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Donald Dennis, the teen tech librarian, with Dane MacMillan, who dressed as Deadpool for Shushcon.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Throne of Games

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Lynn McKiernan forgot that she had makeup on her forehead that resembled an ax wound when she wandered into the book shop run by Friends of the Waccamaw Library during a convention of games and role play last week at the branch library off Willbrook Boulevard.

“What happened to you?” a horrified book shop clerk asked.

McKiernan, youth services librarian for the Horry County Library, could only laugh. The fantasy world came to the Waccamaw Neck branch for the weekend, and walking zombies were just part of the story.

Shushcon, a games and geekery convention, attracted players from as far away as Washington, D.C, for a weekend of board games, role play and all things related to fantasy. Where else would there be a phone ring tone that sounded like R2D2 from “Star Wars”?

The convention’s name implied the weekend’s events would not be normal library fare. “People think librarians run around all day going ‘Shush!’ but actually they are just fine with people having fun in the library,” said Mike Winans of Georgetown, who attended Shushcon. “They are there to get used.”

That’s why McKiernan agreed to have an ax wound on her forehead. “We are finding out different things to get people to come to the library,” she said, “especially teens.”

Pamela Hoppock, youth services consultant for the state library system, said Georgetown County games and tech librarian Donald Dennis has put the county’s facilities ahead of the curve. “When I heard that Donald was having this,” she said, “I had to come.”

She said the teen room at the Waccamaw Neck library is fantastic. “Not many libraries in South Carolina have that many gaming options in one room for teens,” she said. “It’s the best thing in the world for teens. We learn all of our 21st century skills when we are working with others. Games and filmmaking are two top ways to learn.”

Stephanie Frey, the Waccamaw branch’s teen tech assistant, came to the convention dressed in “Steampunk” fashion, as sort of a brown elf. She had a stuffed bird on her shoulder. Her sister, Amanda, dressed in black with a big pair of goggles around her neck, was rocking the Victorian “Steampunk” look too. She said the inspiration was the television show and movie “Wild, Wild West,” where modern machines were driven by steam in a funky better-mousetrap kind of way.

The “Steampunk” crowd gathered for a tea duel, an eating contest featuring tiny cups and saucers. Other gamers volunteered for “Escape Room,” a challenge to solve puzzles for clues to unlock a box within 45 minutes. “We worked together, celebrated together even though we didn’t know each other,” said Alisha Polkowsky, reference and youth services librarian from Lexington County. “We had different ways of thinking and problem-solving.”

She said games and activities help libraries stay relevant. “Board games get families connected again,” she said. “With board games, you have to sit one-on-one. You have to talk to each other. We are such a plugged-in society, this gets people connected.”

Problem-solving challenges like “Escape Room” encourage math and reasoning skills. “Do I tell the kids that?” asked Polkowsky. “No.”

Convention attendees said they would come back for a Shushcon II.

“If you have success, you want to do it at least once a year,” Winans said. “Most were so enthusiastic they hoped it would be more than once a year. This one concentrated on a niche that has not been filled, the actual playing of games. An encouraging thing was a lot of local people coming out and trying games they’d never played before. It was non-commercial, supported by the local library. The people at the library did a ton of work. It was a very big success, really.”

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