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Vice President Biden's warning to the video game industry Exclusive
January 15, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi




Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with the video game industry representatives on Friday was, on the surface, meant to be a roundtable discussion on what the video game industry could contribute to his recommendations on reducing gun-related violence in the country. Read between the lines, though, and it was more like a warning.

"I think the message was that the industry needs to think of some things to improve their image," researcher Cheryl K. Olson, who attended the meeting, told us over the phone on Monday.

"He said that even though you had the Supreme Court ruling go your way... just because you have that on your side doesn't mean you have public opinion on your side."

Mr. Biden is scheduled to present a set of proposals to President Obama on Tuesday for reducing gun violence in the country, which he and a task force have been working on since last month's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Friday's meeting with video game industry representatives and researchers came on the tail end of a series of discussions on gun violence he had with representatives from several groups, including law enforcement, educators, civil rights organizations, gun safety advocates, and the film industry, among others.

By all accounts it doesn't appear that any restrictions on video game sales will be a part of that proposal. Indeed, he and his task force appear unconvinced that there is a link between violent video games and violent behavior.

"He said upfront that he didn't think the evidence he'd seen showed a link between violent video games and real life violence," says Olson. "And he said even if the research were to show a link, it would be a tiny influence compared to the influence of the other factors he was looking at."

But public opinion is a powerful thing, especially in politics, and a large, uneducated part of the population remains convinced that games are harmful.


"You have not been 'singled out for help,'" Vice President Joe Biden told a clearly relieved John Riccitiello of EA on Friday.

"I think Biden's point was to that to those individuals you're not that much different from the cigarette industry, in the sense that they think that you're hiding research that suggests that video games are bad and that you're peddling something that you think is harmful," Texas A&M's Christopher Ferguson, who was also in attendance, tells us.

"I think his message was, 'I don't believe that, but other people do. So what can you do to try to fix that?"

Around the room

During the meeting, Mr. Biden went around the room and asking all in attendance to speak for three-to-four minutes to suggest ways to improve the industry's perception. The researchers in attendance suggested, appropriately, further research should be done, but by accounts most of the industry executives and representatives weren't prepared to give positive suggestions.

"I don't think they were quite ready for that," says Ferguson. "I think their mission was to come in and emphasize over and over that there wasn't really any evidence for any harmful effects."

In addition to Olson, Ferguson and other researchers, industry representatives in attendance included ESA president Michael Gallagher, EA CEO John Riccitiello, Epic Games' former president Mike Capps, the ESRB's Patricia Vance, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, and ZeniMax Media (parent company of Bethesda and id) CEO Robert Altman.

"One person said their games were an art form, and that we shouldn't even be talking about risks and benefits here, that's not what this is about," says Olson, who was unable to recall who that may have been.

"And another said, 'I'm a parent, and I think our products are good products. I don't think they hurt people. So if there's something we can do to reduce the risk of harm, I want to know about it.'"

And what did Olson herself say during her four minutes?

"I know some games have a reduced violence option in them, which they never publicize! I said one thing you might consider is looking at if they're making those features for other markets like Japan or Australia anyway, to maybe think about making those an option in the U.S. games," she says.

"My opinion is that the industry's best bet is to show parents that they want to support their efforts to regulate their children's media use, and be able to say that we're providing options. We're providing controls. We're providing content options for you to do that."

Continued research

One thing everyone in attendance (minus one unidentified person) agreed on was that further research would be beneficial for everyone. By accounts, Mr. Biden implied that he'd like to see industry-sponsored -- though not conducted -- research.

"If the industry came up with it, it would of course have no credibility, but if the industry and the White House worked out that yes, the industry would help support research then that would go somewhere," says Olsen. "And a number of people from the industry there were open to that."

Not only would it help curtail negative public perception, it could also suggest some of the positive benefits of playing video games -- even violent ones, something that the International Game Developers Association addressed in its open letter to the Vice President (no IGDA representatives were in attendance at the meeting).

"I think it would help us see how to promote the benefits of games as much of the risks," says Olson. "My research for example found a link between sports video games and exercising more. There's a lot that they could be promoting."

Research isn't a guaranteed path toward positive change, however.

"I do worry that if research happens, it may not be in a neutral and objective context," says Ferguson.

"The timing coming after Sandy Hook, all that political pressure, I worry that it could corrupt the scientific process. So I think there's going to be some funding for research, but the government will have to think of some way of how to do that or dole that out in a way that they can be sure that that research takes place in an objective environment where whatever the results are, there's no pressure to produce one set of results or another."

Fair warning

The Vice President's suggestion that the video game industry improve its public perception wasn't just friendly advice. It might have been a warning: clean up your act, or bad things could happen if it comes down to a vote.

