set.  The physics in this game are what seals the deal for me.  I feel like every shot I make actually makes sense when I think about the angles/wind/etc before I set up the shot.

Pick it up while it’s free.

REVIEW: Canabalt

Originally posted December 13, 2011

WHAT? Canabalt is a browser based (or a Google Chrome App as I discovered it) game where your only goal is to run and jump.  Buildings are falling down, giant robots are in your way, and a ton of other crazy stuff.

WHY? Canabalt’s simple gameplay is its best feature.  It’s easy to pick up and pretty intense once you master the gameplay.  The 8 Bit black/white/gray graphics contribute to the simple gameplay to create a unique experience.

WHO? Everyone.  The game is free, so there’s no reason to not check it out.  Imagine a computer lab full of library patrons competing for the highest score at a gaming event.  Everyone can get into Canabalt and they should.

Wanna play?  http://www.adamatomic.com/canabalt/

Better yet?  Get Google Chrome and try it out at their app store


Originally posted December 10, 2010


I use MercuryApp.com to track my mood twice a day.  I’ve focused a good part of this year on my thoughts and feelings as a public library.  I use a scale of 1-5 (1=low 5=high) and my average for the last quarter of this year is a 4.03.  Before using this site, I just kept a log in Google Docs. While I didn’t use a numbered scale, I can see that I hit rock bottom at the end of summer/start of fall.  I was a wreck and I didn’t want to do this any longer.  But I didn’t stop.  I realized that I couldn’t get much worse and that things would start to look up if I just focused on them getting better.  And they did.  When you want things to be good, you can make them be good.  When you want them to be bad, you can make them be bad.  It’s your choice and from here on out, I chose happiness.


People start to freak out when they don’t have any clue what is going on.  I found myself doing that earlier this year.  I was lost and didn’t have a path.  But when there’s nothing but confusion all around you the thing is this…there is no path.  It’s up to you to pull out that machete and hack your way through the jungle and create your own path.  Open your mind to your wildest library dreams and go for it.  You can’t lose.


I’m never going to write some eloquent thesis on the state of libraries in the 21st century and implement a twelve step plan on how to save libraries.  I will leave that stuff to smart people like Heather McCormack andTim Spalding.   What I can do is have dinner and a beer with you and talk about awesome stuff.  I can tell you that you’re awesome (because you are, we all are) and hopefully give you some positive energy.  You are great.  Remember that.  I don’t mind being a cheerleader.


Cliques, drama, gossip girls, etc.  Everyone’s picking little fights and forming groups.  I wrote about this idea here this year.  I think it still applies.  Sure, I may not 100% agree with you but who cares.  None of this is about us.  It’s about everyone else.  Let’s make it happen together. (I point to David Lee King’s excellent Rock Star Librarian post and my response to it here)


First up, I’m not a big fan of having enemies.  Like I said above, we’re all in this together.  But there are always gonna be people that you can never seem to relate with.  Keeping those “enemies” close is bullshit.  This idea has been around for ages and it hasn’t worked and will never work.  Keeping your “enemies” aka “negativity” in your mind and soul is just gonna create more bad stuff.  We don’t want that.  Instead, I recommend keeping those positive forces we all have in the front of our minds and souls.  When we put out good things into the world, we get good things back.  This is how we can change the world.


That line was the first thing I wrote in my article “Have Degree, Will Travel” for the October issue of Library Journal this year.  I stand by it 100%.  Get messy and do stuff that might make you feel weird.  In the end, everything works out and you come out as a stronger person.  The other good thing?  When you try something new and unique, the people you’re doing this stuff for appreciate what you’re doing.  I think about Leah White over at Morton Grove Public Library.  She’s sticking her neck out to win $10,000 for her library in Picture This!contest sponsored by Playaway by trying something new.  Leah told me once about her going out into the community to raise support for the cause.  That’s not something they teach you in library school.   I dig that.  


Let’s forget about “this generation/that generation/our generation” because here’s the deal:  Every generation had their revolution.  Every generation succeeded on some parts and didn’t get as far as they’d like with others.  There’s a damn good chance that our generation is going to have the same luck.  We shouldn’t be dissing other generations of librarians for what they’ve done.  We may not see it as carrying on other’s work but in a way it is.  Like I said above, we’re all in this together.  The revolution is ongoing and it will never end.  We’re evolving, not failing.

5 Video Games That Should Be On Every Library Holiday Wish List

Originally posted November 26, 2010NOV 26TH

We Rule for the iPad

WHAT? Basically, it’s like a Farmville for your iPad,  You build a kingdom, you interact with other players, and you can buy stuff to make your kingdom grow quicker.  Simply put, the game is fun.  It’s basically like a scaled down more social version of Sim City.  The best part?  It’s free.

WHY? Libraries really haven’t jumped onto the offering social games for patrons thing (other than offering computer use to patrons).  Why not get a few iPads and encourage your patrons to play this game as they hang out in the library?

Halo: Reach for the XBox 360

WHAT? The popular first person shooter for the XBox 360 is back.  This is developer Bungie’s last Halo game and boy did they go out with a bang.  Halo: Reach will give any gamer, hardcore or casual, hours of enjoyment.

WHY? Multiplayer.  Expect this title to be a hit at in library video game programming.  Recommend it to patrons who are looking for a great multiplayer game that they can play with their friends and family.

Rock Band 3 for the XBox 360, Playstation 3, or Nintendo Wii

WHAT? The ever popular Rock Band series is back.  This time around, a keyboard is thrown into the mix as well as the ability to use real instruments to play the game.  Add in a killer song selection, great visuals, and you’ve got a bucket full of awesome on your hands.

WHY? While reports of music game sales declining across the board continue to show up in the news, that doesn’t mean that your patrons won’t enjoy Rock Band 3.  Simply put, too many music games came out too quickly.  Remember Wii Music?  Yeah, we’re blaming games like you.  Rock Band 3 is finely crafted game that will provide hours of enjoyment for friends and family.

Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii

WHAT? Samus Aran, the ever so awesome lead in the Metroid series is back in this 2D/3D/First Person Shooter hybrid from Nintendo.

WHY? Because Metroid games are awesome. Seriously, Metroid: Other M gives the gamer an adventure they’ll never forget.  The hybrid puzzle/action/shooter gameplay is something that you won’t see in ANY other games out there.  A truly unique experience.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Nintendo Wii

WHAT? Kirby’s latest adventure finds him/her (?) in a land full of yarn, buttons, and other cool stuff.  This 2D adventure game is sure to wow you not only graphically but also give you a hell of a good time.

WHY? Kirby’s Epic Yarn has this beautiful blend of puzzle and action gaming that any age can pick up and enjoy.  Highly recommended for families, so suggest this to the parents that come through the library with their kids.  Plus, Kirby is just so damn cute.

EVOLUTION: Board Games-Video Games-Social Games

Originally posted November 20, 2010

I’m just tossing this thought out there.  I don’t have anything really solid to back it up, but this has been going on in my head for the past few weeks.

First there were board games.  We played them with our friends and family and we still play them.  They came into our culture and we adopted them quickly.  Video games came along in the late 70′s and knocked board games from the throne of most popular type of gaming.  Board games still existed and developed more of a cult following.  By this, I mean board gamers developed their own community in which they could flourish and enjoy their pastime.  Video games grabbed everyone’s attention.  The world sort of went nuts for Mario, Sonic, and everything about video games.  We all started playing them.  The early 2000′s were the golden years, with the Playstation and XBox arriving on the scene and Nintendo continuing to pump out excellent games and ideas.  But as we know, every party has to end.  Or does it?

Instead, let’s think about the history of gaming as an evolution.  The party’s still going on.  Many times board games are often pegged as being against video games for some odd reason, but we’re all in the same boat.  We’re gaming.  We’re creating worlds, sharing fun, and indulging in a social event.  That’s why the next step in gaming excites me so much.  Finally, the lines have been blurred a bit.  Board games and video games hooked up and had a cute little baby called social games.

We should play! My ID is justinhoenke. Look me up!

I’ve recently started playing a game called Wordfeud on my Android phone.  It’s basically a knockoff version of Scrabble in a social setting.  AND IT IS FUCKING WONDERFUL.  Simple, well made, and social.  I’m playing with people I’ve only met once or twice in real life, people that live in my town, and people I’ll never meet.  It’s part board game, part video game.  I’m not afraid of the future.  I’m enjoying it.  Gaming is finally whole.

Goodbye physical stuff.

