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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > May/June 2008

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 22 No. 3 — May/June 2008
Cover Story
Seniors and Students All Love Playing the Library’s Wii Games
By Tim Gritten

Click for full-size image.
Louise Jones celebrates after picking up a difficult spare.
[Click for full-size image]

If you are going to reach out to a target audience that rarely enters the library, you can find no better group than senior citizens in a retirement center. And if you are going to visit a retirement center, you can find no better means to engage the residents than by offering them the opportunity to play an interactive and physically stimulating game from Nintendo called the Wii. With the Wii, the seniors are able to enliven their minds and bodies, and it’s helped some of them foster personal relationships with our Indiana State University (ISU) librarians and with the outside community.

My Own Lifelong Interest in Games

Gaming in all its variations has long engaged my interest. The best strategic games challenge the mind, while the best action games are pure fun and entertainment. Yet, as I aged and as electronic games evolved, game instructions began to rival car manuals. I lacked the time and patience to study the complex maneuvers necessary to play a game. But when Nintendo released a new system called the Wii in December 2006, I found a game that I could relish and appreciate.

The Nintendo Wii (pronounced “we”) is designed to simulate players’ actions based on the three-dimensional movement of their arms. Players clutch a device that has about the same size, shape, and feel of a TV remote control. As they wave their arms through the air, this Wii remote wirelessly interacts with a sensor bar attached to the game console. A small avatar, called a Mii (pronounced “me”), models the movement on a TV screen.

Late in 2006, The New York Times’ David Pogue wrote an entry in his blog (http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/12/28/28pogue-email-2) that convinced me the Wii would be a fantastic game for me. He described the game as a blast to play. You quickly find yourself immersed in its interactive nature. As my exercise habits have become increasingly, shall we say, modest, the Wii offers an opportunity to move my body around in an activity that is far more engaging than using a treadmill. In describing the stimulating actions of the Wii, Pogue also mentioned that the game’s charm captivated his 78-year-old father. This one data point opened up an exciting possibility for providing a new service to senior citizens.

Auditioning the Wii and Drawing in Players

Part of the Indiana State University Library’s mission is to strive to engage the campus and the community. Our new logo is a comfy, red armchair; our new is motto is “Your campus living room.” We’ve been able to both express the spirit of this mission and enforce our brand by taking our Wii to a local retirement center.

To get started, we described the concept and interplay of the Wii to the director of leisure studies at Westminster Village, a community located a few miles from campus. The director had seen news reports of the game but otherwise knew little about it beyond its reputation for fun. She informed us that she would be happy to audition it. The basic game that comes with the system is called Wii Sports, which includes abbreviated games of baseball, bowling, boxing, tennis, and golf.

The very first Westminster resident to try the Wii saw us demonstrating tennis. She acknowledged that she had been a tennis champion 65 to 70 years earlier but that she had not played in years. It took her a few swings of the “racket” (Wii remote) before her Mii began chasing tennis balls around the court. When she finished her short game, she admitted with a sly grin that she was sweating!

Bowling has proven to be one of the most popular games. To roll, you hold a single button on the back of the remote, then, using the exact motion you might employ with a 14-pound ball, you swing your hand and release the button at the same time that you’d release a real bowling ball. The fact that the Wii remote weighs mere ounces allows senior citizens to play a game they had long since abandoned (along with the sore shoulders and wrists). They are able to mimic the full range of possibilities that would be available at a bowling alley. You can start your throw at either side of the lane. You can throw the bowling ball at an angle. If you twist your wrist as you wave the Wii remote, your ball will curve as it slides down the lane. A single game for four inexperienced players can take 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

How We Run the Seniors’ Program Now

When the ISU library staff first shared the Wii with the Westminster residents as part of a regular program, the attendance was not stellar. Part of the problem was the irregular frequency of our visits as well as the competition from other, more established events at the retirement center. Even a great program won’t help anyone if it doesn’t suit the target audience. So, after a few months, we changed our visits to a more convenient time for the residents and changed their frequency to weekly. We ostensibly stay for an hour, but we typically remain at Westminster for almost 2 hours to give anyone who is interested a chance to play. There are four of us (two librarians and two library staffers) involved; each one takes a turn sharing the Wii with Westminster every month.

