Why the video game industry has to talk about gun violence


The game Medal of Honor Warfighter is viewed in Jan. 11 in New York City. Following the shootings of children at a elementary school last month in Connecticut, numerous politicians and activists have begun to focus on violence in video games and films. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with games industry representatives to discuss graphic violence, often with guns, in many of today's most popular video games. The administration is also expected to address violence in the film industry as well. (Spencer Platt/GETTY IMAGES)
January 11, 2013

There was nothing but silence from the video game industry’s leading trade group for days after last month’s elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

It was five days, in fact, before the Entertainment Software Association issued a statement of condolences for the families of the victims while saying, yet again, that there is no link between violent video games and real-world crime. Even that statement was only in response to a bill calling for research into a possible connection. Apparently some within the industry believe that speaking up, even to deny any connection, runs the risk of reinforcing the idea.

Yet mass shootings, particularly those perpetrated by young men, seem inevitably to turn the national conversation to whether the games’ first-person shooters that place players behind the scope of assault rifles or in bloody hand-to-hand battles glorify and legitimize violence.

So on Friday, the ESA, game developers, academics and retailers met with Vice President Biden to have a deeper conversation. And — perhaps sensing their apprehension — Biden told the attendees that he came in “with no judgment” about how their products fit into the conversation about gun violence and said he was“anxious” to see what input they could provide.

The decision by industry representatives to even attend the meeting sent shockwaves through the gaming community. Gaming site Gamasutra’s editor-in-chief Kris Graft said that talking with Biden was tantamount to accepting responsibility.

“If you’re among the ‘game industry leaders’ entertaining this question in the court of the Vice President of the U.S.A. and his task force on gun control and violence, you, my well-meaning friend, are stating that you’re part of the problem, and therefore, you are part of the problem,” he wrote.

Graft’s piece, in turn, set off a backlash of its own, with critics saying that the game industry has to continue to address the issue or risk being left out. As IGN writer Casey Lynch said in a response to Graft’s piece, “this conversation will happen, whether we’re a part of it or not.”

That much, at least is true. In the hours after Newtown, while the industry’s leading groups kept quiet, several politicians including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) mentioned a link between violent video games and real-world violence.

Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate committee on technology, even introduced a bill that called for the National Academy of Sciences to look at the effect of violent video games as compared to other media.

He said that current studies, even those cited in a Supreme Court ruling to strike down a law that banned sales of violent video games to children, were not enough, and the court’s recent ruling showed some people just “don’t get it” when it comes to violent video games. Meanwhile, the Hartford Courant reported Friday that Massachusetts has already pulled violent video games from the shelves of the state’s rest stops in response to the shooting.

And so some within the video game industry continues to attend meetings, to write to Biden and its fiercest critics about the issue.

They say they welcome the chance to explore the issue further, to have that conversation in the open and — they hope — to keep broadcasting their message that there is no link. In fact, according to an aide on Rockefeller’s committee, industry representatives and the Entertainment Software Association met with staff after the bill’s introduction — and pledged their support for it.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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