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Games sure have changed over the years. When you hear the kids say, "Let's play a game," what do you think of - Monopoly, Twister, Scrabble or Runescape? Baltimore County Public Library librarians who keep watch over our Internet computers most likely would answer Runescape, an online game that occupies many a youngster every day after school. Online video gaming has become vastly popular in the last few years, and there are no signs of its popularity slowing. Video game enthusiasts, aka "gamers," come in all flavors - young and old, male and female. And their choices of games are as diverse as they are, Runescape being just one of many.

What's so compelling about that game and why are so many kids playing it? Runescape is a type of role playing game, but more - a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Massively, as in having millions of subscribers. During peak hours there are often more than 100,000 players simultaneously.

The game offers both pay-to-play and free-to-play membership options, and it was designed to be accessible from any location with an Internet connection, making it very popular with the after school set.

Even though they are played on the computer, MMORPGs are social in nature, players interact in a virtual world with other players online, and often play in groups. Cooperation with the virtual community is essential. Players are challenged to make wise decisions, learn trades, and handle the economy of their world. While not a guarantee that these skills will be put to use in the real world, there is more education going on than first apparent. James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning, writes, "Games are simulations in which people have to learn to think about complex relationships and unintended outcomes in a critical and reflective way if they are to become any good at the game."

As BCPL prepares to meet the challenges that gaming poses for libraries, the Technology Support department is studying the impact gaming has on our already heavily burdened network. As MMORPGs become more popular and the number of players increases, heavier traffic loads are imposed on the Internet at large. Two BCPL workgroups are exploring gaming initiatives in order to position BCPL to welcome young gamers into the libraries. April Wright reports that Reisterstown Library will be using grant money to purchase equipment and fund staff to oversee gaming programs. Their goals are to expose the participants to a set of life skills including healthy competition, good sportsmanship, time management and responsibility. In addition, they hope to engender each young person's sense of belonging to and participating in the community.

David LaPenotiere of the White Marsh Library reports that the Video Game Systemwide Workplan Group has found that providing access to video games, both online and as a nonrental collection, supports BCPL's mission to excel at providing resources to customers of all ages. By implementing gaming programs, BCPL will stay current with community trends, ensuring that it continues to be a visible community presence. The video workplan group has presented its recommendations which are now awaiting approval.