Lemon Knight: International Games Day at the British Library

It’s been an eventful weekend, and I’m five days out from running a day-long experimental project here in the UK – more on that further down the line – but I wanted to share some of the excitement from yesterday’s International Games Day at the British Library (BL) in central London.

Gary Green of Surrey Libraries invited me to join the team of volunteers who were running events under the leadership of BL Digital Curator Stella Wisdom.

Stella is co-founder of the BL’s Off the Map video game competition, and Off the Map winners Fancy Crab were there with their offbeat riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. The event was also tied in to this year’s 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, and Ludi Price was in full cosplay mode as Alice herself.

There were video games, board games, and some that were just a little off the wall, including the bizarre German box-stacking game Ordnungswissenschaft:

We were able to play this by repurposing the boxes from the infamous Comic Book Dice, which had also made a visit to the BL.

I got introduced to the German game by gaming aficionado Ross Fowkes. Ross also showed me a digital jousting game which used motion sensors and the music of Bach in multi-player battles.

Johann Sebastian Joust” was inspired by a party game played with lemons and spoons. One quick trip to the supermarket later and we had unleashed the Lemon Knights in the heart of the library.

Both the BL’s child-friendly daytime sessions and the later evening event were great successes, with lots of visitors trying their hand at games old and new. Stella and her team did an incredible job playing host to a wide range of people and offering some truly bizarre activities. (Libraries are sometimes cautious about wild play, so I was delighted that Stella gave us permission for a full-on lemon battle in the shadow of the venerable stacks).

But there’s another lesson to be had from International Games Day at the British Library, too. Like many public institutions, the BL uses volunteers and community partners alongside its staff to create these participatory events. The Off The Map competition winners joined volunteers like me, Gary, and Ludi – who also illustrated the fabulous badges and flyers for the event.

I think this means that institutions, organisations, and communities far from city centres should take heart. Great events can be run anywhere – in rural, regional, or suburban venues too. There is no magic money pot which venues like the BL are throwing at these events. There is goodwill, and partnership, and people making common cause because they believe in the value of learning, play, and exploration.

Hillingdon Libraries, out on the fringes of suburban London, demonstrated this recently when they organised and hosted this October’s incredible YA Shot festival of Young Adult Literature.

That Hillingdon event summed up its ethos in five words: “generous, passionate, inclusive, challenging and fun”.

Those aren’t far from the kind of things people say about the community-led Fun Palaces, which I’ve been working with – and going on about a lot! – lately.

Most of what happened at the BL could just as easily take place within venues anywhere in the world, from rural Australia to the Arctic Circle, if a community so desired it. International Games Day 2015 at the BL was not some intimidating, big-budget event, but effectively a Fun Palace which happened to take place in London’s King’s Cross.

With transport and telecommunications more effective than ever, there’s never been a better time to devise cultural offerings and events so that they are made, celebrated, and enjoyed as much at the geographical periphery as in the old familiar centres.

The BL event was an amazing opportunity to play, create, and learn alongside brilliant gamers, librarians, technicians, and scientists from across the UK. I’m proud to have taken part and hope you’ll find inspiration in the work of Stella Wisdom and her team.

For more International Games Day inspiration – from digital adventures to edible battleships – check out my Storify of previous events and resources:

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