Eli Neiburger spreads the Gaming Gospel

On a cold, blustery winter evening, two years ago, I was giving Eli a ride home and we were chatting about the general state of things at the library when he slipped into a brain-dump of a vision he had for a video-gaming tournament at the library. I remember that he spoke about his ideas with such enthusiasm that, as he talked, I could feel the blood rushing to my face despite the chilled air blowing in through the vents. Two years later, there is no question that his plan came together.

So I’m glad to see that he got his point across this week at the Gaming in Libraries symposium in Chicago. Chad Haefele and Chris Deweese both did a great job of blogging Eli’s talk. Jenny covered his panel discussion and he finally found his way to ALA’s Techsource blog. AADL-GT is one of those programs that I still shake my head at in disbelief, because it has been such a staggering success born out of such unorthodox ideas. If you’re looking for evidence that the role of today’s libraries is changing, look no further.

Curious about the mechanics behind AADL’s gaming program?

There are essentially two major components that converge to make AADL-GT the mind-candy that it is. First, there is the A/V component, and second, the software component.

The A/V component obviously consists of all the consoles, TVs and related equipment. There is also the “toaster” which is a computer dedicated to processing A/V streams. This is what we use to produce the feed that goes out to our community access channel. All the video from the consoles is sent back to the toaster and captured so that our A/V technician, Diego Ascani, can flip between stations and produce an exciting event on the fly. The toaster also allows him to overlay graphics and do nifty transitions. I have to admit, that I’m not at all familiar with how the toaster works–trying to figure it out would probably try my patience!

The toaster is also where AADL-GT converges with the software component (which I am more familiar with). The software we wrote for AADL-GT has evolved over time. I was responsible for the first versions of it before I passed it off to our component developer Eric Klooster. During our first televised tournament, I was literally coding between rounds, fixing bugs and praying for things to work! Eric’s taken it a long way from there and even integrated it with Drupal.
At the heart of the software is a MySQL database that keeps track of players, tournaments, events, rounds, scores, clans, etc. The database was designed with portability in mind. For example, the toaster is able to aggregate data from MySQL and overlay scores, player names, etc. This allows Diego to throw up a sweet-looking leaderboard. He also uses it to produce the commercial that is sent to the movie theatre. Originally, we used a leaderboard written in flash that grabbed the information via AMFPHP (awesome project) middleware on the server. Players can register easily via our website, and there is an administration screen that is used to manage the tournaments. The process is so stream-lined now that it’s easy to pull-off what looks like a highly produced event.

And that’s what draws in the kids. They come in knowing that they are going to be part of something big. These tournaments are their opportunity to shine in a venue that validates them and gives their interests legitimacy. I think Eli says it best, “If you don’t offer them something that has value to them now, you’re going to be irrelevant to them for the rest of their lives. It’s not a risk we can afford to take.”

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