Like several of his friends, 12-year-old Cameron Steele can’t wait to “get his game on” every month at the Forest Park Public Library. Steele, a Forest Park Middle School student, gets together with about 20 other kids on a monthly basis in the youth services department to participate in a video game tournament.

“I have done the tournament two or three times,” Steele said. “We all play against each other and it’s a lot of fun. I like playing Super Smash Bros. Melee because you can pick different characters to fight.”

The monthly tournament, which was last held on March 3 in conjunction with Teen Tech Week at the library, has been so well received by the engrossed gamers that the competitions have ostensibly needed a “last call” notice to remind kids that the library will be closing for the night.

“The tournament is very popular and probably one of our most attended events for teens,” youth services Librarian Susan Kunkle said. “When the kids start playing, more people drift in to see what’s going on. Attendance is really good and everybody leaves happy. That can be the only problem with having the tournament because the kids stay all night, basically.”

Truth be told, that’s a problem Kunkle and youth services Manager Lindsey Kraft readily embrace. The goal of the tournaments, after all, is to get kids interested in their local library.

“Gaming as a library service has been a national trend,” Kraft said. “We try to incorporate some book talks before the tournament. We have a captive audience so we like to tell the kids a little bit about other resources we have that they can use.”

While the tournament is limited to players in seventh-grade and up, Kraft noted that the gaming phenomenon from a broader perspective appeals to many adults. It’s estimated that 80 percent of gaming parents play video games with their children.

According to an article in “Public Libraries,” the magazine of the Public Library Association, the average age of a game player is 33, and 67 percent of American heads of households are playing. Sales of computer and video game software in the United States reached $7.6 billion in 2006.

“We want to show kids that we are identifying with them and we’re listening to them,” Kunkle said. “Technology is such a huge part of part of libraries right now, so we are just getting more on board with fun events like the video game tournament.”

While the kids initially come in to play Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Kart Double Dash during the tournament, ancillary benefits include newly formed friendships and a higher familiarity and comfort level with their library.

“We have a number of kids who are in here everyday that we know by name,” Kraft said. “They come in to use our books and our computers along with the programs we offer. For some kids, the library is still extremely popular. Nationally, statistics probably say that reading is down, but we have a lot of regular readers and regular library users.”

Steele certainly would qualify as a library enthusiast who happens to love video games.

“I like sports and action video games,” Steele said. “I also like to read sports books and magazines. All my friends are here at the library, and I like to go on the computer a lot.”

Along with the video game tournament, which figures to remain a staple of the “Kids Zone” programs, several tech-related attractions are on the horizon. This summer, video games will be available for check out and plans for the purchase of a Nintendo Wii are slated for the next fiscal year.

Of course, kids shouldn’t live on controllers alone so Kraft and Kunkle are gearing up for the summer reading program, “Catch the Reading Bug: Metamorphosis.” Kids in the club can receive various prizes and gift certificates from Forest Park businesses upon completion of a book.

Another successful program is the monthly Manga Book Discussion Group. Manga, which is essentially a print version of Anime, offers kids highly artistic stories presented in book form.

“I think older kids can be the most challenging draw to get into the library,” Kunkle said. “The video game tournament is a great way to create interest in what we have to offer. Kids are always asking when the next video tournament is going to be especially if we haven’t had one in awhile. They will get on us about it.”