Contrary to what Orange Is The New Black might make you think, prison isn’t exactly fun or sexy. Behind bars, people paying their debt to society are often expected to do grueling manual labor, live off of barely edible food, and safely navigate existence among their fellow inmates. While it’s not all Oz or Rainbow, it’s certainly no pleasure cruise.
But even in prison, people are bound to find ways to entertain themselves. This is why some prisons in certain countries give inmates a chance to play video games.
Fight For Your Right To Game
In 2014, inmates in the United Kingdom won a longstanding battle. Stuck with the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox to choose from, prisoners were well behind the curve when it came to the latest and greatest in console games. However, they were finally able to successfully petition for access to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – with some caveats.
First and foremost, access to the consoles came at a steep price. Convicts had to buy access to the consoles out of their own pockets. A 250GB Xbox 360 ran for £209.95, while the 4GB version sat at £189.95. For frame of reference, prisoners received £10 a week in wages, and had to display exemplary behavior in order to have the opportunity to buy them.
Secondly, the consoles were stripped of all access to the internet. This meant no Team Deathmatches in Call of Duty, or any playing persistent online games like Destiny. But that didn’t faze the inmates, who were jazzed just to have the consoles.
Calling the consoles “brilliant,” one unnamed inmate told far-right UK tabloid Daily Express: “It might cost an arm and leg when we’re only getting £10-a-week in wages, but the games you can get on Xbox 360 are so much better than the old consoles.”
Bonds Behind Bars
For many people behind bars, video games aren’t just a passive distraction. For these people who perpetually strive towards their own betterment, and are rightly rewarded for it, gaming takes on a whole new meaning.
“If you’re in a cell on your own, locked in at night, that’s where a lot of people can have problems,” former inmate Harry Harper told Vice Gaming. “You can keep yourself busy by watching telly, but there’s only so much of that you can stand, because you only have a handful of channels. I’ll sit there and write letters, I’ll read, because I’m educated; but some of the lads in there are illiterate. They’ve never been to school. You get a lot of self-harm in there, too. And when boredom kicks in, that’s when you start thinking about those things. So having the consoles keeps minds occupied, I think.”
Harper also told writer Mike Diver that gaming brought inmates together. This hits at the heart of how gaming can be used as a valuable tool behind bars. For those trying to improve themselves, and to reintegrate into society, video games offer a chance to come together. Great memories can be made in a heated round of FIFA or Call of Duty, regardless of whether you’re a free member of society or behind bars. That seems to be a universal truth, if Harper’s stories are anything to go off.
It’s worth noting that despite the access to video games in some countries, there don’t seem to be any prisons that allow online gaming. In fact, most prisons have very restrictive rules when it comes to what prisoners can and can’t do online. Some countries, like Canada, don’t even allow any web access.
The restricted access varies country by country, but generally speaking, internet is primarily used as a communication tool – meaning inmates sometimes only have access to email. In some places, there’s a bit of wiggle room to this access, but prisoners have to show an initiative in using it to get their feet back on the ground. In the Philippines, inmates can surf the web under close supervision; in Malaysia, prisoners pursuing higher education can use it as a studying tool; and in Norway, inmates can surf a heavily filtered (i.e. no email, no social media, no adult content) internet.
It doesn’t seem, from our research, that there are any notable examples of prisons allowing access to online video games. So next time you get robbed of your Victory Royale, it’s likely the twelve-year-old down the lane who pulled the trigger, and not a cog in the prison industrial complex.
The Same, But Different
So, yes, many prisoners are definitely allowed to play video games, but it’s quite different than what we have access to outside of prison walls. Whatever your opinion on this may be, it’s hard to deny there’s a track record of it having a positive impact on inmates. If somebody behind bars is showing the initiative to better themselves and get their lives on the right track, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to have the same fun as you.
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