"He didn't say this, I'm reading between the lines, but there might have been an element of... [video game violence] might come up when we have to address gun control or mental health or whatever else," says Ferguson.

"There's just been so much talk about video games in the news media, there's been so much discussion about that, and there's been of course Senator Rockefeller's bills. I think they weren't going to get away without addressing it."

"Hopefully the industry will come up with some positive suggestions."


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Comments


Garret Cashman
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"There is no silver bullet.."

"I'm shooting for Tuesday..."

indeed.

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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Let's hope he has better aim than Cheney :)

Joe McGinn
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Biden's response is quite dull and reasonable - you don't have a problem, but there are morons out there think you do, so you should work on educating them. Gamasutra calling this a "warning to the video game industry" is pure sensationalist grandstanding.

Paul Marzagalli
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It was a warning, as the language is classic government to industry "play ball." This article shows that Friday's meeting was just another example of a politician not hearing what he wanted to hear, and promising fire & brimstone if he doesn't hear it soon. That's incredibly disappointing, though not surprising.

Matthew Mouras
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I didn't follow this meeting closely, but from the article above, it sounds to me like Biden wanted to address the issue of public perception of the industry. Is there an inherent threat that I'm missing? Aren't we grown up enough to receive the message and have a discussion? Someone is coming to the industry and saying, "look... you have a perception problem." Sticking our heads in the sand or decrying all politicians isn't going to stave off any potential fire and brimstone.

The NRA implicated the video game industry after Newtown. Seems to me Biden is trying to give us a higher profile in the discussion. That's a nice bone to be thrown when you're being vilified in the media.

Paul Marzagalli
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He wasn't doing the industry any favors by inviting us. We are a multi-billion dollar a year business spread across the whole socio-economic spectrum. There wasn't a bone to be thrown. We already had our seat at the table. If he had chosen to ignore and indict video games, then he would have had a messy fight on his hands.

Instead, he invited us along for a bit of the ol' Washington two-step. This meeting was a classic passive-aggressive, arm-around-the-shoulder, crocodile smile tactic: "You have a perception problem if for no other reason than *I* say you do so why don't you do something about that?" Left unsaid, but implicitly implied: "Before I take care of it for you."

It's not a matter of sticking heads in the sand. It's a matter of being prepared to stand in opposition to calls for governmental regulation or even peer-regulation. If individual companies want to make some kind of social compact, then fine. The industry or government trying to ram some sort of "acceptable ethics" across the whole, not so much.

Matthew Mouras
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It sounds like you have a preternatural understanding of the motivations of Washington on this particular issue, Paul. Hopefully you'll be invited to the next round table. That is a cynical view though. Is it justified based on what was discussed at this meeting? I don't know - I'm asking. Show us.

Your last paragraph makes you sound ready to jump up on soapbox yourself. I don't see regulation being discussed here at all, but again - if you know something more, produce it.

I think Biden is doing what a good politician does: he's being pragmatic. Does a meeting with the video game industry look good for his administration? Sure... there is a perception problem with the public and he's addressing it. Does that mean we can't benefit from being there as well? Absolutely not. We can benefit from being out in front of these issues. We should be encouraging discussion and a body of research on the subject of violence in video games - even if it doesn't exonerate every practice of the business.

John McMahon
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@Paul, if you think we don't have a perception problem and you wish to believe in the ol'crocodile smile gimmick go right ahead.

But with media like Fox News having "experts" discuss "interactive sex scenes" in Mass Effect or violence in "Call to Duty", we as a industry have to promote games in a more positive way.

G4TV has reviews and shows off the violence of games. They then have skits making fun of aspects of games. But seldom often make a grounded case for what games matter.

The industry largely sticks its head in the sand and lets the individual companies deal with controversies.

We need to change how games are advertised, how they are talked about in media, how we showcase them at gaming events.

I loved Will Whedon's speech at PAX a long time ago (I think it was his second speech). We need more discussions in those vein. Otherwise, we will always be defending games.

We need to educate people.

A W
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I can't understand the justification of this point of view.

Paul Marzagalli
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@Matthew There wasn't any deep divining to be done here. My cynicism, as you call it, is born from nothing more than following the news in general and being a part of the body politic. Professor Ferguson's interpretation of the events mirrors my own.

I was for the meeting with Biden and I'm still for engagement with the government in general. I said as much in earlier Gamasutra articles. I simply disagree that Biden has the industry's best interests at heart or that the meeting passed without any kind of subtle "do it or else" threat.