Originally posted November 19, 2010

When getting ready for a local high school class to come in for a session on the resources the library could offer them, I panicked as I searched the shelves and found little information on the topic of grant writing, non profit organizations, and United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Combine that with the problem that most of the titles were a bit out of date (out of date books=a common occurance in our quickly changing world).  I didn’t want to bring 70 teens into the library just to tell them to check our website and the databases we offer to our community.  It didn’t seem like a good idea.  The teens that I have been interacting with on a day to day basis at my library use us to access things online.  Does it matter that we have the entire run of Naruto in print?  Nah, they’d much rather just go to One Manga and read it online (even if we have it on the shelf.  Checked out?  That’s another thing.  Who wants to wait for something when they can have it now?)

Blurry, but you get the point. Lots of teens.

It made me realize a simple idea that’s been going over in my head the past few months: that the world of physical stuff is almost over.  You may not agree with me but a big part of me feels that libraries collecting physical information and materials are throwing away their money on something that is going to become so quickly outdated.  I’d much rather take that money and invest it in either developing sustainable digital solutions or by spending it on creating experiences.

What do I mean?

CREATING DIGITAL SOLUTIONS: The more and more I dive into learning about the open source community, the more and more I love the idea behind it.  Basically, open source provides us with the tools to create something that we can use for our libraries.  I can’t offer solid examples because my knowledge of open source is still developing (I understand 0.0000001% of what is out there about it) but I can say this…the leg work has already been done.  Encourage your staff to learn about open source and the culture behind it.  Hopefully from there we can build sustainable digital solutions for libraries in the future.  I just think about the awesome shitJohn Blyberg has done for libraries and wish we could each have our own version of him at our libraries.

CREATING EXPERIENCES: 90% of what I bring to the table as Justin The Librarian is an experience for teens in the library.  My biggest focus as a teen librarian has been to bring the teens in my community experiences that they can’t get just anywhere else.  Be it game nights, discussions about faith and identity, or local bands in the library,  I feel like these experiences can make a bigger/better/harder/faster/stronger experience for teens and a greater incentive for them to become more committed to their library and involved in their community.

I’m not saying get rid of your physical materials budget.  Like I said above, there’s just as strong of an argument for keeping physical collections up to date.  I’m not interested in debating that.  What I want to think about is how we can move ahead and accommodate a generation that is less reliant on physical stuff.  Let this thought seep into your head:

What libs need to fear is what happens when the kids today are the adults tomorrow? Will they need us? Why?   -Lori Reed


Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (SESSIONS 3 to 6)

Originally posted November 11, 2010

WEEKS 3 through 5: Now that  the ideas were flowing out of the teens, Gibson and I decided to throw a curve ball.  Sure, you have your own ideas, but games are not created by one person.  You have to work as a team!  With that in mind, we split the participants up into two groups.  Using their best individual ideas, we encouraged them to create a concept that unified all of them together into one solid game.  The groups were chosen by Gibson and myself in the hopes of each individual contributing their own unique talent to the overall group.

We each took one group and acted as the mentor.  For my own group, I was armed with a MacBook Pro and Google Docs, copying down every idea and trying to make sense of it all for the teens.  The hardest part was trying to encourage the teens to hone in on the solid ideas they created without adding too much more.  Our teens were idea machines, so nailing down a solid idea to focus on for three weeks proved to be rather hard, but in the end we made some sense of it all (see below for the final project documents)


Our basic idea in the beginning was to have the teens pitch the idea to us and try to sell us on why we should make this game a reality.  For our final session, the other teens, Gibson and myself, and University of Southern Maine Journalist and Game Reviewer Dylan Martin joined us to hear what the final games would be all about.


DAY/NIGHT developed by Dr. Professor Games

THE INSIDE MAN by Virus Productions

It was a great joy working with both The Telling Room and the teens on this really cool program.  Gamers of the future, don’t fret.  There are some amazing ideas floating around in heads of today’s teens.

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (SESSIONS 1 and 2)

Originally posted October 14, 2010

WEEK ONE: I have to admit, we got off to a rough start.  It’s not a bad thing, as it made us go back and look over our plans.  And we’re glad we did that.  By looking over plans once again, we got a renewed focus on what we want to do/accomplish with this workshop.

How did we get off to a rough start?  Well, the ideas POURED in from the teens.  Yes, yes yes, that’s not a bad thing…but we weren’t ready for this.  Gamers also have this uncanny ability to talk about games nonstop, one thing that I forgot when planning.  So the first session was a lot of ideas and talking about games we like and that was about it.  The lesson plans went out the window.

However, I have to add that there was a victory.  We saw the passion in these teens for video game creation.  They didn’t just come to this workshop to pass time.  THEY HAVE IDEAS AND THEY WANT THEM OUT OF THEIR HEAD.

WEEK TWO: Our curve ball for Week 2 was group work.  It was our attempt to get all these ideas into some kind of cohesive ball and start moving along.  We did a quick analysis of the teens that had attended the workshops and put them into groups.  The teen who loved sport games with the one that loved RPG games?  Yah, that’ll work.  And it did!  Thinking outside the box is something that these teens excel at.  Putting polar opposites together was a fabulous idea that found our two groups coming up with some VERY interesting and solid game ideas (I won’t spoil them for you, we’ve still got a lot of work to do).

Week two ended with a quick pitch, like a TV ad about the games where the teens had to sell us on the idea.  Action, Adventure, and Excitement packed into 30 seconds…and they had us hooked.

Next week, we head out into the wild streets of Portland, Maine to photograph interesting locales and buildings that could somehow make it into our games…

Review: NHL ’94 (Sega Genesis)

Originally posted October 6, 2010

WHAT? Bursting onto the scene in 1993, NHL ’94 forever changed how we envision sports games (particularly hockey, duh) on home video game systems.  The perfect blend of strategy and fun, NHL ’94 showed the world that it was possible to have a game that took time for a gamer to master but at the same time could be played by anyone just picking up the controller.  NHL ’94 showed the world that multiplayer gaming could open a whole new world of competition, community, and enjoyment.

WHY? Retro gaming shows the world where we came from and how we ended up where we are today.  Playing NHL ’94 will give gamers a glimpse into the evolution of multiplayer sports gaming and how the balance of fun and competition is a struggle for sports game developers.  You want a bit of statistics geek mixed in with a little casual gamer in sports games.  Getting that mix is tough, but NHL ’94 manages to get there.

WHO? Everyone should play this, sports fan or not.  You get a glimpse into just how much care is put into a title by the developers.  I recommend checking out NHL ’93 before playing this game.  To the untrained eye, they’re the same game, but if you look closely you see the minor tweaks the development team made to give NHL ’94 that slight edge.  It’s all about learning, and boy oh boy, you can learn a lot from this title.

Go here for a pretty basic but informative wiki entry on this most excellent title.


PPS I reviewed the Sega Genesis version because, to this day, I still maintain the belief that the Sega Genesis was far superior to the Super Nintendo in terms of sports gaming.  Why?  I don’t really know.

Review: Super 7 (iPad)

Originally posted October 4, 2010

WHAT? Super 7 is a simple puzzle game for the iPad.  Using your finger, you draw lines between numbered hexagons and link them together to get to the number 7.  The key here is building up large hexagons to get more points.  Once the ball (or hexagon) gets rolling, the game gets faster and throws in negative numbers, special power ups, and more.  These additions take the puzzle element to the next level.

WHY? Simple and easy to pick up, Super 7 is a great way to get into gaming on the iPad.  It shows how simple gaming on the iPad just using your finger to contribute to the action should be.  It’s not overly clunky and all that it takes is for the player to simply draw a line.  Anyone could get into this game and younger children could perhaps learn something about numbers and math.

WHO? Well worth the 99 cents it costs to download the game, Super 7 is a great game that will provide a short spurt of fun to the player.  It could also be a great game for younger kids learning about numbers and math.  The action may get too intense (speed wise) for them once the numbers start flying, but a basic run through the game will help get them familiar with numbers and addition.

