I am writing this article as an open letter. We are censoring what video games we provide people, but we are not stopping their consumption. We are shooting ourselves in the foot to avoid an argument, and it will hurt. Plus we are compromising our own integrity to avoid an argument. It is time to supply our public with access to M rated games.
People will object because of the violence. The “extreme” violence of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. It is true that GTA is a sandbox world that allows players to commit grand acts of violence. But the good stuff, the in game violence that will give a person chills, is only doled out in pursuit of one of the best crime stories you can find.
Call of Duty does allow teens to shoot their friends and talk to strangers on the internet. But most teens see this as no different the paintball, airsoft or laser tag. Except it allows people without the physical ability to participate in those activities. Plus, you lose this argument if your library has any of the following movies in its collection: Saw, Tourista, the Human Centipede or Tokyo Gore Police.
Video Games contain sex and objectify women. Video games do feature sexy drawings of fantasy women on the covers and in the games. But is this any more objectifying the American Pie’s famous webcam scene? Is it worse than Project X or Mad Men? Sex sells. As for the sex itself, Rated M games generally have about as much nudity as a PG-13 movie.
Mass Effect was in the news when it first came out for the sex content in the game. Fox did a whole segment on the game. Only one person featured in that segment had played it. Sex in Mass Effect is the result of 20+ hours of game play. Each character must be approached, treated and wooed in a different way. Each of them want different things. If a player tries to have relationships with multiple characters, the non-player characters are hurt by this. A player has a choice between male and female characters. In Mass Effect 3, they can even engage in same sex relationships. The result is less skin and more intimate than you would see on Buckwild. Think about the power of providing a teen who is homosexual with a game that allows them to safely express their interest in someone of the same gender without fetishizing it.
There are other games where sex isn’t handled as well. But we have erotica in our book collection. We have pretty intense Rated R movies in our movie collections. We can have M games in our game collection. Because although there is a ton of pretty crappy M games out there. There is a higher ratio of games like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Halo, Skyrim, Infamous and Dragon Age which treat mature content in a mature manner. It all boils down to this. They are Rated M for Mature not A for Adult.
These games are massively popular, and we as librarians should be enabling access to them. Why? Four of the titles I’ve mentioned above have companion novel series. Full length, adult prose of over 300 pages. The game creators are readers. They are writers. A teen might not care what Doogie Howser is reading these days, but they will care what the game designer for their favorite game is interest in. At least, anything is worth trying right? Finally, we should offer access to them because 58% of all Americans play video games. That is most of the country, and the average age of the gamer is inching up.
I cannot guarantee that you will not get push back from Adults in your community about the presence of video games in the library. They will cite studies they heard about second hand through cable news. They will bring up tragedies. People trying to win an argument will do just about anything. But let’s be 100% clear, this is an issue of intellectual freedom.
Our best defense is a good offense. When you decide to offer M games, put out a press release with your reasoning. The ESA has collected a bunch of information about the gaming industry on their website. Some of the demographic numbers will astound you. Please, when reading these numbers, keep in mind this includes tablet games. The skinny of it is, the average American gamer is 30. Those gamers, when they have kids, will be much more aware of what the content of the individual game is. So can’t we trust them to monitor their own teen’s consumption? After all, that is why the ESRB created the rating system in the first place. The ESRB is extremely detailed about the content in a game. It provided a breakdown before the MPAA, and it puts it right on the front of the box. So parents can monitor their children, even if they know nothing about gaming. They even provide a database of the games they’ve rated! Lets let them, but we need to provide access to the games first.
Food for Thought
It is strictly PG-13. Really.
Jenny’s Death from the Darkness (Severe Content Warning)
Keep in mind this was not early in the game. The player experiences a lot of time with Jenny through Jackie. There is even some time spent watching “To Kill the Mockingbird” on the couch together. This was not funny. This was really sad and really frustrating. Even if you read the comic.
This is easily six hours into the game. Hawke’s Mother is really a mom. Like she mothers the character even as he or she goes to do all this crazy stuff. They set this scene up by making her never quite… “proud” of her child. So when she says it, the player feels it.