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 â€œextremeâ€ 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
The Infamous Mass Effect 1 Sex Scene
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.
As a branch manager with a collection of only 200 video games, I am hesitant to begin offering Mature video games simply because these games are the most likely to be checked out and never returned or stolen before they are ever checked out. It is simply a matter of trying to spend my materials budget as wisely as possible, not censorship.
Thanks Michael for the push on this and for connecting the video game collection to the physical print and other media collections. It’s not good to have a double-standard.
I really like your points about being able to speak up for the collection and explain why it’s good, OK, etc. to have M rated materials available. That seems to be key to this. If a library doesn’t have M materials then the why of that should be clear to all staff. And, it shouldn’t be because we are scared people will complain. (That’s not something we would say with reading materials I hope.) And, if a library does have M rated materials then they should be able to say we have these in our collection because…. and go beyond the superficial. How do they support the needs of the community? How do they support the needs of players? We need to be able to address that – as you do in some of the points in this post.
Lots of food for thought.
We were having the same problems with all video games, especially DS games. They are a high loss area, because they cost a lot. We solved this problem by only having the boxes on the shelf. We then retrieve the games when the patrons want them. It is more work, but it has led to a reduction of loss.
A title I didn’t mention in the post was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. There is relationship built in that game between a character and a player. The game is very fast paced, and you generally get to know the characters through bits of dialogue. When he dies… its uncomfortable. The single player CoD games have potential for a huge emotional impact.
People get upset over the interactive nature of games. But the interactive games allow the player to experience the frantic nature of war, the crisis of making a hard decision and the intensity of a feeling without personal risk. Its not substitute for actually serving. But actually serving is a rather difficult thing to understand without doing it. The games are highly realistic, and in them people die all the time. Its not sugar coated.
Games like “Call of Duty” can be used in an educational manner. The original games were re-enactments of WWII battles. They support the needs of the community, because these games cost $60 a pop. That puts them out of the reach of most lower-working class people. They also serve as a conversation piece that can launch into more serious topics of conversation. Especially if a willing veteran were to sit down with some teenagers. You witness a rare moment in human interaction
Mike your follow-up comment made me think of a Tweet I read last week:
Thank you so much for writing this! I have been arguing for M for Mature games being allowed for a while now. I see no difference in their content and the content found in many of the movies and books we offer to the public. In addition, as you pointed out, they are the source of some astounding story lines. We get kids in the library, we hook them, we reinforce literacy and civil engagement (just check out some of the Pew research), and we stop being hypocrites. I can say as a child I was much more traumatized by the “death” of Gandalf than I ever have been by video game imagery. The only difference is that parents don’t often bother to read what their children are reading, but can easily see what they are playing.
Disclosure: Avid video gamer, cosplayer, and mother of an 18 and 4-year-old gamer.
I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I found this post as I searched some options for teen gaming events. I hosted my first one today and was a bit dismayed that the teens wanted to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (rated M and a game that our library owns), rather than the T-rated games I chose. As it turns out, the coworker who usually hosts the event has let them play it before.
What are your thoughts on having M-rated games available for play during teen events for ages 12 to 17? I’m considering permission slips, etc., but I don’t know that my coworkers will agree. I feel a bit irrational and prudish on this, as I don’t condone censorship when it comes to our print collection, but I think there are a few issues here, most significantly the library appearing to sanction the use of media that teens cannot legally buy during a teen event.
I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days. I’m torn. If you would mind answering a few follow ups.
Do you circulate the video games?
Can these teens take out the M rated games?
Are teens allowed to bring their own games?
are the teens meant to only play games you set aside?
Personally I don’t like permission slips. They are a barrier for entry for kids parents who wouldn’t care and aren’t around. I would suggest putting a disclaimer in the description.
Thanks for responding.
– Our library does circulate our video games, including those rated M.
– All video games, regardless of rating, must be checked out by an adult with an adult card.
– Teens are allowed to bring their own games, though, again, if we decide not to allow M-rated games, this would apply to their own games. (I wasn’t aware until this past weekend that they were allowed to bring or play M-rated games.)
– I chose about 10 games (rated T mostly, and Minecraft, rated E10) from our collection for this program, though I offered to bring any game from our collection that was not rated M.
I would like to state that I’m really the only staff member of four who discussed this who objects to the mature games for the under-17s, though my coworkers do understand my points even if they don’t agree. I don’t think any of us are crazy about permission slips. I’m a bit hesitant to add a disclaimer to the program description, as I think it might draw negative attention from the community (“Look what our tax dollars support!”), if that can be considered a valid reason.
Based off what you’ve told me, I would follow your circulation rules. So if you need to have an adult card to take the game out, then I would say that they should they should have to have an adult card to play the games in the program. My method of solving the issue would be to set some games aside for the program but require them to check it in an out. It creates more work, but it allows you to avoid permission slips. Also… you can re-frame the program as an informal video game night. Your not running it, you are supervising it. The difference being if a parent complains you simply explain that another teen was supplied the game by their parent, and that the library is providing a safe environment for the teens to play in. Would this work?