Download Super 7 here

Review: We Rule Gold

Originally posted October 2, 2010

WHAT? We Rule Gold is a Sim City esque simulation game for the iPad.  Basically, you have a castle, you build up your realms, and your trade with your friends.  We Rule Gold borrows heavily from past simulation games such as Sim City and focuses on a whole new social element we see popping up in games.  Players become friends with others and trade goods in order to get more experience points and gold to build more things for their kingdom?  The point to the game?  Well, there’s not really any set in stone goals for the game besides just trading, collecting taxes, and building your kingdom.  That leads me to the next section…

WHY? We Rule Gold is a great time killer and an even better introduction to gaming on the iPad.  As I said above, there’s not really much of a point to the game other than creating, building, and sharing.  That’s where it gets fun.  Connecting with people, requesting trades to get more experience points and gold, and seeing how their kingdoms are built is a great way to expand your own kingdom.  You get sort of a sense of ownership once you’ve spent a lot of time building this little kingdom and it feels great to update it.  For example:  My wife and I just put some ruby trees in our main realm.  It doesn’t do much, but once you harvest your ruby crops you get more gold.  With more gold comes cooler items.  We’re saving up for a university!

WHO? If you have some time to kill (10-15 minutes per day) and want to play something quick and fun, this is your game.  It’s also a great introduction to your iPad and what gaming on the device can offer.

Find out more about We Rule Gold and other games from ngmoco:) here

The Library is the Modern Arcade

Originally posted October 2, 2010

And unlike an arcade, the library has a librarian.  So the librarian’s role in the future library is like, a readers advisory, but more like, a life’s advisor. A sage. A teacher who extends beyond the confines of a school.  A mentor.  A friend.

-JP Porcaro, via Google Chat 09/30/2010

After every game night event that I hold at my library, I leave feeling inspired.  I think to myself about the events that just transpired and what I remember is nothing very library-like going on at all.  There are no library cards, no fines, no books.  Instead, we’re gathering in a small space surrounded by our friends, our games, and an electricity in the air.

The teens that come to my library probably don’t remember arcades, but I do.  For me, they were a home away from home, a place where I could connect with other people like me and share my love of video games.  In a way, arcades were community spaces.  People who loved games came to arcades to share that love with others.  They connected and formed a small community of like minded people.

My teens gather around our Playstation 2 and participate in Virtua Fighter IV matches every Wednesday.  They wow when one teen pulls off a complex combo on another.  When the loser falls, the next in line steps up to take on the winner.  They cheer each other on.  They trash talk.

Holy flashback Batman.  It’s 1993 and I’m sinking all my hard earned quarters into Mortal Kombat II at the local mall.  Except this time it’s at the library and it’s totally free.  And the teens playing the game have a friend they can turn to if they need help.  From everything I remember, the dude that gave me quarters wasn’t there to act as a friend.  He just gave me quarters.

We shouldn’t be fitting out game nights into any traditional library programming molds.  Our game nights should have the same vibe that arcades used to have back in the 80′s and 90′s.  A ton of fun, loudness, and excitement all rolled up into one.  The librarian is, in a way, the sage.  We’re there to guide our patrons on an experience.

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game

Originally posted September 24, 2010

In the Summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to meet with the wonderful staff of The Telling Room, a Portland, Maine about collaborating on a program centered around the creative element of video game design.  A collaboration with The Telling Room was something that I was very keen on establishing when I started my new job at the Portland Public Library in March 2010.  Their mission just about sums up why I was so eager to meet with them:

The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students’ stories. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.

After an initial brainstorming session with Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, we came up with the rough outline for the program we wanted to offer to the teens of Portland.





Once we digested this information, we settled on the title Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game and announced it to the public with the following press release:

Ever had an idea for a new video game? In this workshop, we’ll look at what the best games have in common and then brainstorm, storyboard, and create concepts for new ones. Who’ll be the star of your game? What will your world look like? We’ll hunt for words and images–the possibilities are endless.

Our next step was developing an outline for us to follow during the six weeks of the program.  I believe this is what educators would call a lesson plan.  This was the first time I had done something like this for a program, and going into the project it gives me a sense of what to look forward to and inspired me to try out new approaches to programming for teens.  Our outline ended up looking like this:

Session One

Supplies: easel paper (Gibson), markers/crayons/pens (Justin)

  1. Ice Breaker: Name, School, Favorite Video Game Character & Why (5 min)
  2. About the TR, About the PPL, About the workshop (5 min)
  3. Brainstorm Characters Lists (Gibson, 10 min): Name, place, etc, etc.
  4. Share (5 min)
  5. Slide Presentation: Classic Video Game Characters (Justin, 10 min)
  6. 20 questions on your character (include special powers) (20-30 min; 1 hr total)
  7. Slides on supporting characters (Justin; 10 min; 1 hr 10 min)
  8. Create more characters (20 min?)
  9. Read from/leave with handout: Heinlein, Hobbit, 1984, Potter, etc. (Gibson)

Session Two: World & Objective

supplies: laptop, cameras, hero handout

Session Three:

Session Four:

Session Five:

Session Six:

We started by creating a solid foundation with our first two sessions and from there getting an general idea of where to take the next few sessions.  It’s a mix of planning and improvisation.  After working with the teens for two weeks, our hopes are that the following weeks will be a bit looser and more creatively open for the teens to explore their ideas for creating a game.

Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game starts on Tuesday October 5th at the Portland Public Library.  During those six weeks, I’ll be sharing our experience with this program on 8BitLibrary.  Be sure to check back for more.

Cataloging Video Games at your Library: A brief introduction

Originally posted August 31, 2010

Dewey probably never envisioned a time where we’d be cataloging video games that we play on our talking picture boxes, so why do we have to listen to him?  Cataloging video games is a new thing for libraries.  There’s a bit of confusion floating around on how to do it, so I say we capitalize on this chance to forge a new path ahead.

I have started circulating video game collections at two libraries and we did the call numbers two different ways.  Both have their pros and cons as you will be able to easily see.

At the Cape May County  we labeled the games with this format:


For example, Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Nintendo Wii would look like this:


Here’s an example of this method:

Super Mario Galaxy 2 at the Cape May County Library

At my current library, we label the games with simpler tag:


Our thinking was that the games were in the teen area and the titles were easily visible on the spine label already.

Here’s an example of this method:

Super Mario Galaxy 2 at the Portland Public Library


My point with this post is simple.  There are many different ways that you can do this and it all boils down to the simple question “what will work best for your patrons?”

Please share any video game cataloging examples you have in the comments below!

Library’s game to attract teen patrons (via the Portland Press Herald)

Originally posted August 12, 2010

Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer for the Portland Press Herald

Library’s game to attract teen patrons :Portland adds video games and gaming get-togethers to keep young people coming back.

When I talk about gaming in the library, I’m often vague and quite hippie-ish with what I’m going for.  I need an editor for everything I do.  Luckily, the teens of Portland, ME are there to finish my sentences.

All summer, Max and Josh Tommer, ages 10 and 16, respectively, have been coming to game night, playing a board game called Settlers of Catan.

“I just wish this was our house,” Max said.

This is why we’re gaming in the library.

The Importance of Play

Originally posted July 30, 2010

My son Finn exploring "The Legendary Starfy" on the Nintendo DS.

From such an early age, we’re taught the importance of play.  In their publication titled The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, the American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of play for young children.

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.

I couldn’t agree with them more.  In watching my son Finn grow over the past year and a half, I have seen how his playing with toys, dirt, sticks, pots, pans, and more have helped him develop his personality and skills.  Through playing with pots, pans, and spatulas, the kid now has the motor skills to do very specific and focused tasks.  I remember back to when he was 6 months old and how he was nothing more than a little blob that crawled around a bit and screamed for his mom’s breastmilk and think, “holy shit, play is really like his third parent.”  It’s taught him so much.

However, I don’t fully agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics.  They go on to talk about the decrease of free play in our society and how the “routine” of childhood has changed.  One of their key factors as to why free play in childhood has changed has to do with, yup, video games:

The decrease in free play can also be explained by children being passively entertained through television or computer/video games. In sharp contrast to the health benefits of active, creative play and the known developmental benefits of an appropriate level of organized activities, there is ample evidence that this passive entertainment is not protective and, in fact, has some harmful effects.

Really?  Call me a hippie, but I think video games are just a new form of free play and it’s about time we quit labeling them as something negative in regards to childhood.  As someone who grew up on video games and turned out alright, I’m walking proof that video games are not as detrimental as we like to think they are.

Video games expanded my mind as a child.  I would spend part of my days exploring the vast world of Hyrule as Link, scaling Death Mountain, collecting fairies, and exploring dungeons.  The other part of my day was playing in the woods, discovering nature, and dreaming that this was my own Hyrule.  It was a great childhood and I often look forward to the days where my son and I can enjoy life and explore both the real and virtual world together in the same way that I did.

