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Broad Skills: Tips for Hosting a Teen Game Night at Your Library

When I first started out as a Young Adult Librarian, my game days were usually a hit or miss. I would give my teens all the options. I put out classic and new board games, card games, and set up two to three different video games. It was one big game day, at least once or twice a month. They were successful, but after some time, the teens lost interest, and attendance became intermittent. I had to start thinking outside of the box. What could I plan for my game days that would, first, pull the teens into the library, and second, keep them coming back? 

1. Ask the Teens 

This first point might be obvious, but it is the most important, and one of the easiest ways to gain input of exactly what your teens want in a game day program. Ask them.  

Years ago, my game day attendance started to wane. Wanting to know the reason for the change, I asked the teens. They were quite honest and told me the games I had needed a bit of an upgrade. They had fun at first because it was the start of a new school year, and they enjoyed catching up with friends. As weeks went by, they wanted to play games that were more interesting than what I had. They loved Minecraft, and they could play that out at the computers, so why would they want to attend my gaming programs? What games could I get that would be similar to Minecraft, especially the competitiveness it invokes? I happened to look at my personal games one day at home, and came back to work with Wii Super Smash Brothers Brawl. The teens loved it! It was a competitive game that most were already familiar with, and now they could play against each other at the library. 

Do you have a teen advisory group? Do you have a set of regular teens who hang out at the library or come to most of your other programs? Are you a fan of making surveys? By asking your teens, you will get plenty of ideas; some you can try out immediately, and others save for another time. Chess, Mahjong, Say Anything, Rock Band, Minecraft, Jenga, Taboo, Quidditch -- consider any idea when it comes from your customers.

2. Board, Card, and Video Games 

In my experience, when I ask what kind of games teens want to play, answers fall into two major categories, video games or board/card games (though these are not the only choices). 

Board and card games are great game day options. Many of these games can accommodate multiple players, and the set up/clean up are not too taxing. If you have a lot of interest in one game, putting teens into groups makes the program a bit livelier, and it is great team building exercise. I find that the most successful board and card games are the ones a majority of the teens already know, or games with simple directions. Games with instruction booklets? No time for that! Another thing to consider with board games is the time it takes to play one game. Most of my teens have maybe an hour to spare before they have to be somewhere else. Whether you have a big group or small group, try to find games that can be finished quickly, or that have rounds that could make it easier for players to come and go.  

“Games help teens bond with each other, and meet new friends who share a common interest.”

Board and card games are trendy too. Teens can love a particular game one year (or month), only to go untouched the next as if it never existed. Just like everything else, trends can change quickly and we must be ready to adapt.  

I have worked in a few different libraries, and video game days are always a great program go-to. If you, your library, or your library administration, can provide the teens with a few different video game choices, then once the set-up is done (and the teens will help with that if needed), the teens will jump right in. Even if it is a new game, most seem to inherently know how to play it. 

While it is impossible to keep up with obtaining every new video game and console, do not be discouraged to offer video game days with the equipment that you have. It does not matter what brand or generation of gaming console, you can get a roomful of teens wanting to play. If you feel you need an update, and it is not in the budget right now, coordinate with your library to ask for specific gaming donations. Your customers might want a great place to donate those games that are now collecting dust at home. Ask family and friends if you can borrow games. This keeps your collection of games fresh and allows you to test drive titles you might want to permanently add.

3. Tournaments 

I have pleasantly come to realize over the years that if I add the word "Tourney" to any gaming program, the teens' interests are piqued. They enjoy being competitive. Whether it is a board game or a video game, they want to win.  

Prizes can be anything! It can be small like candy, trinkets, and books. The prizes can go larger, such as trophies and gift cards. If you are not sure what to give away, then consider your teens' interests. What fandom is popular? Any new movies or books coming out that the teens have been talking about? Or, again, just ask them. You chance receiving ideas that may be extreme, but some will be feasible. Remember, winning a prize is nice, but for teens, the bragging rights matter most. 

If you are unsure how to pull off a tournament, do not hesitate, it is easier than you think.

First, decide on the game. Board, card, video, or made up, if you have the willpower, you can transform it into a tournament. To celebrate the film premiere adapted from The Maze Runner book series, I created a competition to win the book and movie passes. I printed out different paper mazes with levels of increasing difficulty. I created the rules making the teens run around the room (the "maze") before getting their paper maze checked and moving on to the next level. There are not many programs where I let the teens' noise level rise too much, but this one I encouraged them to distract their neighbors any way they could without actually touching anyone else or another's paper. They definitively got creative, and loud! It was a simple idea and the teens had fun.  

