Inside the Gaming Library at Gitmo, America's Controversial Military Prison

When detainees need relief, they turn to Harry Potter and PS3 games.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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I wonder what some of the other restrictions are.

I understand its based on content in games, but I’m curious if Rated M games are automatically not allowed.

Also my biggest question is do they have more then one controller. If they had two they could play some Street Fighter. If Street Fighter doesnt get through the choosing process. Maybe some Blazeblue or an anime fighter.

Some other good games would be Portal, Minecraft, maybe some TellTale games. Also people forget but Persona 5 came out on PS3. Maybe that game would be a bit to obvious though.

At one point in my life I had to help collect books to send to inmates. To my surprise the most requested books were by far romance novels which really made sense after thinking about it for a minute. I’d imagine dating sims would be a happy addition for some of the inmates. I’d want a game like Minecraft to be there but I have a hard time believing that a game where you can recreate any building with relative ease would get approval. Racing & couch multiplayer games like Portal or Tekken I’d imagine would be good for collaboration sake. Racing & team sports games I can imagine being popular. Steep is something I’d recommend because that game is just really relaxing in what I can only imagine to be a hostile environment. Edit: Nier…

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I would put one of the Fallout games in there. I think there might be a problem with how those games basically depict a defeated America, but I think there’s some wisdom to be gained with how much they encourage you to pursue other methods of solving problems.

It’s like this: I’m incapable of going to the ‘evil side’ whenever I play as a custom player character, which is why I never ally with Caesar’s Legion in New Vegas. But I understand why some people do. I understand why some people go to Caesar, the NCR, or chose to strike off on their own. I don’t agree with the people who go to Caesar, but I at least understand them, and that’s an incredible feat no matter the art form.

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It’s funny that the article mentioned Prison Architect. I bought it after I got out of jail. I had a really intense craving to try it. Maybe I wanted to try to do things right?
I don’t think I played it for more than an hour. It was a bad idea.


This is a fascinating start to the week.

On one hand, it almost seems anti-climactic - you get access to Guantanamo Bay and come away with a lack of board games as the spine backing most of the piece. It’s not quite the haymaker that you might expect after clicking through.

And yet: there’s still just enough reluctance there from the Joint Task Force responses to make you curious. Why would you be guarded about something that seems so trivial? (Because it’s freakin’ Guantanamo Bay, perhaps, but still.) It makes their responses feel sterile in a way that lines up with the general detachment of the overall piece, which is understandable, considering the kind of attention this piece likely earned leading up to publication. There can be no uncertain words about Guantanamo Bay, even if that story told by those words almost feels inconsequential against its history.

But that story also implies, quite carefully, that there may be no better view into the human condition at Guantanamo Bay because this may be all that’s left of it here. These are detainees, they live in blocks and their only engagement with a fraction of a culture in suspended animation – even when it comes to discussing it with other detainees – is strictly mediated based on compliance. So you close the browser and you leave Guantanamo Bay not with a sore jaw from a haymaker but with a stomach ache, a naive dissatisfaction that curdles the more that you think about it. It is what it is.

Anyway, it’s cool to see Waypoint reaching out to writers that are outside of the usual games journalism circles for an atypical gaming story. Good piece.


If I was locked up I would play so many rpgs
persona 5 and skyrim and fallout to start
sonic’s ultimate genesis collection
compilation discs would make alot of sense.

A big part of that, for me, was that they failed to show any sort of appealing aspect to Caeser’s Legion. There was no stable “back home” to contrast the Vegas strip to, no Rome to hold up next to the supposedly barbaric NCR.

Not saying I’d side with Caeser if he’d shown a land of milk and honey, but it would’ve at least made the choice more complicated!

Interesting article but overall I think I’m disappointed in that the focus was on the removal of board games from the library. Call me naive but I honestly believe the “no one was playing them” explaination. Movies and video games make sense to me as for why they would be picked over board games, I love board games but if I’m looking for escapism I’m turning to a movie or a narratively focused game. On top of that I feel like if you were going to take something away from them why would you pick board games over books, movies, or video games?