Also, to address John's comments, I'm not saying there isn't a perception issue. However, I don't believe in "industry standards" for how games are marketed and advertised, because I don't view the industry as a single entity. One size doesn't fit all, nor should it. I would love to see more industry voices on those panels and out there addressing these topics, but there has to be a willingness to defend the unsavory, too.

EDIT: I also haven't seen Wil's speech which you referenced. Can you point me in its direction? I would love to read it.

Johnathon Tieman
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@John: Why does the video game industry need to educate people? Isn't that the (current) job of the government (through the public education system)? If the government is doing such a poor job that people can't understand the difference between the nonsense that all the "news" media organizations are pushing and reality, isn't that a failure on the government's part?

Alan Rimkeit
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The Supreme Court says the video games industry does not have to "play ball". Because of the First Amendment they are totally in control of the whole situation. It may be a pain in the rear to deal with fallout, but the public nor government can do a thing except for make noise.

Michael Mullins
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@ Johnathon Tieman "Why does the video game industry need to educate people? Isn't that the (current) job of the government (through the public education system)?"

Educate people to what end? To be productive members of society? To be capable critical thinkers? Certainly. But why do you assume that correct perception of an industry about which someone may know little naturally follows from education and wisdom? I see considerate and wise people misunderstand things all the time. It's not their fault. It's the fault of incomplete human communication and doesn't take any dastardly intention to do it. That is exactly why it is incumbent on the games industry to do the educating and why Biden, motives aside, is right.

@ Alan Rimkeit You're incorrect. First amendment protections, while powerful, do not bring an end to the discussion at all. They merely provide minimum protection against the depredations of the state. The public and their representatives can do a lot more than make noise: public opinion forms a strong link to political power and should never be cavalierly disregarded as irrelevant. Noise itself should likewise not be underestimated. The ability for noise-making to create change either for good or ill is absolutely huge. Again, this is why Biden is correct. The positive and productive role of games is something that doesn't really exist in the conscience of the public and that is what ought to change.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Michael Mullins - No, I am not incorrect. What is protected speech, like video games, by the First Amendment is unbannable, period. End of story. It is the Constitution of America that is protecting video games now. Forever. Because the Supreme Court says so. Public opinion matters not at this point in the slightest.

For example, the Anarchists Cookbook. Largely decried by the public. Hated by many. Not even sold at most book stores in America. It is unbannable. This may have no been the case in the past but organizations like the ACLU make it impossible at this point.

Tyler King
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@Alan While its true the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected, that doesn't mean that that can never change. If the population at large wants a change to an amendment, it is possible for said changes to happen. So saying that we are protected and therefore above any form of rules probably isn't the best approach. Noise in fact can make a difference.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jeferson Soler: I don't quite think you understood what I was saying. Education doesn't need to include video game education into the curriculum, they need to promote basic understanding of science in the curriculum. Again, why is that a job of the video game industry?

@Michael Mullins: You ask why I think correct perception about an unknown field comes from education and wisdom. The answer is simple: individuals who possess basic critical thinking know to research an industry before coming to a conclusion. The science is there, and the industry has done a great job promoting that fact. According to the article, Biden thinks that isn't enough, and despite the government having a Department of Education, thinks that the video game industry should explain to people basic science and critical thinking (which you yourself acknowledge falls under the government's purview).

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jeferson Soler: Are you even reading what I am writing? It isn't a video games education problem - it is a science education problem. Science education is not the responsibility of the video games industry. That lies with the people, who have currently outsourced that to the government, who has done a piss-poor job of educating those same people, and now is trying to foist that problem off to someone else.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jeferson Soler: No, your subject, which has nothing to do with what I said, is some nebulous video games education. The article is discussing the fact that, even with science backing up the video games industry stance that video games have nothing to do with violence in America, Biden somehow doesn't believe that all the video game industry should do is point to the science. The whole article is about the science involved, and individuals' lack of respect of that science (and it isn't the responsibility of the video games industry to teach that subject any more than it is Hollywood's, or the music industry, and so on - and it is the people who have passed that responsibility on to the government, which is why it is perfectly fair to say that the government should be depended on for this thing). If you don't understand what science has to do with a scientific question, and that scientific facts are suppose to inform people of the answer to the scientific question, and that is currently the responsibility of the government to teach an understanding of basic science, then further discussion is pointless.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jeferson Sofer: From the article:

'"He said upfront that he didn't think the evidence he'd seen showed a link between violent video games and real life violence," says Olson. "And he said even if the research were to show a link, it would be a tiny influence compared to the influence of the other factors he was looking at."

But public opinion is a powerful thing, especially in politics, and a large, uneducated part of the population remains convinced that games are harmful.

