DAWN. November 14th, 2008. Today is the first-ever ALA National Gaming Day @ Your Library and the birthday of gtsystem. As the sun rises over Ann Arbor, Eli sleeps fitfully, repeatedly hitting the iPhone snooze as his dreams fill with colliding friend codes. Eric Klooster, also known as ejk, burns eggs for his kids and as he frets about a particular unsigned integer. In Chicago, Jenny Levine refreshes her feed reader repeatedly watching for details or coverage. In Syracuse, Scott Nicholson stares down a Pictureka board, certain that it contains something you would take to the beach. The day has begun, and before it ends, many things will have happened that have never happened before. This is true of every day to a certain extent, but today, these things are happening at Libraries, and we -- ALA, AADL, and all the gtsystem partners -- have made it happen.
Over 50 different events were scheduled in libraries around the country as part of gtsystem's first full-scale event day. We offered Rock Band and DDR high-score contests, and planned a 32-library National Smash Bros. Brawl Bracket using online play. We collected and traded friend codes on the gtsystem wiki organized a bracket, and set up chat rooms to allow for bracket communication.
As the 3PM start of the event drew near, our own roomful of kids played through their qualifiers, and I was switching between all 4 chat rooms, resolving friend code typos, answering last-minute questions, talking with IT staff at other libraries trying to resolve the dreaded 864** errors that indicate firewall trouble. However, only a few libraries were unable to connect and the bracket was poised with 29 libraries ready to go as the start of the event drew near.
Then it became clear that what we had here was a failure to communicate. Our chat program, which had worked beautifully in our testing over the summer and early fall, was simply not scaling. We had made some simple mistakes in configuring it that could not be fixed in-theatre, and the 5+ minute lag to post a comment to the chat basically dropped a bomb on our loose network of libraries. I hastily set up a Meebo room to attempt to recover, but I forgot something very important: Meebo sucks too. On top of that, I had thrown up the embedded meebo widget on a page on aadl.org for ease of getting it up quickly, and shortly after sending out an emergency email with the path to the last-ditch meebo chat on an aadl.org page, aadl.org went down, completely by coincidence. In addition, my network administrator just happened to be butchering his pigs that day. We lost a lot of good libraries in that quagmire of a chatroom, and the few survivors were scattered and bedraggled. Things were not going our way, and it looked like our grand experiment would end in fiasco and fall far short of the crowning of a champion. I despaired that such a simple problem could have derailed a great idea. I sent another email that basically said, "Oh well, play whoever."
BUT THEN, just as it looked like all hope was lost, evidence of civilization re-establishing itself among the survivors emerged. Like a scruffy Kevin Costner on a donkey, Meebo brought us word that some brackets had successfully escaped to other chatrooms and had continued their round according to the established rules, and had selected which of their number were going to advance, and were wondering who their next opponents would be? Spring into action! We cobbled together what was left of our bracket and sent two champions on to face the champions from the successful and organized NY/NJ bracket, while the western bracket had time to regroup, reform, and settle their own standings.
We arrived at a perfectly respectable 4-library eastern semifinal with CRANBURY and CMCL from New Jersey, and midwest rivals AADL and EVPL squaring off to send two libraries to the finals to play against the triumphant JPL of Idaho and the FPL of Arizona, who had defeated the scrappy MADRID library of Iowa in a last-minute heartbreaking tiebreaker that involved guessing a number.
THUS, the stage was set for the first-ever (albeit compromised) gtsystem National Brawl Championship Match, featuring the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library of Indiana, the Ann Arbor District Library of Michigan, Jerome Public Library of Idaho, and the East Flagstaff Community Library of Arizona. It was an intense set of matches, but when the dust cleared, the combined skill of the EVPL crew had emerged victorious, defeating AADL and becoming the first-ever gtsystem Brawl Champion, while FPL finished third, and JPL took fourth.
Meanwhile, the gtsystem tournament management web service was plugging along beautifully, collecting over 400 scores from libraries all over the country and producing systemwide Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution leaderboards for the National High Score contests. After some careful examination and certification of the data, the band ODIFEROUS defeated their rivals at the Newman Regional Library in Illinois to claim victory in the Rock Band high score contest with a score of 1,298,729. Here in Ann Arbor, where the DDR crowd is fierce, our own KIANA recorded the highest score of the day, racking up 334 perfects on SO DEEP to win the DDR High Score Contest.
What became clear by the end of this tumultuous day is that this idea can work, and boy does it have potential. The addition of the national scope really makes for an exciting event for all involved, and the opportunity is there for this to become something truly big, thrilling library patrons, changing their expectations, and making the library a central place in their lives! Huge Thanks to everyone who helped to make this possible; Jenny Levine and ALA, EJK and the rest of my staff here at AADL, and most importantly, all of you, our gtsystem partners, who stuck with the idea through a very challenging day and helped us all to realize just how big this could be.
Please take a minute if you can and add a comment to this post about how the events went at your library. You can use your gtsystem account to log in, or make a new one; that way we can have a lot of stories here in one place. Also watch this new blog (gtsystem.org/partnerland) for updates to gtsystem, including the announcement of our 2009 schedule, including test windows and practice tournaments leading up to an even bigger (and hopefully glitch-free) National Gaming Day ][ on November 14, 2009!
Thanks again to all of you, and let's keep kicking tush together!