Second, once you know the game, if it is not a game of your own making, play the game yourself. Play it a few times, either with the teens, coworkers, or with friends. Become comfortable with it as it will help with planning the time needed to play come program day, along with time needed to set up and take down.  

Third, make your "hard–fast" rules and determine how you will be keeping score. These are the two points that probably will not change. Depending on the chosen game, you might want input from the teens for certain game situations. Many times, they come up with a consensus on their own when I give them two or three choices. I used to try to control all aspects of video game tournaments, but that became exhausting. Even with my knowledge of a game, I am still not the expert that my teens are. I respect their opinions and found as years go by, the teens were more responsive when they realized they had a voice.

Fourth, my favorite tournament tip, if you have a way to do it, have a second-chance battle for the "losers" to win their way back into the game. This never fails to get all the teens riled up, in a good way. I have never had an instance where teens complain that this was not fair. They now get to cheer their friends on again, and there is a possibility, if they themselves are kicked out of the game later, they can win their way back in. In my last video game tournament, I had a second-chance battle after every round. The teens just do not give up on themselves or their peers to get back in and win. Or as one teen so eloquently said, "I am ready for my friend to get back in, so I can beat him again in the next round." Teens are fun. 

4. Collaborate With Others 

For all of you who work with teens, we know they are very busy people. Busy with family, friends, homework, extracurricular activities, after school tutoring, etc. They may be too busy to find time for a game at the library. If teens are not coming to your game day programs, try working with other age groups. Come up with gaming ideas that allow people of different ages to participate without alienating the teens. 

One of our children's librarians asked me if I would be interested in holding a few Tween Game Days during the summer months. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with younger children, some of which are younger siblings to my teens. These tweens got the chance to know me and the teen activities a bit and, hopefully, when the time comes, their transition into teen programming will be easier.

Our library’s Family Chess Club is another successful collaboration. The volunteers for the club are elementary school teachers wanting something fun to do during the summer. Since they were elementary school teachers, I was prepared to introduce them to our children's department, when they mentioned "all ages." After some more collaboration with the volunteers and input from other departments, dates were set and the Family Chess Club was a summer hit for children, teens, and adults. 

If you are worried about planning a program that may not garner the interest of your teens, work with others and open the program up to more ages. It can help you see where your teens fall in their gaming interests and what they want to play. Once you know that, you can plan a game day with solely the teens in mind. 

5. Themes 

Another great way to get teens to your game days is to center the game day around something the teens already love. Explore the current fandom and passions at your library. Take that knowledge and turn that into a game day. Video Game Day or Board Game Day may be too general of a program title to persuade teens to take time out of their busy schedules and join. Get them excited before you start playing.

Theme game days can be molded to whatever restrictions you have. If you only have a few weeks to plan before that next movie adaptation comes out, look online for game day ideas for that fandom. Take a game that you and the teens are familiar with and put a twist on it to fit the theme. Play Jenga, but with "Would you rather...." questions the teens have to answer before placing it back in the stack. For Harry Potter fans, "Would you rather have a detention with Professor Snape or Professor Lockhart?" 

A "Who Am I" game is a great icebreaker. Place popular characters on teens’ heads or backs so they cannot see. Have them talk to everyone in the room to figure out who they are. Trivia games are always popular. There are many resources online that can help make a fun Jeopardy game, or Name that Tune. If you do not want to use technology, keep it simple. Make simple dry erase boards with cardstock paper inside a page protector. For my Hamilton Musical Game Day, I had a trivia game and used makeshift dry erase boards along with a PowerPoint for the questions. 

You do not have to stop at a game day with a theme. Make it into a party. If you can add a craft or two, with food, maybe some decorations or prizes (though not necessary), you have a party. While the crafts, food, and prizes are fun, the main focus of the party will be the games. They help the teens bond with each other over their fandom, and meet new friends who share a common interest. 

Game days have always been something that I look forward to, whether the program is keeping it simple by providing a few different games the teens can play, or going all out and making a tournament or party. It can be difficult to draw the teens in, but by using your teens' ideas and knowing what is important to them, you can find plenty of opportunities to create a Teen Game Day that will grab the teens' interests and pull them into your programs over and over again. 

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About the Author • Lauren Richards has been a Young Adult Librarian since 2013, and has worked in public libraries since 2009. She is currently a Young Adult Services Librarian at the Kingwood Branch Library, part of the Harris County Public Library System in the Houston, Texas area. When she is taking a break from her librarian duties, she can still be found playing games, either at lunch with coworkers, or at home with her family and friends.