PATERSON, NJ – The city library’s efforts to stop Paterson youths from playing violent video games on its computers have come under fire from the National Coalition Against Censorship as well as from the video game industry.
In a letter sent to city library officials last Friday, the New York-based anti-censorship group asserted that the ban on so-called “direct-shooter” video games violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
“It is no more acceptable for a library to ban access to certain kinds of video games than it would be to selectively remove other lawful materials,’’ said the letter. “Library patrons, including young people, have a First Amendment right to make their own decisions about literature, art, informational materials, and entertainment without having those choices limited by the subjective views of library officials.’’
Meanwhile, officials said the Entertainment Software Association, which is based in Washington, D.C., has asked state and national library trade groups to intervene to convince Paterson to drop its ban.
PatersonPress.com reported last month that the city library trustees voted to impose the ban in what officials said was an effort to protect city youths from the impact of what they considered violent games. In interviews on Tuesday, city library officials said there had been a miscommunication about the action taken by the library board. They said the board had not yet taken a formal vote on the video game policy, but only agreed to do so at its meeting on February 27.
Library Director Cindy Czesak and trustee Irene Sterling declined to comment on the criticism from the anti-censorship group, saying the situation would be discussed at the meeting later this month.
The anti-censorship group said the letter was sent on its behalf as well as its “partner organizations”: the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
The letter cited a court ruling that struck down a California state law restricting the sale of certain video games depicting violence to minors. “The Library’s action in banning the use of certain games because some people object to their message or content is equally constitutionally problematic,’’ reads the letter.
“The library has not offered any sound justification for removing access to specific games,’’ says the letter. “Instead, according to published reports, librarians are taking this action to ‘prevent our kids from learning these behaviors.’ 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 argues that library administrators, as public officials, “are barred from removing materials merely because they dislike them or find them offensive.”
“Video games, like other forms of media and entertainment, do not appeal to every individual,’’ says the letter. “What some may feel is perfectly fine may not be right for all. Those who do not wish to play video games do not have to, just as those who do not wish to read a particular book or magazine do not have to. The role of libraries is not to police the use of a perfectly legal form of casual entertainment, whether the user is a teen or any other patron.’’
Library officials in Paterson are not alone in seeking to take a tough stand on violent video games. The Newtown, Ct. killings have prompted widespread regulatory efforts across the country, according to a New York Times story. And in response to the regulatory threat, the video game industry has rallied to fend off proposed regulations, the story said.