Anti-Censorship Group Scolds Massachusetts Over Arcade Game Removals

Gamers have good reason for feeling beat up as the American conversation on gun violence seems to lurch inevitably toward scary scary video games as a scapegoat. The Entertainment Consumers Association—the voice of the gamers—went to Washington last week and came back convinced that lawmakers have made up their minds about games as a culprit. And that was all before Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) opened that hole in the front of his face and a noise came forth that sounded like "video games is a bigger problem than guns."

Well, the National Coalition Against Censorship has now gotten involved, as much as it can so far, anyway. The NCAC, a 40-year-old free expression advocacy group, has called out Massachusetts' Department of Transportation for its removal, earlier in the month, of some video games from arcades in turnpike rest stops managed by the state.

Reminding that video games, according to a 2011 Supreme Court decision, are protected speech under the First Amendment, the NCAC told transportation secretary Richard A. Davey that "removing certain games because some people object to their message or content is equally constitutionally problematic."

"There is no legitimate state interest that could be asserted to justify removing specific games to appease the sensibilities of certain motorists," the NCAC's Joan E. Berlin continues. "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."

"Those who do not wish to play video games at rest-stops do not have to," she writes."However, they do not have the right to keep others from playing and enjoying a perfectly legal form of casual entertainment."

Removing Time Crisis and other light-gun cabinets from arcades may not directly deprive most gamers of legitimate entertainment they enjoy, but the fact a government's doing it means someone needs to tell it to knock it the hell off, lest it go further.

I am under little illusion that Massachusetts will reconsider, given how friendless games are and how tone-deaf mainstream reporting is on this subject. Davey can probably see the headlines now: "Transportation Secretary Puts Violent Video Games Back Into Taxpayer Supported Rest Stops." But at least this sends the message that caving in to every person who goes out of their way to be offended in a public space isn't an act of courage that gets a unanimous ovation from the public, or that poking a big free-speech snake is not an issue the highway department really needs to get involved in.

NCAC also pointed out to Kotaku that it has begun a "Gamers Speak Out" Initiative, soliciting stories, thoughts and opinions on games and on the violent games controversy. The web form is here, if you've got something you wish to get off your chest.

NCAC Takes Action Against Video Game Removal By MA Department of Transportation [National Coalition Against Censorship]