Recently, my son Finn and I began experimenting with the Nintendo DS game The Legendary Starfy. A simple 2-D side scrolling game that features a star named Starfy as the main character, I got absorbed into this title not only because the simplicity and fun of the game but I also identified it as a good title to use to introduce the world of video games to Finn.  He took to it quickly, at first because Starfy is as cute as hell and really, who can resist him? After Finn got the hang of the controls (and by hang, I mean he figured out that the buttons made Starfy do cool things like walk and spin), that’s where the fun began.  I saw Finn moving Starfy left and right and use the buttons to make Starfy spin and interact with the bubbles around him.  There was a giggle and a smile.  Finn was not only enjoying the title, but he was picking up a new skill: “Hey, if I do this, it makes this star do cool things!  What else can I do?”  His focused changed and grew the longer he played the game.  He explored the other elements of the game.  He interacted with other characters on the screen.  He pushed more buttons.  One of the best moments came when he realized that the start button pauses the game and changes the screen to a giant, hopping Starfy.  He looked at me and smiled.  It’s as if he has found the holy grail of video games.  And he did it all by himself.  With this in mind, I ask you to recall the quote that I used to open up this post: “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”  Heck yes it is.  I saw my son grow and learn before my eyes all because of a giant star named Starfy on the Nintendo DS.

The key is balance.  The American Academy of Pediatrics report talks a lot about balance, but at no point does it mention that a balance between virtual play and free play being an essential element towards having a healthy child.  Instead, it gives video games the brand that they’ve been long marked with: mind numbing technology that will turn your child into a blob who can’t identify with society.  Balance between different types of play (not just video games and free play) contributes to a healthy child, one who will develop the necessary cognitive, physical, social, and emotional they need to face the 21st century world.

In closing, I’d like to ask this: As librarians, we’re dealing with the public day in and day out.  One of the great opportunities we have is the chance to educate our communities.  How can we move forward towards a world where all forms of play are seen on a balanced level?  It goes back to the idea of Gamer’s Advisory that I had a few days ago.  What types of programs and initiatives can we come up with to show the world the importance of many different types of play?

Sell it!

Originally posted July 28, 2010

Fire Emblem for the Wii and the strategy guide. Borrow the game, borrow the guide.

I know my years of slaving away in retail would come in handy.

Chances are, your circulating video game collection is gonna fly off the shelves, but why not spice it up as well?  Present your video games with the strategy guide (and if the game has any books that might be similar, why not try those as well?)

Let’s call this Gamer’s Advisory.

(I think I recall Gamer’s Advisory coming out of Toby G’s mouth first.  Thanks for the inspiration, you muse you!  Read Toby’s blog here)

Building a Gaming program from the ground up

Originally posted July 21, 2010

When I came to the Portland Public Library in March 2010, there was nothing in the way of video games at the library.  It threw me for a loop.  I had to buckle down and get to work.  This was quite a daunting task, one that many libraries are facing as they start up their own video gaming programs.  So, I thought it would be cool to share my story so far, 3 months after we reopened to our community.

What am I trying to say?  Gaming programs take time and effort.  It’s a big task, but over the course of three months I’ve seen a great deal of change happen in the library.  My point?  The work is hard, but the investment is worth it. You’ll get that feeling when you see your first teen say “you can play video games…in the library?!?!?!?!?!”

Review: Tail of the Sun

Originally posted June 28, 2010

WHAT? It’s a video game…sort of!  Tail of the Sun is a doozy of a game released WAY BACK in 1997 on the Playstation One.  You’re a caveman whose job is to to build a tower of mammoth tusks to the sun.  So how do you do that?  You randomly roam around, gather and eat food, sleep, and, um…do stuff.

That’s where this game gets interesting.  You really are just wandering around without any guidance.  And you can do that forever if you’d like.  Who cares.  Is this really a game?

WHY? Tail of the Sun is a pretty revolutionary game.  Coming out at a time where “non games” were few and far between, releasing this title to an American audience was a pretty bold move.  In the almost 15 years since it has been released, games like Animal Crossing have established the non game genre as something very legitimate (and money making).  These games where you just “do stuff” have taken off.  Endless Ocean? Heck, what about Second Life? Non games are here to stay, and it (sort of) started with Tail of the Sun.

WHO? I’ll be dead honest here.  This game will turn off 99.5% of players out there.  Heck, I’m a fan and I even got pretty bored with it.  The graphics were kind of boring at the time of release and they still don’t look too good on the eyes.  The endless wandering can be a bit of a drag.  But if you’re into gaming advisory, this title is PERFECT for fans of the non game genre.  If you like Animal Crossing you’ll dig this.

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 4 of 7)

Originally posted June 22, 2010

Released in 1990 as the flagship title for the Super Nintendo, Super Mario World didn’t change how we play video games but it gave the Super Mario Brothers universe some wonderful features that are still featured in the games that we play today.

In particular, two things about Super Mario World stood out to me as I recently replayed the game:

1. The Spin jump:  Basically, you jump gets some more firepower.  In addition to being able to KO enemy by stomping on their head, the spin jump allowed you to bust bricks and defeat some enemies that couldn’t be killed with the standard jump.

Doesn’t sound too fancy, right?  BUT IT IS!  Think about modern Mario games and his ever popular butt thump.  This is where it came from.  The butt thump is a central feature in 3D Mario games.

2. Yoshi: Mario’s always been the star of his games, but Yoshi gives him a major run for his money.  It was in Super Mario World that Yoshi made his first appearance.  Since then, Yoshi’s had so many spin offs (read my review of one of those here) that he’s almost become his own franchise.

This is what Nintendo does so very well.  They’ll add one small element to a game that won’t seem like a big deal, yet over time it becomes almost as important as the original game itself.  Yoshi is a perfect example of how a simple idea can be taken to the next level.

So how can we incorporate Super Mario World into the classroom?

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 3 of 7)

Originally posted March 24, 2010

Super Mario Bros. 3 was released in 1990 and since then the Mario franchise has never been the same.  While Mario games have really always been big and full of adventure, I believe that this installment really took gaming to the next level and gave the series a solid place in pop culture history.

Each world that Mario or Luigi found themselves in was an epic, themed world that featured multiple levels, different castles, and a boss.  These themed levels really created the template for the future worlds that Mario would explore.  It gave us characters, locales, and items that all gamers and most non gamers will recognize.

Even more interesting was the promotional campaign Nintendo rolled out for the game.  In 1989, the feature film The Wizard starring Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis (later of Rilo Kiley fame!).  Basically, the film was an hour and a half long commercial for Nintendo.  Did it work.  Heck yes.  I remember being a rather impressionable nine year old kid that wanted EVERYTHING THAT THIS MOVIE OFFERED ME.

So, wait, where were we?  Oh yeah.  The movie ended with a video game tournament featuring Super Mario Bros. 3 as the final challenge.  It was the first time the game had been shown to a wide audience in North America.  The effect?  Mass pandemonium and huge sales.  Super Mario Bros. 3 quickly became one of the biggest selling and most influential games of all time.  Did it have something to do with The Wizard? Thinking back to my nine year self, I’d say yes.  I was in hysterics about the game after I saw the film.  I had to have it.  Advertising really does work.

So how can we incorporate Super Mario Bros. 3 into the classroom?

Review: Yoshi’s Story

Originally posted March 17, 2010

WHAT? A sort of sequel to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, this title features the character Yoshi as the main character in this 2D/pseudo 3D adventure game.  This title, which was originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998, is now available for download through the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console.

WHY? Yoshi’s Story is a classic, although slightly flawed adventure game in the Mario series. It’s major drawback is the simplicity of the game.  Compared to other Mario games, it is a pretty simplistic affair that more hardcore gamers will be able to complete with great ease.  Graphically, the game is beautiful, as each stage and the characters are colorful and full of life.

WHO? Yoshi’s Story is a classic 2D adventure game that I can’t wait to show my son when he gets older.  Why you ask?  It’s the perfect entry level kind of game for a young child to play.  It mixes enough old school gaming elements with something a bit more modern to make it pretty unique.  Highly recommended to parents who want to get their children into simply, yet fun gaming.

Video Games at the Library on Tour

Originally posted March 12, 2010

One way to get the word out about gaming in libraries is to take your program out on the road.  Hearing about gaming is one thing, but users will start to see just how important gaming can be in literacy and libraries once they get their hands on the games themselves.

I saw some kind of magic happen when I took my game night program out on the road in the Summer of 2008.  Sure, we had the hardcore gamers that just wanted to play coming to the program.  But something else happened as well.  I saw older folks getting really excited about sharing the experience.  I had never seen this before.  I thought the cut off age for anyone to like video games was 30.  Boy I was wrong.

