Kids who visited the gaming lab at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library came to have fun, playing Monopoly, Jenga, chess and more. But organizers say they were building social, emotional and cognitive skills as well.

Share story

Jenga is a pretty fun game no matter how you stack it, but there’s surely an extra measure of excitement when you’re gambling with a tower taller than you.

That’s what a group of teens discovered at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library on Saturday at a gaming lab for people with visual and physical impairments.

Amid cheering and some trash talk, Jayden Yamada, 14, of Bellevue, and his father played the first round with Shannon Curry, who is the Seattle library’s reader adviser, and Marian May, the youth-services librarian.

“My only rule for giant Jenga is to be aware if it’s going to fall and don’t be sitting down,” Mays said, warning people to stand clear of the tower that reached about 6 feet high before it crashed to the ground.

Mays won a grant from Best Buy and the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Services Association, to create the lab as an educational and social tool that’s actually fun.

More is going on than you might think when a group gets together to play a game.

“Gaming is extremely important,” Mays said, “since play fosters crucial social, emotional and cognitive skills in individuals of all ages. It is also an essential part of the adolescent experience. My goal is for teens and educators around the state to use this gaming lab for education, fun and to make new relationships with their peers.”

The lab features classics such as Monopoly, Scrabble and chess, as well as puzzles and Rubik’s Cubes that have Braille added or have been adapted in other ways.

There are also audio games and Legos.

The giant Jenga, however, proved a crowd pleaser Saturday, as well as when Mays has taken the show on the road, visiting the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and Eisenhower High School in Yakima.

Instead of the finger-sized blocks of wood used in regular Jenga, the adaptive version features hand-sized blocks.

Just like in the common version, the blocks are stacked in rows of three, alternating rows perpendicularly. The object of the game is to pull out blocks from the tower, one by one, and place them on top without knocking the whole thing over.

Jayden, who does computer programming without any special equipment other than magnification and stickers overlaying his keyboard, came to the lab wanting to socialize and simply “check it out,” he said.

Sarah Smale, 13, of Bellevue, came because she thought it sounded like fun and because she is working to establish a support network among visually impaired teens.

She has her own charity called Saving Kids’ Sight that raises money to buy eye-pressure testing kits for children with glaucoma.

“I’m trying to get people to meet each other and help each other,” she said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the gaming lab can reach Mays at marian.mays@sos.wa.govor 206-615-1253.