Again the article is interesting but I think exploring what video games they are checking out would be more so. Do they play jrpg’s that have long stories or are they playing something else like Infamous?

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I think they mention that the Legion has a big hold outside Arizona?

To me the ‘positive’ aspects of the Legion (add twenty air quotes to that positive) can be seen if you follow the main quest line linearly: your first meeting with the NCR will probably be at the Mojave Outpost, where everyone is super bored and talking about how they can’t do anything because they don’t have resources. Contrast that with the Legion’s first appearance in Nipton, where they’re like ‘Nipton is a hellhole and we just burned it down because that’s what they deserved’. It’s two different interpretations of how to regain order in a barbaric world.

And I agree with you, because the game doesn’t seem really that interested in making the Legion appealing. For my first five games I straight up avoided the Legion and shot them in sight. It wasn’t until a friend of mine mentioned how Caesar talks about Hegelian dialectic that I went ‘wait, what’ and decided to at least exhaust dialogue options to see what the Legion was all about. The problem is that the awful and bad parts of the NCR are blasé and quite common in our super bureaucracy-driven world, whereas the awful and bad parts of the Legion are just despicable inhuman acts.

I don’t know. It’s not a straightforward game, and I think that’s why I keep coming back to it? That and the fact I’ve developed a positive mental feedback to hearing ‘Big Iron’.

I saw that photograph of a few of the PS3 games and got a little emotional thinking how much it would mean to me to have access to a game like Final Fantasy XIII-2 which I love so dearly. When FFXIII then appeared in another image it got me thinking how, were I to choose a game, I’d probably pick that one. The familiar presence of a title that I’ve enjoyed playing so much would help me to enter a state of normalcy, and the time (and limited library) would allow me to go do all the side-quests and optional bosses I never did on my playthrough. Although, it would be a very different experience to not have access to the internet to look up guides to help while playing it.

Nevertheless, it did get me wondering what the library’s rules for an allowable game are though. On first glance, Final Fantasy XIII looks like the only disagreeable part would be fantasy violence which they seem to be fine with. However, it also contains multiple prison-breaking scenes (both breaking-out by those held captive, and breaking-in by those trying to save them). Even looking past the fact that the core theme of the story is about the characters being held to rules they did not choose and constantly trying to undermine them, there are a lot of scenes which amount to “small team of fugitives subverts the enemy authority by blowing up their prison”. I wonder how the library managers would feel about offering that title if they did know about that? Would they think it a healthy escape: an evocative way to satiate their thirst for the act? Or would they see it as a bad influence?

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Hi, Moom,

Thank you so much for the comment. Always interesting to hear from folks, who have been involved in sending book donations to prisons. Interestingly, the Detainee Library does have a number of books related to romance.

However, during one of my conversations with Dixon Wells, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, he said something about his clients’ reading/watching preferences that I thought I’d share here, in response to your comment on dating sims.

“They want to watch the same things we want to watch. They want to watch action films, and they don’t want to watch love stories, cause most of them are heartbroken. They want to watch action films and things to take them away from where they are. They don’t want things to remind them of home or their loved ones, who they haven’t seen in almost two decades.”

Also, I just watched the gameplay trailer for Steep, and it looks incredible. I’m slated to talk to a representative of the Red Cross, who is acquainted with the Detainee Library, soon and plan on asking them if they’d ever considered donating video games (so far, I believe they have not). Will be interesting to get their take on this issue. I think for the collection to grow substantially, donations would need to go through the lawyers, as the Red Cross has limited funds and the Detainee Library staff gave no indication to me that they were planning on adding much to the size of the game library. It’s an interesting dynamic - where many of the lawyers do not play video games themselves. So, in sum, there’s still a lot to probe here.

I should also note that this piece represents a part of my ongoing work, my research on the evolving state of information access both in the detention facilities and on the naval base, so I’m incredibly grateful for all the insight offered here and in the rest of the comments.