While it may not be the most exciting video in the world, I really think this video sums up what I was trying to accomplish with this program.  Gaming is for all ages to share and enjoy.  The experience is what counts.  Getting people together to have a positive experience like this does two thing.  It gets them understand that gaming is a good thing and it also shows the value of the library.

Here’s how I approached the program: Think of yourself as a traveling rock band.  Pack up the van with your gear, gather some bandmates, and head out onto the road for an exciting (yet tiring) week of gaming with your library patrons.  At the end of the week, not only will you have more library users interested in gaming but you’ll finally understand exactly what Bob Seger was talking about in “Turn The Page“.

Review: Wii Fit Plus

Originally posted March 10, 2010

WHAT? The first update in the Wii Fit series, this title adds more games and exercises to the Wii Fit experience while tweaking the overall experience to make it more friendly to users.

WHY? While the update does provide the user with more games and exercises to play, the title feels a bit like a minor update of the original game.  At $19.99, the game is rather inexpensive but it all feels like the content should’ve been offered by Nintendo as a cheaper download.  I’m thinking five to ten bucks, tops.

WHO? If you love the original Wii Fit, you’ll appreciate the update.  However, if you (like me) were just sort of curious about Wii Fit when it came out and were not a hardcore fan, you’ll want to pass on this.  The title is PERFECT for libraries.  WHY?  It’s not worth buying, but it is worth giving a shot.  Your patrons will appreciate that you’re lending out the title so they don’t have to spend $20 on it.

DEAR NINTENDO: This title is a good example of why downloadable games and content work really well.  I love the Wii Shop and the Wii Ware titles.  You’re doing a great job there.  Let’s take the Wii Fit series to the next level and offer us some cheap downloadable add ons.

Video Game Collection Development 101

Originally posted March 9, 2010

I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about how to start up a circulating video game collection that I thought it was time to really dive into the topic here on 8BitLibrary.  What I’d really like is for this post to develop and be a collaborative document.  Please, share your stories with us!  We’ll use your comments, suggestions, fails, etc in a future blog post.

1. Start small

You don’t have to go for broke with your new collection.  I recommend starting small.  Focus on one branch (preferably the main library in your system) and go from there.  By keeping things small at the start, you will understand how your collection is going to be used and how it can grow on a larger scale.

2. Know your audience

The best way to get in touch with the people you will be buying these games for is to have a gaming program at your library for a few months.  Over those few months, you’ll get an idea of what types of games will work at your library.  Feel free to ask the people attending these programs what they think.  Chances are, they’ll be your best resource for creating a unique and well used video game library.

3. Develop a plan for each system

Once you know your audience, the next step is to plan out where you want to take each collection.  While they’re all share the name video games, each system has its own audience.  The XBox360 is known as the system for more hardcore gamers who really want to dive into the world their games offer.  The Nintendo Wii has more casual gamers and laid back games.  I myself am still confused as to who has a Playstation 3, and I think everyone pretty much has a Playstation 2 somewhere.  Can you rely on these “audience types” all the time.  No.  But they sure do help when you’re starting out.  

Review: Mega Man X Collection

Originally posted March 8, 2010

WHAT? Welcome to the Mega Man of the future.  Taking place 100 years (I think?) after the original Mega Man series, he’s back and well, pretty much the same.  Mega Man X offers players a whole new rich cast of characters and simple yet fun game play.

WHY? Collections are good, and this one offers 7 games for the price of 1.  A collection is a wise investment for libraries to be making in times of tight budgets.  You’re getting more bang for your buck.

WHO? The side scrolling action found in this series may have some more modern gamers looking for something else, but the beautiful game play in this title is where they’ll be hooked.  Mega Man also offers such a rich history (lots of other great and not so great titles) that users who love this title will have no problem finding more.

Review: Street Fighter IV (PS3)

Originally posted March 3, 2010

WHAT? It’s back.  The game that changed how we look at the fighting game genre returns with Street Fighter IV. Now before you go on complaining about how this is just another rehash of the series (for you non-gamers out there: There’s been what seems like 70 different versions of Street Fighter that have come out over the past 10 years.  Most updates just add new characters, stages, and tweak game play dynamics), I say SHHHHH!  While the game keeps true to the Street Fighter dynamics we’ve all come to love, it adds a new layer and welcomes a new generation of players to the amazing series.

WHY? “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”  -LL Cool J.  The series may have not been in the public eye much over the last few years (Street Fighter III was made for the more hardcore fan, in my opinion), but the shadow of Street Fighter has been felt in the countless other fighting games released. Street Fighter IV arrives at the perfect time, ready to reclaim the throne.

Plus, look at those graphics.  BEAUTIFUL!

WHO? Street Fighter IV is the perfect blend of all the best qualities the game has offered over the years.  It’s easy to pick up for those new to the series and regulars will feel at home with the game play. Street Fighter experts will also get a new challenge with this title.  New characters, the addition of focus attacks, and more will give them something new to master.

As a longtime fan, I’m happy with the balance that Capcom has achieved with Street Fighter IV. Libraries should not hesitate this title to their collection.

Review: A Boy and His Blob (Wii)

Originally posted March 2, 2010

WHAT? The sort of classic Nintendo game A Boy and His Blob is back, re imagined for the Nintendo Wii.  The plot is simple: a boy has a friend who is a blog and together they attempt to stop the evil emperor from Blobonia.  Simple, straight-forward, and lots of fun, A Boy and His Blob is a unique puzzle/action game that will no doubt bring much joy to the owners of the Nintendo Wii.  This is a wonderful game.

WHY? I don’t want to say it sucked, but the first A Boy and His Blobwas sort of average (see my review here).  It was a great idea, but difficult and sort of cumbersome (yes!  I finally used that word in this blog!).  This re imagining of the game takes that brilliant concept and executes it perfectly.  The game manages to be tricky yet fun and rewarding, a tough feat for puzzle/action games.  To top it off, the animation and artwork in this game is absolutely beautiful.  It’s one of those games where you don’t mind sitting back to let someone else play it just so you can watch.  The backgrounds and characters are bustling with life.

WHO? The game is nowhere near as hard as the original, but I’m still gonna say that this title would be best for ages 10 and up.  A must have for any library collection, this title will provide hours of enjoyment for many gamers.  The uniqueness of this game will be its biggest selling point.

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 2 of 7)

Originally posted March 1, 2010

1988 gave us Super Mario Bros. 2, one of the oddest yet ultimately rewarding titles in the Mario series.  The game has an interesting history.  When Super Mario Bros. 2 came out in Japan, the title was ultimately a remade version ofSuper Mario Bros. with harder levels.  When it came time to release the game in the USA, Nintendo decided against it.  Instead, the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic was taken and modified.  Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess were added and BOOM!  Super Mario Bros. 2 was here for all to enjoy.

Since Super Mario Bros. 2 started out as a totally different game, the gameplay is not something you’d expect from a Mario game.  Instead of finding coins, stomping on Goombas, and thwarting the evil Bowser, you’re picking up vegetables, stomping Shy Guy’s, and throwing eggs at Birdo.  Weird stuff.  The interesting thing about this is that while all the characters in the game were originally intended for the Doki Doki Panic franchise, as a result of Super Mario Bros. 2 the characters became integrated in Mario mythology.  The Shy Guys now fight Mario alongside the Goombas.

Pushing the envelope even further, Super Mario Bros. 2 allowed the player to select a character other than Mario.  Each character had its own attributes.  For example, the Princess could fly for a short period of time while Luigi was an extraordinary jumper.  This addition gave the series a new depth.  Players could use the skills of each character to best complete a level.  It was not just about getting from point A to point B anymore.  Instead, players had to map out in advance who they think would best help them complete a level.  If that failed, it was back to the drawing board with another character.

In a discussion of Super Mario Bros. 2, one could focus on the following:

Review: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars

Originally posted February 23, 2010

WHAT? OK, Capcom is finally getting weird on us.  Taking characters from their own roster and mixing them with the who’s who of Tatsunoko Productions characters (a Japanese animation studio famous for Tekkaman and the original Speed Racer just to name a few), Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is another entry in ever popular Vs. fighting game series by Capcom.

WHY? Simply put, Capcom makes the most beautiful and well crafted fighting games out there.  Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is not an exception.  The game manages to keep everything that people love about Capcom fighting games intact while still managed to be innovative and fun.  The simplified 3 button configuration for this Wii only release will allow newcomers to adjust to the series.  Die hard fans may be taken back by this, but fear not: there are other control schemes you can use with the GameCube or Wii Classic Controller if you want a bit of depth back in the game.