"I think Biden's point was to that to those individuals you're not that much different from the cigarette industry, in the sense that they think that you're hiding research that suggests that video games are bad and that you're peddling something that you think is harmful," Texas A&M's Christopher Ferguson, who was also in attendance, tells us.

"I think his message was, 'I don't believe that, but other people do. So what can you do to try to fix that?"'

Perhaps you read that differently than I do, but what I see is several paragraphs (with references to research in other paragraphs) discussing the fact that scientific research shows no link between violence and video games, but *some* people (not "the public") don't believe it. If those people aren't going to trust when the video game industry says check the science, what makes you think they are going to believe the industry when they say anything else on the subject? There comes a point of diminishing returns in engaging with certain people, and in the case of a business, that point happens when it involves investing money without an equivalent return. For politicians like Biden and Obama, that point of diminished returns is quite different, and thus they are willing to entertain nonsense from irrational individuals that refuse to accept the research doesn't support their preconceived notions.

Matt Robb
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Honestly, he's right that perception problems exist. The video game industry is in an odd situation where we have no problem with research, we have even funded research, but that no one trusts research funded by the target of the research. At the same time, no one else wants to fund the research because it would undermine their arguments against the industry.

We need to point this out as often as possible. Unlike the NRA or tobacco guys, we do not inhibit research, we welcome it. That's the public perception that needs to be altered to differentiate us from these other groups.

Matthew Burns
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That is spot on Matt. We are different than the other groups in this regard and the public perception does need to be altered.

Brian Buchner
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Ian Bogost
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What kind of "research" are we talking about here? If it's just more media effects research, that just feeds the same monster.

I'd like to see more general research support from the industry, since that work pays dividends in the long run. This is common practice in other industries, but it's essentially unheard of in the games business.

Paul Marzagalli
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Ian, I'm going to ask the obtuse question for the day. Can you expand a bit more on what kind of research the industry should be doing?

Ian Bogost
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Yes, it deserves its own article really. More soon.

Paul Marzagalli
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Looking forward to it!

Alan Rimkeit
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@Ian Bogost - Yes, please do! Sounds like a great article in the making.

David Navarro
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I have to say, my first reaction to any industry-sponsored research is one of skepticism, so if I'm skeptical of paper towel industry-sponsored research telling me that hand dryers are breeding grounds for bacteria, I can certainly forgive a punter for being similarly skeptical of any research sponsored by the games industry that supports the arguments we want to put across.

Ian Bogost
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David, I didn't have that sort of research in mind.

Cordero W
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We need more ethical regulations like nintendo has.

Alan Rimkeit
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No, we really really do not.

Cordero W
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Yes, we do.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Cordero W - Why? Ethics are up to each person. As they are up to each game company. If a game company wants to make violent games then they should be allowed to. Nintendo can have it's walled garden. Sony and Microsoft want nothing to do with it. Neither do most of the publishers and a huge amount of developers.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Christian Keichel - What game is ever going to be made in America that will be obscene enough to be banned? I understand that it is theoretically possible, but the chances of it happening are pretty much nil. So nil that to be not an issue at all. As you pointed out, manhunt 2 was obscene enough as to have Sony and Microsoft to refuse it on their consoles. But was it obscene enough to be banned in any State? Not that I know of. The banning of games is simply not going to happen unless American game makers start making rape games like some Asian devs do. Even Postal was not banned. That game crossed every social line imaginable except for sexual content.

And if Sony and Microsoft all ready have regulations to keep AO games off their console that is great. Then they have a system that works for them all ready. No more regulations are needed as Cordero W implied.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Christian Keichel - "hat banning games for sexual content is ok and banning games for violent content is not?"

No, I do not agree with that at all. I think Americans are hypocritical to care so much about sexual materials but not for violence. But that is another issue entirely.

I also politely disagree on the issue of public perception VS the protections of the First Amendment. The Constitutional Amendments were made to withstand the changeable opinions of the public. While I agree that public perception is import to the game industry, legally there is little to worry about. As I pointed out in another post, if Joe Public wants to effect anything they can vote with their dollars. For business that is the most important vote of all. If people stop buying violent games then the pubs and devs will stop making them. Until then it is all a moot point in reality.

Alan Rimkeit
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GTA V will sell millions of copies. It will most likely make more money then any other game in recent history. The public may get upset at this. They may make a huge ruckus in the public forums. They may make demands on the governments and the game companies. In the end the game will not be banned nor will sales be restricted. Life will go on as usual. Sorry, but it is true. You can call me out on it if I am wrong. But I really doubt I will be.

