By Joel McCabe / February 5th, 2013
“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” This article starts with a famous quote from one of the most-famous American authors and philosophers of the 19th century, because Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) has said the truth of this matter in cleaner, plainer words than anyone ever could. On the first of this month, a letter was sent to the Paterson Free Public Library Board of Trustees in New Jersey regarding their newly-adopted policy of censorship against certain video games being played on their computers. This is not the first time that the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has stood on the side of free speech on behalf of video games.
Earlier this year, the Executive Director of the organization wrote a letter to the Transportation Department in Massachusetts regarding their dislocation of supposedly-violent video games from several rest stops. Some examples of the games that were removed were first-person shooters like Time Crisis. In that letter, Ms. Bertin said, “It is not a stretch to imagine someone demanding a ban on certain DVDs, magazines, or books. Perhaps other travelers will think it is inappropriate to broadcast news about war or crime, or other televised content. It is no more acceptable for the Department to remove certain kinds of video games than it would be to selectively remove other materials in rest stops and concessions because some motorists find something in them objectionable.”
According to an interview with Communications Director of the NCAC, Michael O’Neil, so far there have been no official replies to either effort in removing these policies in either situation. Furthermore, there has been no contact with the original reporter at Alternative Press on the library issue for any kind of retraction or corrections. Currently, actions are being taken to examine all public records for verification of the policy and its’ standing.
In the same interview, O’Neil had this to say: ‘Patrons of libraries are best served by education opportunities, and not by policing what they use. This is as much an issue of open web access at the library, as much as it is on video games. They seem to have decided on here is a one-size-fits-none policy. Not every game that might fall under their policy … can be wholly different from each other in the nature of their content. When you’re talking about young people that play these games, what’s appropriate for a seven-year old can be entirely different from what is approved for a sixteen-year old, or even from one teenager to another. Parents are in the best position to make decisions on what content is approved for their kids. Forcing one person, or even a group of people, to make such decisions for the entire community is impractical, and putting library staff in that position is not only logistically problematic but also constitutionally problematic.’
Furthermore, O’Neil was quick to emphasize that his organization finds no fault with the individual library staff involved, stating that it is commonplace for librarians and their staff to support the First Amendment rights, and that the library staff involved in this issue are simply being set up for an impossible task. Also, O’Neil stated that this kind of treatment is paramount to censoring and removing graphic novels like The Avengers or young-adult books. “Video games are just as valid a form of speech as a book or a movie or a radio play. A public library has a First Amendment responsibility there.” A link to a public reproduction of the letter is HERE for your perusal, with thanks to NCAC Program Associate Acachia O’Connor for the content.
Thanks to NCAC Communications Director Michael O’Neil for the interview.