WHO? The not so recognizable cast of characters may turn off some players, but let’s face it.  This game was created for the hardcore nerd who understands just how importantScience Ninja Team Gatchaman is in the world of popular culture.  If you’re not into this kind of stuff, I still highly suggest you give this title a whirl.  Not only is it a blast to play, but you may even become a fan of these wonderful characters.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a Wii only release by Capcom.  Let’s see more of those please, and thank you!

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom (Part 1 of 7)

Originally posted February 22, 2010


Since bursting onto the scene in 1981 in Donkey Kong, the Mario character has been a mainstay in our popular culture.  Over the years, Mario has gone on so many quests, adopted so many different personas, and in turn, become interwoven in our lives.

Having been around for such a long time can have its benefits.  Coming up on 30 years, Mario has seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the launch of the internet, 9-11, and the first African American President of the United States to name a few.  In our never ending quest here at 8BitLibrary to help the public see video games as a true source of mediawhich inspires users to create content and information, I’ve come up with some ideas for teachers and educators on how to use the Super Mario Bros.series in the classroom to help show just how much we’ve changed as a culture over the last three decades.

In 1985, the original Super Mario Bros. was released for the Famicom System in Japan.  Featuring Mario on a quest to save the Princess, you controlled Mario through eight levels of pipes, goombas, coins, and the ultimate evil enemy, Bowser.  Suffice to say, Super Mario Bros. changed the way we play video gaming.

One of the biggest game changers Super Mario Bros. featured was the element of a quest.  Before this game, a lot of video gaming had been about getting the high score.  Super Mario Bros. was one of the first games that focused on the user experience rather than the high score.  While a score system still did exist, the main goal of the game was to save the Princess at the end of level eight.

Super Mario Bros. also established the idea of a mascot for a video gaming system.  Nintendo was the company that developed Mario, so he quickly became the star of their system and the focus of their marketing campaign.  Before Mario, Pac-Man was the most regarded video game star but had no specific platform which the character was attached to.  In the end, the world of video gaming was never the same.  Future systems such as the Sega Genesis had Sonic The Hedgehog which was their answer to the idea of a mascot.

Finally, one key feature of the game has to be the music and sound effects.  The game’s theme as well as the numerous sounds effects created just for this title established Super Mario Bros. as a unique playing experience.  It can be argued that the game helped create the genre of Nintendocore, a style of music that focuses on video game inspired melodies and themes.

In a discussion of Super Mario Bros., one could focus on the following:

I’ll be back soon with my take on Super Mario Brothers 2. Until then, here’s some helpful links for those interested in more Mario history.

Some additional resources to help you in your studies:

IGN Presents The History of Super Mario Bros from November 2007

Mario @ the Super Mario Wiki

Super Mario Brothers in the Classroom

Originally posted February 18, 2010

Starting this upcoming Monday, 8 Bit Library will begin a new series on Super Mario Bros. in the classroom.

The inspiration for these posts came about in one of my (Justin) many recent professional conversations with Buffy Hamilton.  Since Buffy is a school librarian, she looks at using technology in education in a different way than I do.  I’ve always seen technology in education as something stagnant (for example: using research databases to obtain information).  What I got from Buffy and her Media 21 project is that technology in education isn’t just about using the internet or an online database to find information.  It’s about instilling a passion and excitement into the learner through collaborative tools and exploration.  This represented a totally new shift in thinking and viewing video games for me.

Exploring something like the history of Super Mario Bros. is a great way to instill the passion of learning and discovery in student by encouraging them to research something that is important in their lives. I noticed that the teens that participated in the Game Night program at my library were more likely to visit and use the library after they had attended a few gaming events at the library.  Why could this not work with education?  Hook them with Mario at first and then in no time they’ll finally learn to dig Catcher In The Rye after that.  Right?

With this series, we here at 8 Bit Library hope to inspire you and give you some pointers on how to incorporate the rich history of video games into your classroom.

Review: A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia

Originally posted February 16, 2010

WHAT? You and your friend (who just happens to be a blog named Blobert) are on a quest on both Earth and Blobolonia (Blobert’s home world) in a quest to defeat an evil emperor.  Blobert has the unique ability to shape shift into different forms when he is fed jellybeans.  This key ingredient fuels the game play in this puzzle/action game, which was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and recently re-released as a download on the Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii.

WHY? I’m digging way back with this A Boy and His Blob due to the release of the excellent re-imaging of this title for the Nintendo Wii (review to follow, I’m working on it!).  To best appreciate the beauty of the new A Boy and His Blob, you’ve gotta go back to the roots to see what makes the series so special.  At times, this game can be both simple and frustrating.  You’re solving puzzles with the help of your blob by feeding him jellybeans.  These jellybeans will transform the blob into various shapes and tools (think ladders, walls, etc).  Sounds like fun, right?

Well, sort of.  The game can be highly frustrating at times when you get stuck on a puzzle.  With modern games, we’re used to helpful hints popping up in the middle of the game that guide us along.  Those kind of hints do not appear in the original A Boy and His Blob and may leave some players frustrated and running for help on the internet.

WHO? Not everyone is going to like this title.  Heck, even gamers that are enjoying the re-imagined A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Wii may not get into it.  However, upon playing this game again I found it to be quite rewarding despite its flaws.  What you have at the core of this game is a unique approach, something that is lacking in a lot of games today.  Give it a try and keep this in mind.  You won’t get another gaming experience like this anywhere else (unless, of course, you’re playing the new version of this game)

PS: Don’t mind the terrible cover art for this game.  It’s good for a laugh.

Review: Super Mario 64

Originally posted February 9, 2010

WHAT? Welcome to 3D gaming.  Long before it was expected of every video game system to have an in depth 3D action platform game (Ratchet and Clank, Crash Bandicoot, the numerous Sonic titles out there come to mind), there was a little game that came out called Super Mario 64 that changed the world. Easily one of the most important video games ever, Super Mario 64 is a must play for anyone who wants to understand video games.

WHY? Super Mario 64 set the bar for 3D adventure games.  Its control scheme and play mechanics have been assimilated into nearly every 3D adventure game to date (with some minor tweaks of course).  I always bring this up, but have your users play this game and think of it as a history lesson.  Have them look at this game compared to modern games.  What aspects of this title changed the way we play video games?

WHO? Super Mario 64 is an action game with a bit of a puzzle element thrown into it.  The puzzles start out very simple but increase in complexity after the first few stages.  By that point, even the novice gamer will be able to handle the game with great ease.

Once users make the adjustment to the 3D world, they’ll be able to have fun and control Mario with ease.  One of the beautiful things about this game is the play control.  Nintendo added just enough when it comes to control.  Mario is able to run, jump, punch, and more.  However, it never gets overwhelming.

I highly recommend tracking down a Nintendo 64 to play this game.  The Nintendo 64 controller makes the jump into 3D much more easy to manage.  However, if you can’t find a Nintendo 64 you can always go to theWii Shop Channel and download it for $10.

The Iron Man of Gaming Tournament: A Program Idea

Originally posted on February 8, 2010

I am a lucky librarian.  I have a wonderful staff with whom I work with on  Game Night Central, our reoccurring gaming program at the Cape May County Library.  We usually have 3-5 gaming programs a month (one per week) and one tournament every 3 months.  In July 2009, we also unveiled our new circulating video game collection.  At the end of 2009, we had 120 games in our collection which circulated 1,361 times.  Currently, we have expanded the collection to now include 297 circulating video games.

In mid 2009, the Game Night Central staff (Chris Hunnicutt, Mike Trout, and Jesse Ridge) came to me with a plan for a big end of the year event.  They wanted to go out with a bang.  Their idea?

A tournament veiled in secrecy that pitted our game night attendees against some retro games that they may or may not have played.  The prize?  Gift cards to local video game stores.  It’s just that simple.  Switch up that games.  Dig for something out of the ordinary.

What really hooked me on this program were the following points:

  1. GET OBSCURE AND CREATIVE! It wasn’t just all about console gaming.  One part of the program had the participants grabbing the Nintendo DS to hit up Elite Beat Agents.  Many people were expecting a music game, but this?!?!?!  It threw them for a loop and really challenged them to think outside the box.  Our staff also incorporated some card based gaming into the event.  Anyone up for some Munchkin?
  2. EDUCATE! A program like this isn’t just about all the fun everyone is having.  It’s about education.  One of the important things overlooked with video games is that they have a rich history.  It wasn’t all just ONE DAY THERE WAS ROCK BAND AND THAT WAS ALL.  You have to go back and look at the whole history to understand how we got here.  At first, it was a fad.  Then it become a thing only a select group of people did.  After that, the public started catching on.  Now, video games are finally starting to be recognized as a valid form of media.  A program like this will help your users know that there’s a rich history to be discovered.