Again, companies that want to ethically regulate their own games are free to do so. Making blanket ethical regulations for the entire industry is not the answer. At least to me it is not.

That is all I have to say on the subject.

Cordero W
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Unfortunately, Alan, you're using the "I'm protected by the First Amendment, so I can say anything I want" argument that a lot of people use when they don't want to legitimately own up to an dispute. It's the same attitude the defenders of the game industry have right now, and especially those who went to speak to Biden. That's how they got surprised when it was asked "How can you change the public perception of video games" instead of saying video games caused violence. They were telling the game industry why do they make such violent games when the taboo of violence is becoming a social problem.

Brian Buchner
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The *entire* industry does not have to adhere to the standards that a *single* company sets. Imagine if a single set of standards for vehicle model was proposed.

Jonathan Adams
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It sounds like Biden is on the industry's side, which is great. It's unfortunate that the industry reps appear to have been prepared only for defending itself, and not for engaging in more progressive discussions.

Ramin Shokrizade
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From my own attempts to promote academic research on interactive media, I can tell you that there is a frustrating level of bias in academia against game research. If it is going to happen in an objective manner, we are going to have to fund it, and it will have to be done in an objective environment. What that objective environment will be is not clear, since I don't see a lot of objectivity when it comes to games. The public perception about gamers is abysmally low, even among some gamers. The 1st Amendment may protect us from legal action, but our public perception can still trend down and this will restrict the budgets allocated to gaming by individuals.

My particular angle here, which I have illustrated in countless papers, is that coercive business models are really turning people off to games. The seeming way that young mass murderers "train" for their final acts by using photo realistic shooting games does not go unnoticed either by the public. Sure the game did not make them do it, but I can imagine spending hundreds or thousands of hours realistically shooting people in games while being rewarded for it can give some individuals a warped sense of reality. How many games let you see what happens AFTER you shoot someone? The corpses just quietly disappear in most games I play. No trauma, no crying, no relatives, no one spending months in the hospital or years of psychological trauma. All that stuff is not sexy in a game. A shooter that kills themselves at the end of their rampage never has to consider these things either. It's just as easy as powering down your computer, with the flip of a switch (or trigger).

Luis Guimaraes
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"A shooter that kills themselves at the end of their rampage never has to consider these things either. It's just as easy as powering down your computer, with the flip of a switch (or trigger)."

So, does the shooter have a plan to shoot a lot of people and than adapt a "shoot thyself" step in the end to fit the plan. Or does the shooter have a plan of shooting thyself and adds a "shoot other people, bring lots of media attention, make the whole world know about it and have everybody talking about it for months to come" leverage?

David Navarro
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"The corpses just quietly disappear in most games I play. No trauma, no crying, no relatives, no one spending months in the hospital or years of psychological trauma. "

Just like all action movies and TV series, then, which don't seem to bring the same level of scrutiny upon themselves.

Alan Rimkeit
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@David Navarro - The Walking Dead is perfect example of this. One seems up in arms to what is arguably the most violent standard TV cable show ever made. Why is this? People are strange to say the least.

TC Weidner
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our industry is merely a symptom of a sick society, but no one especially the govt wants to treat the root cause of this sickness because the cause and blame lies a lot with the govt itself. How can a govt that spends a trillion a year on war and machines of destruction, one that is itself the largest arms dealer in the world, one that glorifies and coddles the gun industry, suddenly act in disbelief when its society and culture is engulfed in violence?

Zachary Cook
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I think both of the previous articles on this topic are full of alarmist reactions in the comments section, and for once I totally disagree with Kris Graft. This in my mind proves the current administration does not have it in for video games. A warning to clean up the public image is entirely warranted and only shows they invited 'industry leaders' to appear impartial while actually eliminating a scapegoat from the discussion, furthering their agenda to actually legislate relevant issues. The vice president sounds like he believes we are not a part of the problem but merely a distraction, and improving our image will protect both our interests in the near future.

More research from an impartial perspective and a good hard look at our marketing campaigns (which many have argued are gratuitous, glorify blood and gore, and are overtly sexist) is perfectly sound advice to the problem of being framed by the NRA as the root of all violence in history. Focusing on showing why that is not the case is a much better response than claiming it isn't our problem and refusing to comment.

Toby Grierson
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"to appear impartial while actually eliminating a scapegoat from the discussion, furthering their agenda to actually legislate relevant issues"

This here. I'm extremely happy with Biden here simply because video games are such a radically easy target, yet he passed them over because of what the data system.

Maybe we have a low bar these days but all I want from a statesman is for one to take his job seriously; to look at data and work the problem.

