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Mega Mania!!

The library aims to teach skills through video games, comics and popular culture

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An afternoon of video games, comics and other pop culture activities is likely to fry your brain, as the old curmudgeonly adage suggests, right? Wrong.

Activities, workshops and presentations covering all these topics—and many more—will take over Pima Community College's downtown campus, 1255 N. Stone Ave., Saturday, July 15, from 1 to 6 p.m. with MegaMania!! The Pima County Public Library's annual event, now in its seventh year, caters to a wide range of age groups, especially teens.

"Our goal is to connect teens to different learning skills that are needed in the 21st century that they don't necessarily learn in school, and to connect them to the library," said Jusdina Nolin-Brown, a library associate at the Dusenberry-River branch and co-chair of the MegaMania!! planning team.

Workshops and other activities are spread out across several buildings, and, since they overlap, attendees will need to be picky about which to attend. But the good news is everything at MegaMania!! is free.

The event's offerings run the gamut, both in topic and target age, so there shouldn't be any shortage of fun or interesting activities for anyone.

What originally began as Manga Mania and focused entirely on Japanese culture and manga, or Japanese comics, has since grown into an event that explores popular culture in general, Nolin-Brown said. The activities at MegaMania!! aim to offer what's called "connected learning," or tapping into teens' interest while teaching them skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and working in teams.

That's long been the goal, said Nolin-Brown and Bethany Wilson, who also served as co-chair on the event's planning team and is a young-adult services librarian at the Oro Valley Library.

The event is styled after comic conventions—Tucson Comic-Con is also involved—and its organizers are not shy about appropriating ideas from conventions around Arizona and beyond. The newest addition this year, the Con-Quest, was an idea Wilson adapted after seeing it at BlizzCon, a video-game convention in Anaheim, California. Though the activity harkens to quests in role-playing video games, it's also intended to get kids to see everything MegaMania!! has to offer.

"What I noticed is kids would come to the event and camp out in one area," Wilson said of MegaMania!! events in years past. The quest will require them to move around the convention, talk to people and complete tasks along the way. Teams that finish the quest will be entered to win one of three backpacks filled with prizes.

And it won't come easy, Wilson added: "They'll have to think critically and adapt and use communication skills to finish the quest."

Another idea co-opted from another convention set to appear at MegaMania!! is an escape room. The activity requires teams to solve a series of puzzles with clues found within a room, with the goal to escape. Phoenix Comic Con hosted its first escape room just last year, Wilson said, and that's where MegaMania!! planners got the idea.

"We feel kind of cool that we're right on the cutting edge," she added.

In addition to gaming and comic culture, the event will also host question-and-answer sessions with professional authors and artists. Workshops include exploring how to write stories on serious topics and how to design cover art to attract readers.

MegaMania!! sets itself apart from traditional comic conventions with a series of cultural workshops, Nolin-Brown said. This year's include presentations on the Japanese martial art kendo kai, and henna, where attendees can get the body art while learning about its history.

"We have a really diverse planning team that works on this," Nolin-Brown said. "We're bringing in ideas from a lot of different people, and we focus a lot on what's popular today and how it kind of intersects with our goals for the program."

Included in that diversity are volunteers from the age group the event is meant to serve. Madeline Penna, 19, who works at Oro Valley Library and majors in art at Pima Community College, was commissioned to design for the event.

"We're always trying to figure out how to bring teens into the planning process more and more," Wilson said.

Penna's designs will go on pins quest participants will earn along the way and portray popular movies, TV shows or books, like the Harry Potter or Super Mario series. Penna, whose art had been traditional forms like drawing and painting, said the pins were the first piece of art she's done that employed digital design.

"It helped me realize it was a good medium for me," she said. "I learned a couple different skills to help me later on with more projects."

And helping attendees realize skills and find ways to put them to use is the heart of the event.

"I think it comes back to just that the library is all about learning and communities," Wilson said. "Those two things are the focus of it all."

Cosplay: Attendees can bring their own costumes to showcase or make their own with free supplies. (All day in the RV Building).

Con-Quest: Participants can embark on their own quests by completing tasks handed out by organizers and exploring the event's areas. Anyone who completes them all will be entered to win one of three prize backpacks. (All day, starts at the welcome table).

Giant Games: Bring your friends, build a team, and play capture the flag, just like any player-versus-player video game—except in real life. (All day on the outside green).

Portable planetarium: Rotating shows beginning every half hour will explore astronomy as it relates to video games and comics. Seating is limited and late entries won't be allowed. (2 to 5 p.m. in the library).

Lightsaber Academy: Courtesy of the Phoenix Lightsaber Academy, you'll be able to learn the basics of sword-fighting. Lessons will be taught in groups. (3 to 5 p.m., RV Building 136).

Artists Who Write: Hear from and chat with James Owen and Adam Rex, two authors who began as artists. (1:30 p.m., second floor of the CC Building).

Make a Mini Comic: Make your own tiny comic book with the help of local artist Adam Yeater. Supplies will be provided. (1:30 p.m., second floor of the CC Building).

Cultural workshops: Five stage presentations, each about a half hour long, will include mariachi, capoeira and Latin dance, kendo kai and belly dancing. (1:30 to 5 p.m. in the Amethyst Room).

Pizza, drinks and Japanese snacks will be available in the Cantina, located in the CC Building cafeteria all day. For a complete list of activities, visit library.pima.gov/megamania.

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