The kids and teens at the event were flabbergasted and excited.  The program was something new and challenging.  I can’t wait to do it again in 2010.

A quick thanks to Chris Hunnicutt, Mike Trout, and Jesse Ridge (Game Night Central Staff at the Cape May County Library).  You make it happen and for that I am eternally thankful.

Should we be adding older games to our library collection?

Originally posted February 3, 2010


I recently added a Playstation 2 (PS2) video game collection to my library’s video game collection.  Some folks gave me a “WHAT THE HELL!?!? THAT THING IS STILL AROUND?!?!” whereas others totally got what I was trying to do.

I got the idea when I noticed my circulation statistics going THROUGH THE ROOF for Wii and XBox 360 games but stalling for the Playstation 3.  Then it hit me.  The Playstation 3 was like $500 when it came out.  Most folks can’t afford that.  The other two systems were much cheaper.  The Playstation 2 tops them all, costing only $99 for a brand new system.

Another thing that the PS2 has going for it? It hassold over 138 million units. To date, it is the most successful video game system of all time and continues to have new games released for the platform even though we’re now in the 7th generation of home video game systems (the PS2 was in the sixth generation).

So, it was a no brainer for me.  The cheap cost of the system plus the enormous built in user base made it an easy decision.  I was going to create a circulating collection of Playstation 2 games at my library.

My quest does not stop there.  I’m big on video game history.  Why?  In order to understand what we’re dealing with, we need to know where we’ve come from.  Video games are no exception.  Having a circulating collection is one thing.  Going back into the history of gaming is another thing.

Should we be adding older games to our library collection?

Here’s how my thought process works:


Why in the world should my library be investing in dead technology?  It would be like if we decided to add Betamax back into the fold just to please a few people.  Old games don’t come cheap as well.  You’ll only be pleasing a few select patrons!  Nothing you do will help this idea catch on!


Do we get rid of Catcher in the Rye just because it came out awhile ago?  Do we only keep the newest books around in our libraries?  Last time I checked, we were a depository for knowledge.  Video games are no different. Since games are a relativity new form of media, it would be wise to educate our public on where they came from.

One of the ideas I keep having is to have a program open to the public that takes the gaming concept and puts a spin on things.  Instead of setting up a few games for people to play, why not turn your program into a mini museum of video game history.  This would get the word out on older games and hopefully increase interest in retro gaming.

In the end, I turned once again to the valuable world of librarians on Twitter to get their opinion.   The one that sums it up for me comes from Ayanna Gaines:

Games, like books, can take us back to a certain time and place and make us think about who we were and what we’ve become.  I don’t think this is a bad thing.

What do you think?  The 8BitLibrary would love to hear your opinions on this subject.  Have you already done this in your library?  If so, would you care to share you story?

Review: Wii Music

Originally posted February 2, 2010

What? Leave it to Nintendo to take the ever popular music game and put their own unique twist on it.  Wii Music finds Nintendo trimming the fat and presenting a hands on game that will make you feel like a musician.

Why? Wii Music throws a curve ball in the music game genre.  It isn’t about flashy solos, points, or rock songs.  Instead, you get a game that’s more about bringing people together and having fun.

As far as song selection goes, you get Do-Re-Mi, a slew of Nintendo game music, some classical/folk tune selections, and the odd pop song.  Finally!  You can rock out on the handbells or xylophone to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!

Who? The beauty of Wii Music is that anyone can pick up a Wiimote and play the game.  The downside is that the hardcore gamer will most likely be bored after the first few hours. The added mini games are fun but repetitious.  This game is best played with others.

This title reminds me a lot of Wii Sports due to the fact that it is so simple to learn.  Honestly, anyone can play it.   Go ahead, give the Wiimote to your Grandma. This lends itself well to teaching non gamers about video games in libraries.  Here’s an idea: have a game night for non gamers at your library.  Use Wii Sports and Wii Music to show them what gaming is all about.  They’ll be hooked.

Review: WarioWare Smooth Moves

Originally posted January 22, 2010

What? Get ready for some excitement.  WarioWare Smooth Moves is a collection of almost 200 mini games.  Each game last about 5 seconds and asks you to use the Wiimote in a number of unique ways. Each mini game has its own unique element: one second you’ll be sweeping leaves off the ground, the next you’ll be shaving a characters face.  Weird, random and fast are ways to describe this game.  Oddly enough, they all come together to make quite the exciting party game.

Why? The basic setup of WarioWare Smooth Moves allows even the most casual gamer to get into the action.  While the descriptions on how to use the Wiimote for each mini game may be confusing at first, users will pick up on the motions rather quickly through trial and error.  The multiplayer aspect has players passing the Wiimote to each other while taking turns, which adds a lot more excitement to the game.  This game is ideal for game programming at libraries because it is quick and easy to use.

Who? Casual gamers will love all the Nintendo references and goofy trivia packed into the  game.  Laid back gamers will be confused by the controller scheme at first, but after 5 minutes they’ll be pros.

WarioWare Smooth Moves is a good family game to enjoy on a rainy night.  The one player mode may leave you feeling a bit bored after only an hour or two, but the mini games that become available after completing the game in one player mode add some more excitement for cooperative play.

Educational Use for Little Big Planet

Originally posted January 20, 2010

The tagline for Little Big Planet (LBP) for the Playstation 3 is  “Play.  Create.  Share.”  PERFECT!  Here are three quick ways for teachers and school librarians to incorporate this amazing game into their lesson plans.

1. Create Own Content: Think of LBP as an art class.  Students playing this game will be asked to dive into the depths of their imagination as they create, build, and destroy their own levels.  Are you studying a famous artist in your classroom?  If so, ask your students to design a level based on the key characteristics from their body of work.  Ask them to invade the mind of Van Gogh or Picasso for a moment…what would they do if LBP was their canvas?  Users can also create their own character to use in the game.  Have them create themselves…a modern day self portrait!

2. Physics: The attention to detail with the way objects in LBP move around boggles my mind.  Have your students explore this aspect of the game.  How did the LBP development team incorporate such a great understanding of physics into their game?  What kind of research did they have to do?

3. Share: One of the biggest aspects of the game is sharing your creations online.  LBP has quite an online community of users just dying to share their levels and characters.  Have your students explore this aspect of gaming and how modern society is moving towards a more open/public/collaboration environment.  Ask your students if they believe sharing with others can kickstart the creation process and provide inspiration and how this element can create tangible communities.

School librarians and educators!  Feel free to add your two cents to this discussion!

Review: Shadow of the Colossus

Originally posted January 19, 2010

What? You’re Wander.  Your only task is to roam a vast land and defeat 16 colossi.  If you succeed, life will be restored to a girl named Mono.  It’s that simple…

Why? While many people will quickly lump this in the action game category, Shadow of the Colossus is loads more than that.  I find it best to describe it as a puzzle/action game.  Each colossi you face requires more than just basic running and slashing in order to defeat the monster.  You have to be quick on your toes and discover unique ways to kill each beast.  Whether it be climbing these monsters or interacting with your environment, you will not only be flexing your gaming muscles but you’ll be using your brain as well.

And it’s A WHOLE LOAD OF FUN.  Interacting with the massive colossi is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in a video game.  You actually feel small.  When you defeat your first colossi, you feel proud.  What a game.

Who? If you’ve played any of the Zelda games, you’ll feel at home here.  However, you have to remember the puzzle/action element.  If you just want to hack and slash, this isn’t the game for you.  But if you enjoy a good adventure that will make you think, I highly suggest you check this game out.

Shadow of the Colossus will most likely be a hard sell for the standard patron using your circulating video game collection because of its unique characteristics.  It’s not quite action and it’s not quite puzzle.  I’d recommend giving the game a test run before you pitch it to your users.  Get acquainted with the overall feel of the game and then you’ll be ready to recommend a wonderful game.

Teaching Empathy (via Library Gamer)

Originally posted January 10, 2010

I just finished reading Teaching Empathy, a wonderful post by Brian Mayer at his blog Library Gamer.  While reading, I noticed that there were a bunch of words and phrases that stood out to me:

Beautiful stuff.  I think Brian’s post really emphasizes the community aspect of gaming.  It brings us all together.  It puts us in a position where we must work together.  This is a skill that we as librarians should be teaching to our patrons.