Bob Allen
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So (unlike the predictions of many on this forum) this wasn't an ambush. Good thing the industry didn't follow the majority advice of this forum and not show up because then we would have looked like the tobacco industry and that we had something to hide.

E Zachary Knight
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Ambush or not, it would still seem that the industry was out of place and of little help in the overall discourse. I still think the advice of not going was still for the best.

Matt Robb
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I would say showing up and demonstrating that being there was pointless and of no help actually served a purpose.

Toby Grierson
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I agree with Matt.

I think part of why Biden would even say something like this is that video games - no matter what he or anyone else in Washington think or want - are going to be a distracting part of the discussion, especially because so many outside believe it's an issue.

We _are_ still a democracy, regardless of what our inferiority complex might say.

Jacob Germany
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@E Zachary The industry was of little help in the overall discourse because the representatives had the same cynical prediction as many on Gamasutra. Turns out both they and many here were wrong, there was no scapegoating, and the result was an unprepared set of representatives that made the industry look helpless, defensive, and reactionary instead of a proactive change agent.

Toby Grierson
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@Jacob

That is certainly unfortunate, but I guarantee a no-show would look a lot worse. I think people can kind of understand why it went that way (if they're aware at all), but if they didn't appear, a whole lot of people would kind of understand something different.

Jacob Germany
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@Toby I completely agree. The solution was to come to the meeting prepared to actually give solutions, instead of being defensive. That's what I was imagining at least some of the representatives had planned to do. I guess when I heard about it, I wasn't thinking in terms of "Show up so you can explain just how not-evil games are", but in terms of being a cultural change agent.

Saul Alexander
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Agree with Bob, Toby and Jacob. Disengaging was never a good plan, although I can totally understand why so many people fell into defensive mode - we're just so used to doing that at this point. I'd love to see perception problem games have addressed. Hell, I'm a game developer and journalist, and *I* don't have the best opinion of the bulk of the medium, so what are outsiders going to think? Good first steps would be creating more AAA games with a broader focus than violence, and being more inclusive and less sensationalist in our advertising.

Dave Ingram
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Very unfortunate video... I would love to hear what actually happened in the meeting, rather than just hearing the Vice President list the other groups he's met with for 12 minutes...

Michiel Hendriks
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You know, there's also something outside of the USA. People in Europe, Asia, etc. also play videogames. Especially in Europe, Canada and Australia they play the exact same videogames as in the US. Those countries should have the same problems with violent videogames, right?

Nick Kinsman
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Ta-da ... That's the right question. It has been for a long time. It's not explicitly pertinent to video games and violence either.

TC Weidner
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As I stated, I think our industry is a symptom of a problem society, that being said, take a look at the all time best selling games in Japan and the US for example. Big difference. There the top ten are mostly Pokeman and other style games, here its more realistic violent FPS. So in fact the rest of the world doesnt play or buy the same style of games we do in the same number, again I think it reflects a society not an industry.

Dave Ingram
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That's so true, Michiel. If we could isolate the elements of our society that are not present or not as pronounced in other societies, then we may actually find some truths. Just off the top of my head, a few things "unique" to our culture include: obsession with instant gratification, obsession with physical perfection, obsession with wealth and power, vile treatment and exclusion of "social outcasts" in schools. I wonder if any of these things could lead someone to lose all hope in their own life and all sense of human decency?

John McMahon
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@Dave, none of that is "unique" to our culture.

* Obsession with instant gratification - The whole world (well most of it) has been given tremendous access to a wealth of data. Everyone is looking for their own interests and something to sate their desires.

* Obsession with physical perfection - Americans have been called out as a population with a obesity problem, but we are also obsessed with physical perfection? How is that related to violence? Yes there are celebrities who are good looking, but there's also many celebrities that are not physically "perfect". I see that as a problem younger audiences deal with as they grow up and learn "perfect" isn't really worth chasing.

* Obsession with wealth and power - Nuff said, there are greedy people in many countries. They all want power and money, it's not a US-only thing.

* Vile treatment and exclusion of "Social outcasts" - Yeah, as much as the US is known for slavery, having a social structure where one group is valued at a lower level stretches across the globe. Doesn't matter whether it is in schools or not. Kids in India that get handicapped and forced to beg for money to give to the people that inflicted that misery on them. Rapists that take a woman and surround her, forcing her to commit acts throughout the night, or yes in the US a group of 20 males (not men) who watched and participated as a girl was raped outside her school's campus the night of her prom!

None of these things are exclusive to the US. But they are issues. They can be fourth and they can be changed, but again. Most if not all of these things can be addressed if the society collectively grows, casts these out, and promotes better treatment of fellow human beings. The problem is, it's not something games cause.

