VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY DEFENDS OUTPUT | POLITICO
The video game industry, desperate to distance itself from the National Rifle Association’s rebukes, met with Vice President Joe Biden on Friday to defend its work and avoid a federal crackdown.
“The vice president opened a thoughtful dialogue today, and we look forward to continuing that dialogue with the administration and industry partners,” GameStop, a major video game company that participated in the meeting, said in a statement.
The vice president concluded his week with the gamers, following an unproductive talk Thursday morning with the NRA and an uncertain chat Thursday night with television and film groups. Friday’s meeting included video game lobbyists, manufacturers and researchers who study the effects of media on children.
The talks, which sparked a round of debate within the industry itself, have thrown gamers back on the defensive. Eager to avoid governmental regulation, companies are casting themselves as the scapegoat, not the instigator.
Video games and violence resurfaced after the NRA blamed shooter games for the recent massacre of 20 students and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. The shooter, Adam Lanza, appeared to enjoy playing them.
“We know that there is no silver bullet, no seat belt,” Biden said before starting Friday’s meeting.
He told gamers their colleagues had “very constructive ideas” that could help and called the NRA chat “straightforward and productive.” He refused to elaborate.
The groups disagreed on how to present themselves leading up to the meeting. Some considered attendance akin to guilt. Others insisted on the value of speaking out publicly.
“Whether for good or for ill, games become instruments in public debate rather than as mechanisms through which players can participate in a variety of activities — including reflecting on the very debates they now serve as puppets,” said Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech professor and founding partner of Persuasive Games, in an Atlantic article published Friday.
Bogost encouraged the industry to reinforce the various uses of video games, from educational tools to developmental assistants.
The International Game Developers Association, in a letter to Biden’s gun task force, instead pointed to research that indicates violent games “release stress and aggression.”
Members of the Entertainment Consumers Association asked the vice president to “support the public’s constitutional right to access and buy games, and to not blame media, including video games, for the recent tragedy that has befallen the nation.”
Some monitors exist. Entertainment Software Association officials created the Entertainment Software Ratings Board in 1994 in response to concerns about increasingly violent content. The organization is self-regulated and critics contend it lacks any teeth to enforce the standards.
Only no one really knows what video game violence does to children and adults. Studies sway between simple causation and direct correlation.
Researchers at the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have pointed to numerous reports that show a causal connection between media violence and antagonistic behavior. A study published in Developmental Psychology last year recognized increased aggression with children who play video games.
But a 2008 study by Harvard professors found that most children who played M-rated video games did not exhibit hostile behavior.
And the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 said it saw no direct link to violence when overturning a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children.
That doesn’t mean gun-blazing games have no effect, said Dan Isett, the director of public policy at the Parents Television Council.
“If they want to argue that having sex with and murdering prostitutes is somewhat educational, they can argue to their hearts’ content,” he said. “I don’t think parents will agree.”
Attendees at the Friday meeting with Biden included representatives from Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, E-Line Media, Epic Games, GameStop, Take-Two Interactive, ZeniMax Media, the Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Experts from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, an independent research lab focused on educating children on media, also attended, as well as researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Biden sat wedged between John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, home of the “Medal of Honor” franchise, and Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association. Also at the table: Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of HHS.
Biden plans to meet next with technology experts. “A lot can change if every gun purchased can only be fired by the person who purchased it,” he said.
But the vice president’s talks have sparked critique for failing to give advocacy groups voice time.
“Industry has a bad habit of saying everything that is being done has been done; we can do better than that,” Isett said. “It’s sad for me personally that it took 20 dead kids for us to have this discussion.”
The task force should make recommendations Tuesday.
Brooks Boliek and Reid Epstein contributed to this report.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 3:35 p.m. on January 11, 2013.