This is why I believe so strongly in gaming in libraries.

(Thanks to Brian for the excellent post!  I highly recommend you check out his wonderful blog Library Gamer

How to convince your administration that gaming is right for your library

Originally posted January 7, 2010

Having trouble getting a gaming program  in your library?  Here’s a few hints on how you can talk your library administration into seeing things your way.  Stay tuned to 8BitLibrary in the near future for another installment of this series where we tackle the task of getting a circulating video game collection in your library.

1. Cost. Gaming doesn’t come cheap, that’s for sure.  Instead of taking this angle, I recommend directly acknowledging that “yes, while the initial investment is high, the return is priceless.”  Emphasize how your library will be reaching out to a new population of user and how through this program those users will be more likely to attend other library events and use the library for their media needs. If you plan on running gaming programs, compare the cost of the console and games to the cost of hiring performers and you will find that after 1 or 2 game programs, the cost will be the same or less than the cost of hiring outside performers for programs.

2. Attendance. There’s a stereotype out there that all that gamers want to do is sit in front of their TV and play games all day.  There’s also the one that describes gamers as not the most social people in the world.

These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.

Gamers are social people.  The recent rise in online gaming (specifically home systems such as XBox 360, Wii, and PS3) shows that we all want to be connected to one another.  Why not give this audience a place to play video games in public?

Attendance at gaming events will most likely start slow, but as word gets out to your community the gamers will come.  Program attendance will rise and with that comes another reward: increased circulation and library usage.  Gamers are not one dimensional beings that only like to play games.  They read, watch movies, and like all of us, have questions that need to be answered.  They will become users of your library.  Better yet, they will become HUGE supporters of your library.  They will tell others how cool the library is and how much neat stuff it has to offer.  Word of mouth works.  You will see it in action after you initiate a gaming program.

3. Media and the “New” Literacy. This one’s simple.  Libraries deal with information. Gaming is a new information media (just as books/films/music/language are all informational media) and as such libraries should be involved. Gaming allows the library to remain relevant in the 21st Century. We have an ever expanding link about gaming and literacy here, and JP has written a post about it here.

Have any questions?  Comments?  Want to share your success stories?  Please feel free to comment on this post or email justinthelibrarian at gmail dot com for further information.

Review: Contra

Originally posted January 4, 2010

What? Ahhh Contra. The great old NES game where you’re some dude with a bandana and a huge gun and your mission is to run left and right and shoot what I think are aliens. They look like aliens. Wait…they may be robots. Nonetheless, you shoot them and they go bye bye.

It sounds so simple and stupid, but those two things it is not. Contra is a beautiful game that, despite its age, stands up as a gem amongst the crop of new games out there. It’s challenging, well crafted, and best of all, it controls really well. I seem to remember a lot of NES games having very clunky controls where if you hit the direction pad up you’d go down and usually that would mean shark infested waters and death. Not withContra.

Why? Consider this Readers Advisory for video gamers.   A lot of gaming programming in libraries tends to be centered on modern day games.  Why not branch out and offer some old school games for your users to play?  They’ll get an idea about how far gaming has come and hopefully in the process start to enjoy some other games.

Who? Like most old school games, Contra is pretty easy to pick up.  You run left and right, shoot things, fight a boss at the end of every stage and move onto the next.   It sounds tedious, but the non stop action this game offers will give 2 players a heck of a time.

If you can’t pick up the original Contra, I highly suggest Contra: Rebirth for the Nintendo Wii.  It is avaliable as a downloadable game through Wii Shop Channel.

In the end….Contra rules. Track it down, any way you can, and have some fun. But let me give you a little hint first.

Press Start after this, and you’ve got the famous Konami Code. Type in this code before the title screen fully loads up and you’ll get 30 lives. You’ll need them unless you’re some kind of mega Contra genius.

Justin’s Essentials for starting a gaming program at your library

Originally posted January 4, 2010

So you’re thinking about starting a gaming program at your library?  It seems like an easy thing to do.  You get a TV, a video game system, a few games and BOOM!  There you have it.

But wait!

In order to make the gaming program at your library excel, you’ll want to go that extra step.  Here’s a few of the smaller details you won’t want to overlook.

1. Television: Make sure you get a really good TV.  Patrons don’t want to come to the library to play games on a small TV when they could do that at home.  Go nuts.  Order that 50 inch HD Plasma TV you’ve got your eyes on.  Better yet, why not go for a projector?  You won’t regret it and your patrons will love it.

2. Staff: Make sure you’ve got staff on board that are either gamers themselves or people that are interested to learn.  Your patrons just don’t want you to simply set up the games and let them be.  They will be begging you to join their band in Rock Band or they’ll want to brawl with you on Super Smash Brothers Brawl…and you’ll want to impress them with your skills.

3. Materials: JP has written a basic start-up plan here.  It’s a quick run through of where to begin game and accessory wise.  A good place to start.

4. Schedule: To get them to keep coming back to your library, make sure your gaming program is not a one shot deal.  Establish a consistent weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly plan (I suggest weekly to start!) where you’ll be having regular gaming programs.  Your users will get into a routine of coming into the library a specific day of the week to enjoy a few hours of collaborative gaming.

Review: The Beatles Rock Band

Originally posted December 30, 2010

WHAT? Grab your Hofner bass, put on your Beatles boots, and get ready to dive into a musical adventure with the most popular rock group of all time, The Beatles.

WHY? The Beatles Rock Band follows the same path as most of the other music games out there, but where this title stands out is the unique presentation this game offers.  Like some of the music games out there, this title doesn’t just feature some new songs and updated graphics.  Instead with this installment you get the full Beatles experience.  Each song has its own unique “dreamscape” that takes you deeper into the world of the The Beatles.  The addition of two more microphones to the game (allowing players to harmonize) brings even more users into the action.

WHO? It’s easy to think that younger kids will not get into this game because of the generation gap.  However, all that one needs to do is look at the success of the  The Beatles 1 album and you can see that all ages are still listening to the band.  The multiplayer aspect is perfect for video game programming and will also be great for family gaming.  The music, as Beatles songs always are, are wonderfully recreated for the video game audience.

(Note: I played the Wii version of this game for my review.  While basically all the same, the Wii version doesn’t feature quite as stunning visuals as the XBox 360 or Playstation 3 version.  However, users will most likely be so immersed in the music that they’ll hardly notice.)

Review: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Originally posted December 30, 2010

WHAT? The classic Super Mario Bros. format is back, but once again Nintendo puts a spin on things.  In this game, you can have up to four players on this side scrolling quest through 8 levels of pure Mario fun.  Collecting coins, bashing blocks, stomping on Goombas…it’s all here.  In typical Nintendo fashion, we get a few new power-ups for Mario and the chance to control Toad as a character (which hasn’t happened since Super Mario Bros. 2!)

WHY? New Super Mario Bros. Wii is basically an ongoing adventure game that takes some time for the user to complete.  This makes it not so well suited for video game programming, however users will most likely want to at least give it a try and see what it is all about.  Expect this title to be a hit with your circulating video game collection.

WHO? The first few levels are easy enough for any casual gamer to enjoy.  However, like all Mario games this one gets harder….a lot harder…as you progress.  This may turn off some casual gamers.  Classic Nintendo fans will love the adventure and want more.

As a longtime Nintendo fan, I can’t help but be very entertained by New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The game retains all the elements that made the classics so good and at the same time moves the series forward with four player cooperative action.

Review: Mario Kart Wii

Originally posted December 30, 2010


WHAT? The ongoing and very popular Nintendo Kart racing series comes to the Wii.  This time around, you’re back to one racer per kart and can now play against players across the globe using the Mario Kart Wii Channel.  And I almost forgot…using the Wiimote (with the Wii Wheel), it’s pretty close to driving your own real kart.

WHY? This title is a must have for libraries running gaming programs.  The competitive four player element will entertain multiple users at one time and the replay value is high.

WHO? The controls allow this game to be something that all ages and skill levels can just pick up and enjoy.  It may take some time for  inexperienced gamers to understand how to use the items in the game, but that will come in time.  At first, they’ll totally get a kick out of the racing element.

Overall, Mario Kart Wii is a wonderful game for libraries, especially when it comes to video game programming.  Setting up races and tournaments is relatively easy and your users will have lots of fun.