But as a industry we can address these and hamper their influence on our industry's culture.

Dave Ingram
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"Most if not all of these things can be addressed if the society collectively grows, casts these out, and promotes better treatment of fellow human beings."

What I see as a problem is that our society did not start at this point, which would naturally leave hope for growth and social evolution. Our particular society has degenerated into these trends and continues to do so. A cultural reversal is more challenging than cultural progress.

Lewis Wakeford
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@Dave If you want some things unique to American Culture:

*Guns

*Strong opposition to state interference

*Highly religious compared to most other western cultures

*Rarely travel abroad

*The two main political parties are perhaps more different than in other countries

I'm not trying to present any of these as good or bad, but these are all things I haven't spotted elsewhere.

Lewis Wakeford
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Though perhaps it's more accurate to say that there is no unified "American" culture. The difference between states is more than the difference between some European countries.

Adam Bishop
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"I think Biden's point was to that to those individuals you're not that much different from the cigarette industry, in the sense that they think that you're hiding research that suggests that video games are bad and that you're peddling something that you think is harmful."

That's a hugely irresponsible comparison and it's really depressing that a major politician would say something so absurd.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Brett Williams
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The context of this statement was that there are some individuals who see the industry like that. "those individuals" who think the video games industry is harmful, are the ones that perceive video games like the cigarette industry. No one at the meeting was claiming that they believed the industry was like that, but that others in the general public do.

That is the core of the perception problem. Some people think the industry is hiding something and trying to promote violence. The purpose of the discussion appeared to be how to educate those people.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Brett Williams: The problem is, you can't educate that group. These aren't people who are open to rational discussion - the video game industry has already shown the research doesn't support the claims. All that is left is to engage in irrational debate, but how do you disprove a conspiracy theory?

Jacob Germany
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It's not about "engaging in irrational debate" or "disproving theories". Nor is it about "showing research". It's about image, branding, public perception. These are necessary for every public figure or entity, and those that fail to stay on top of their public image suffer numerous self-inflicted penalties, such as being the scapegoat by the media whenever there is a tragedy as an example.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jacob Germany: Perhaps you can explain to me why the video game industry should bother to improve it's "public image" to people who aren't its customers? In case you've forgotten, the video game industry is a business, not a public service. The people who don't care about the industry express their displeasure with their money. Thanks to first amendment protections, those who dislike the industry are now extremely restricted in any further efforts against that industry. You don't see Hollywood, the music industry, the comics industry, or any others going out of their way to prove their benefit to society, so I fail to see any reason why the video game industry should be expected to.

Jacob Germany
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Because the gaming industry consumers don't live in a vacuum? Because culture is a complex web in which many, many different factors all affect and are affected by each other? Because some of those "non-customers" might be parents or spouses or friends of potential customers? Or potential customers themselves?

Because even economic industries have certain moral obligations? Because it's blatantly obviously harmful to the industry to be vilified time and time again? Because certain media scandals that should have never been scandals might adversely affect sales? Because the solution just might improve games themselves as we start to treat our own medium with more maturity?

I'm sorry, how many reasons did you want?

By the way, the movie and music industries are horrible examples since they are much, much more established and mature, having been around for significantly longer, thus garnering respect from the populace. People go out on dates to see movies from all walks of life, and people from all walks of life own MP3 players. The same is not true for gaming.

And who said the comic industry wouldn't benefit from an image overhaul?

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jacob Germany: I'll take any reason that actually has some valid evidence backing it up (of which none of yours do). And I don't know what rock you've been living under, but the music and movie industries have *long* been under just as much attack as the video games industry. Right before attacking video games, Jack Thompson had made it his personal mission to get all rap music banned (read about it in his Wikipedia article). Of course, now it is common for people to get together to play video games (Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Wii games and so on - and don't even get me started on "casual" games on Facebook and cell phones). Hell, even porn, which is largely publicly ignored except to be vilified far worse than video games, does extremely well financially. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if irrational people want to vilify something, there's no way for their target to convince them otherwise, and to engage in such a venture is a waste of resources.

Dave Ingram
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Here's just a thought: If negative perceptions are truly unfounded, it's a good bet that proven facts from research won't do much to change perceptions. If people are relying on emotional perspectives to condemn the video game industry, then logic will not change their mind. What we need are emotional appeals to counter the emotional biases (as tacky as it sounds). Why have we never heard about people changing their lives through WiiFit or similar games? Why have we never heard about a child becoming an academic star because of a love for learning games? Why do shooters not have a "Don't shoot people, it's stupid" warning like stunt tv shows do (Jackass, Ridiculousness)? Need for Speed titles have a "Don't street race, it's stupid" warning, and no one blames the franchise for influencing kids to race on the street.

