IOWA CITY — Patrick Sarsfield stands poised, clutching a white Nintendo Wii remote in his right hand. The focused 8-year-old breathes deeply before leaping forward and spinning his arm wildly in a complete circle.
His unorthodox bowling delivery proves successful as he slings strike after strike in Wii Sports.
But Patrick is not playing video games in the comfort of his own living room; he is at the Iowa City Public Library, taking part in its increasingly popular Thursday afternoon event, Wii Gaming for School-age Children.
“I think it is cool,” Patrick said between ferocious arm circles. “Because then you kind of get to know people you have never seen before.”
The two-hour event — which began a few years ago and will be on a holiday hiatus until Jan. 10 — has seen an influx of participation as the fall months have passed.
And with more than 40 kids dropping by to play during a session this month, one employee said she sees events like this as a great way for libraries to diversify their role within a community.
“The library is really trying to redefine what it means to the community, to really be a community service,” said Casey Lambert, a graduate student intern in the children’s department. “To supplement the fact schools are out early on Thursdays, it is nice to have something here kids can do for a little while before they go outside to play, or in the winter when maybe the playground isn’t in use.”
But one developmental specialist said an event like this, where kids from differing age, gender, racial and social groups must play a game together regardless of their relative skill levels, can be more than just an entertainment outlet — it can be beneficial to the growth of social skills.
“I think it is something they have in common. Kids love video games,” said Mary Corbin, a social work specialist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic’s center for disabilities and development. “Even though initially they may not connect with each other, they will eventually, and will talk with each other — more so than just sitting kids down and saying, ‘Let’s all talk about something.’”
Corbin’s insights seemed to play out when Patrick sat down and started playing Mario Kart with fellow 8-year-old Audrey Nonte. And while this was the pair’s first meeting, they were quickly joking about who was a better racer, and why being in 10th place was more impressive than 11th.
Audrey’s mother, Heather Nonte, said she appreciates having opportunities like these available to her children during the winter.
“We are definitely hurting for things to do now that it is starting to get cold and they can’t run around outside as much,” she said. “So having an option to do something other than sit at home is nice.”