Now that we have regularly scheduled visits, the program has proven to be exceedingly popular. We try to arrive at the retirement center 30 minutes prior to the official start time. Frequently, a few of the more experienced residents are already waiting. They appreciate the opportunity to play a quick game before the program officially commences. During the regular program, residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will struggle even over the course of a few frames of bowling to remember the specific motions required. But the residents who have already played quickly support their fellow retirees.

Even though a finite number of players can participate at any one time, the residents encourage each other, cheer at each other’s successes, and blame the fickleness of the gaming system for any failures. Residents help one another learn how to play individual sports, and they show a remarkable amount of patience with their contemporaries. They have also developed individual relationships with the librarians and staff members who visit.

Residents have also appreciated the ability to express their creativity through the Mii’s. Players can select a previously produced Mii, or they can go through a simple process that enables them to create a Mii that reflects their own appearance. A Mii has more than 200 individual characteristics that can shape the way it looks. You can choose different head shapes, eyes, noses, mouths, and hair (including facial hair). You can make a Mii that duplicates your actual appearance, or you can create one that looks the way you wish you could look. Several Westminster residents have enjoyed the process of creating and using their own Mii’s.

Our experiences with Westminster have encouraged our library to expand its program. In the future, we plan to contact other retirement centers in the community. The Wii even allows players at one location to compete with other players at remote locations over the Internet. Eventually, we hope to create tournaments for the local retirement centers to participate in.

Other Ways ‘Wii’ Have Promoted the Library

We’ve found other ways to use the Wii equipment to augment our mission. During the past 2 years, our librarians have hosted events for the 21st Century Scholars, a state program that aims to subsidize the college education of high-achieving but low- to moderate-income students. As many as 75 7th and 8th graders have visited the library during the day to see what our university is like. In 1 short hour, we used the Wii to engage potential Indiana State University students. We split them into smaller groups, which gave everyone an opportunity to participate. One surprised student described the library as one of the “coolest places on campus.”

We also hosted a game night for the Summer Honors Program, which was geared toward 80 incoming freshmen. As with the 21st Century Scholars program, the librarians used the Wii as a means to showcase our building and our services. The students visited in the evening for several hours. At the latter event, we had incoming students internalize what we meant by making the library into their campus living room. It required advance planning so we’d have enough TVs and enough Wii consoles to accommodate everyone. The program also required a certain acceptance of noise in the library as six TVs blared with the excitement of students playing sports.

Every September, the library hosts its Extravaganza, which is a massive welcome to the campus. We showcase our new services and any new changes to our layout. Offering free food is always a successful inducement to the hungry college student. Depending on the year (and the weather), we can attract as many as 5,000 people into our library. This past year, we set up a Wii for the students to play. It proved to be a great attraction as the noises drew people from other parts of the building over to see what was happening.

Playing with the Wii at the library has proven to be a great means to promote our values. Now that university students and staff are starting to appreciate the types of activities we make available, we have decided to circulate the game system itself, as well as software titles available for the Wii. People affiliated with the university may borrow a system and as many as two individual games for 1 week. (We do not have patrons sign a specific waiver, but we also do not have them sign a waiver when they borrow computer equipment.) We are treating the titles similarly to the DVDs that our students and employees can check out. The cost of a typical game might be slightly higher than a DVD (list price tends to run $40–$50), but it’s worth it to us because they are one more reason for people to visit the library.

Measuring Our Success

The Wii has proven to be a great boon for our library, on-site and off. In-house, the individual Wii games as well as the entire Wii gaming system are rarely available on the shelf; patrons must be nearby when a game is reshelved if they want to check one out. The attendance at the retirement community has steadily risen to an average of 15 people per week, plus more who come to watch and cheer. At our latest Extravaganza, the game drew students in, and a line of people all waited their turn to play. Other campus groups, including residence halls and Greek houses, learned about our Wii and now hold their own tournaments around campus, courtesy of the library.

If we are going to provide services to individuals who are less likely to visit the library otherwise, then there is no more lively means to do it than by offering the Wii and its easy-to-play games.


Tim Gritten is head of library systems at Indiana State University’s Cunningham Memorial Library in Terre Haute. He holds an M.L.S. from Indiana University. Gritten’s first two video games were Adventure and Home Run for the Atari 2600. Twenty-five years later, when his wife gave him a nostalgic emulation of Adventure, his muscle memory of the Adventure maze still remained. His email address is tgritten@indstate.edu.
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