Thank you for replying to my comment. Everything you are saying is very interesting. The quote regarding more escapist media is interesting & also makes sense to me. I only helped donate books for a short amount of time when I interned at a US Consulate where we had to make sure American Citizens who were in prison abroad were being taken care of and I often have to remind myself that standard practices in Gitmo compared to other prisons are going to be vastly different.

Thank you again.


Great questions.

For starters, I’d suggest checking out the 2004 Gitmo Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that the University of Minnesota has archived in their Human Rights Library. There’s a section that states:

Any books, which include the content listed below, will not be circulated and will be immediately returned to the source (e.g. ICRC, private donor, etc…):
(1) Extremism (Modernist writing that incites Jihad)
(2) Militant Islam / Militant Jihad
(3) Anti-American topics
(4) Anti-Semitic topics
(5) Anti-Western topics
(6) Any military topic
(7) Sexual situations.
(8) Dictionaries.
(9) Language Instruction
(10) Technology/Medical Updates
(11) Geography

It’s now 2017; it’s important that these aforementioned rules were crafted during the Bush years, and we don’t fully know how they evolved under Obama. I can’t offer evidence that the SOPs have been updated to reflect the addition of video games to the collection. I can say definitively that the Detainee Library does indeed now have dictionaries. The Joint Task Force is not willing to say much about their screening process of incoming materials, surprise, surprise. (NB: There’s also a lot to say about dictionaries at Gitmo, but I’m going to just…not bombard you with all of that info now in this blurb.)

It’s also worth noting - as an obvious disclosure - that while there’s merit in saying what can be seen in the library (i.e. what the collection looks like), there are A LOT of questions that remain related to circulation and what each detainee is permitted. Some lawyers are willing to speak to these issues; some of the individuals previously held at Gitmo are active on social media and occasionally comment. The looming question of how to best probe Gitmo from afar is one that is always, always, always on my mind. A lot of my own strategies have evolved.

The SOPs also offer this instruction about how [board] games are supposed to be handled:

Games need to be inspected for damage or lost pieces. If the game is damaged or has lost pieces, the detainee is to be disciplined for damage or destruction to government property. It is the detainee’s responsibility to inform the guards if a game piece is accidentally lost and will not be disciplined if detainee tells the guard. The detainee will be informed of this responsibility when the game is issued. Also, consult the damaged property matrix to determine the length of time the detainee loses the game.

Alas, your “biggest question” is a bit dicey, as unfortunately, the Joint Task Force will not respond to a question that gets at that level of specificity, because it involves parsing how many “highly compliant detainees” (their words, not mine) there are in each subsection of cells.

I too have a bunch of questions that I keep stored away. Sometimes, there are changes in the level of transparency, when new public affairs officers (PAOs) arrive at Gitmo, so it is good to just keep prodding and probing. And that’s what I’m committed to doing in the months and years ahead.


That’s a fascinating suggestion.

If anyone out there in the Waypoint readership sphere DOES want to test the system, to (try to) donate video games to the detention facilities at Gitmo, I can speak more to the complexities of that process over email. I am ideologically interested in thinking about how the Detainee Library can be reimagined, how it could have been…but I am also very, very committed to parsing how it works. I see testing the donation system as part of my responsibility as a journalist.

In a different vein, I will say that if anyone would like to send board or video game donations to the Red Cross building that services the Naval Station (and not the detention facilities), I can point you in the right direction.

I could say a lot more about game donation, but I am going to stop here. I’d like to thank you as well, michellichand, for being so thoughtful in your response.

Hey, Wazanator. Great points. Solid critique. I will just say that I’m working with a few other researchers/writers to get our hands on the full game inventory list. Stay tuned. Years ago, I was surprised to hear that board games existed at Gitmo, due to their many components; what fascinated me too was that the U.S. govt frequently alluded to them in Gitmo related reports as evidence of the broad level of intellectual stimulation available to detainees. And, ex-detainees have written more collectively about the board game play, but that’s also, I suspect, because many were released before the arrival of PS3 games. You can check out the The Guantanamo Docket, an ongoing attempt of the New York Times to keep track of the number of detainees; it’s an imperfect record helpful all the same. Looking forward to probing all these things further. And, I guess I should play some more video games, while I do that!

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