Kill screen

Veterans protest the library’s decision to host tournaments featuring the new, violent Call of Duty video game

It’s been anything but quiet at the Central Library recently. This past Saturday, a few dozen activists staged a protest outside the downtown branch to voice outrage at a recent decision to host video-game tournaments featuring the controversial new war game Call of Duty: Black Ops.

The events, which the library calls Nerd Fest, have been popular and well-attended. But the library also has been under fire for promoting what some call a violent, dangerous and offensive game.

As gamers filtered in to the Central Branch on November 27, members of Veterans for Peace and Grandmothers for Peace marched in front of the entrance, carrying signs that displayed messages such as “War is not a game.” But inside the library, players chatted about weapons and strategies and, on the whole, were as unfazed by the protesters as they were by the game’s violence.

“It’s free and it’s fun to play,” said gamer Oscar Rios. “There’s a lot of people in this world that play war games, and there’s a limited amount of people who commit violent acts.”

The library’s Call of Duty event is open to gamers 17 and older. Participants use the game’s multiplayer mode, which sets up matches between players and does not feature assassination or torture story lines. “The multiplayer [game] is not so much about the killing as about teamwork,” explained Scott Miller, gamer and organizer of Nerd Fest.

Outside, though, protesters cited the potentially harmful aspects of Call of Duty. “We shouldn’t be encouraging this kind of stuff,” said John Reiger, president of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. “The public library has a moral authority; it should be about learning, not learning to kill.”

Local talk-show host and Veterans for Peace ally Jeanie Keltner agreed. “I don’t want them to sponsor games where the winner kills the most,” she argued. “I don’t mind that they have it. I just don’t want them to sponsor it.”

Despite Nerd Fest’s controversy, the event has attracted new visitors to the library. “We’re getting the missing demographic into the library, which is basically males who are 17 to 35 years old,” said Miller. “They are participating in the library and checking out the different offerings.”

A large Call of Duty: Black Ops poster welcomed gamers at the Nerd Fest entrance, in addition to a table displaying books that in the past have been criticized for violent content, such as A Clockwork Orange and The Silence of the Lambs. Library staff also emphasized that the point of Nerd Fest is to promote community.

“I believe the role of the modern public library is way more than books,” said library supervisor Manya Sharr.

Library director Rivkah Sass, who picked up an Xbox controller for a few minutes during the event, agreed. “Libraries are really changing how we meet the needs of our communities,” she said. “I recognize that we have a group of people who are objecting to one piece of our spectrum. And I respect that, but it’s a piece of what a library is in 2010.”

The library will hold another Call of Duty tournament on December 11—and Veterans for Peace plans to protest. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: Libraries are no longer just for books.