I arrived at Woking Library shortly before 1600 on a Thursday. At that time of day, the library is filled – somewhat understandably – with people who aren’t working a normal 9-5 job. Retirees, students, and the unemployed.
I walked through the extensive computer section of the library. Dozens of computers with free Internet access. While a few people were on Wikipedia, or checking out the library catalogue, the majority seemed to be playing free flash games on the web.
For a moment, I struggled to contain my rage. My inner-Tory spluttered invectives about how the workshy were wasting hard-pressed taxpayers money. Rather than improving themselves by looking for work, or getting an education, or writing a novel – they were frittering their time on “Bubble Smash” and “Tetris Extreme”.
Disgusted, I turned away, as saw a young man lounging on a chair, a copy of The Colour of Magic grasped in his hands. My brain calmed down. Here, at least, was someone using their mind.
Then it struck me as to what a total arse I was. I have no idea how these people spend their time. I certainly enjoy farting around on Facebook after a long day’s work – why shouldn’t they? I sit on the tube playing Angry Birds – I don’t cure cancer; so who am I to go around judging people?
It boils down to this.
Is playing a video game somehow worse than reading a work of fiction?
It feels wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it. A game like Portal has a story as good as any you’ll find in the sci-fi section of the library. Playing scrabble with friends in a far away lands is no less genteel than playing it after a dinner party. LittleBigMansion will test your logic and reasoning skills as much as any detective novel.
The library loans out works of fiction – both written and in video form. They used to rent out video games, but they were often stolen. So why not allow people to play games on the library computers?
None. There is no difference. Video games are as culturally relevant as any other work of art. Relaxing with a good book is, if anything, a far ore passive and didactic experience than playing a game.
Regardless of that, it’s not up to me to dictate how people spend their leisure time. It’s very easy to see a snapshot of someone’s life and extrapolate all sorts of misinformed ideas about them.
I glanced above the heads of some of the people furiously alt-tabbing between games and emails and saw this poster.
The proper use of a library is a space where people can feel safe and enjoy free access to culture.