Anti-Censorship Group Rallies Over Library Banning Games

The National Coalition Against Censorship has begun a campaign against a library in New Jersey that has instituted a formal policy banning people from playing games on their computers.

Libraries are places of learning.  They are storehouses of information, both artistic and practical.  It is hard to think of a single place that represents the advancement and caretaking of raw knowledge better than the iconic library, which makes it that much more noteworthy when such an institution decides to ban access to a particular media.

The Paterson Free Public Library in Paterson, New Jersey has instituted a formal policy prohibiting anyone from playing any "direct-shooter" video games on their computers.  The policy came about as a request from several of the librarians at the location, who had been trying to dissuade minors from playing such games and wanted a more official way of preventing the material from being played.

To put things into perspective, the only material directly blocked from being accessed in a public library is child pornography.  Even adult pornography is accessible.  The closest other parallel is that children are not permitted access to online chat sessions, ostensibly to protect against internet predators.

The reasoning behind this policy is, as stated by library board member Irene Sterling, "We felt we should do everything we can to prevent our kids from learning these behaviors,"

While the intention is noble, the National Coalition Against Censorship disagrees with the policy strongly enough to have written a letter to Paterson condemning the policy, particularly with the words,

This assumes that viewers will simply imitate behaviors represented in fictional settings without any independent mental intermediation, a proposition that is palpably false and that the library implicitly rejects by offering access to all sorts of internet sites and maintaining a varied collection of books, magazines, videos and other materials.

The letter goes on to point out that historically it is not the library's place to decide what material is appropriate for children, and that the policy does not specifically apply to unaccompanied children, but also to children with a guardian and to mature adults, making the stated reasoning of protecting children who lack supervision dubious.

With museums beginning to agree that video games are a legitimate form of art, even adding games to some very prestigious collections, it seems a step backwards for a library to decide that certain types of games are inappropriate.  Art is a form of speech, and libraries tend to be one of the places people look to defend that freedom, not censor it based upon the morals of the government employees who work there.

Personally, I think I'd be more concerned about my non-existent kid having effectively unrestricted access to the internet itself than said theoretical child being able to play a shooter.

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Published Jun. 15th 2020

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