It might not be the best idea for our industry to say "We're not doing anything wrong, and we won't change -- here are the facts from research" when the haters aren't using logic to form their opinions in the first place.

Just a thought.

Ian Bogost
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This is right. And we do hear about those things, but not widely enough, and not enough in the general media. It's a complicated problem, but really in this case "research" is not about scientific findings relating to media effects.

Alan Rimkeit
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There is also strong evidence that playing video games enforces the brain against diseases like Alzheimer's. making games for the Elderly may be a HUGE market! =D Anyone "game" enough to make games for old people? LOL

For example: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/alzheimers-delay#b

"Video Gaming

Video gaming is no longer for hyped-up teenagers. A lot of seniors are finding that playing video games not only helps keep them sharp, but exercises hand/eye coordination. In fact, several big companies have targeted this very niche. "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day" was recently released by Nintendo for its handheld Nintendo DS device. Available for $20, it has an interface that is different than most games. It "reads" like a book, making it much more intuitive for older people. It is the first in a series of games that are being targeted towards the senior market, although they are appropriate for ages 12 and up. The mascot, or in-game help, is the disembodied head of Japanese neurologist Ryuta Kawashima, whose theories helped create Brain Age. Features include numbers-related tasks, a handwriting-recognition section and other features common to a video game of this sort. The program is not without issues -- some of the voice recognition does not work well, and the interface can be difficult to master.

Studies conducted at Fundació ACE, Institut Catalŕ de Neurocičncies Aplicades in Barcelona, Spain, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have shown that video games and computer-related tasks do indeed help patients in the first early stages of Alzheimer's. The results show that the group participating in computer-related tasks as well as 2.5 to 3.5 hours of cognitive stimulation tasks, musical therapy, arts and crafts, physical activity and programs that reinforced daily living activities did very well, with retention as long as 24 weeks. This is good news for those who visit a senior center on a daily basis that offers such activities."

Ramon Carroll
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Dave,

I think you are making a very important point here that a lot of people are going to miss. Most people, including those who are more "left-brain" dominant (assuming left/right brain models are still valid models) thinkers, tend to prefer stories, speeches, or demonstrations over hard data and numerical values when determining what to base their convictions on. This is not a bad thing at all, it's just a fact, and journalists, the media, marketers, and advertisers understand this very well. Statistics are important to people, but if you tell a compelling and relate-able story, it will usually leave a much longer and deeper impression. By default, we are very emotional beings and that should be taken into consideration. It's all about how to get people's attention, as long as you don't turn out to be manipulating them.

Saul Alexander
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Fantastic point, Dave - this is something I've been thinking about a lot, lately. I recently published this apiece on my blog by a woman who uses games to help deal with chronic pain: http://digitalspiritguide.com/gaming-and-heroism-how-video-games-
changed-my-life-for-the-better/

I'd love to publish more pieces like this, but I'm not having a huge amount of luck finding them (admittedly, I have not had much time to go hunting).

Alan Rimkeit
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"He said that even though you had the Supreme Court ruling go your way... just because you have that on your side doesn't mean you have public opinion on your side."

And as much as people may care about that, it matters little in terms of reality. If the public really wants to make a difference they can vote with their wallets. Video games are a business. They are meant to not only be fun but also make cash. When people stop buying violent games then devs and pubs will stop making them. Until then it is all a moot point.

"By all accounts it doesn't appear that any restrictions on video game sales will be a part of that proposal. Indeed, he and his task force appear unconvinced that there is a link between violent video games and violent behavior."

This is the part that makes me happy. People are the problem. Not guns, not video games, not rock n roll, not Dungeons and Dragons, and not Gangsta Rap. People will always be the root of the issue.

"But public opinion is a powerful thing, especially in politics, and a large, uneducated part of the population remains convinced that games are harmful."

Who cares? Again the people can vote with the wallet. If the Supreme Court can't touch the Video Game industry then the people have no power beyond purchasing power.

I also really appreciate that VP Biden and his crew of people were very reasonable to the entire situation. It is very different from the knee jerk reactionary behavior against Dungeons and Dragons back in the 70's and the same behavior again metal music, slasher films, and the like. It seems cooler heads are prevailing at the very least.

John McMahon
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You should care about that last part. People need to be educated. It's just that simple. Don't ignore them otherwise you will keep having to deal fighting them over the same things.

If the public opinion is strong enough it can ban games just as much as it banned alcohol. Even if they repealed prohibition, doesn't mean it can't happen again to another group or industry.

Educating and promoting the positive aspects of games is only going to help us.

Alan Rimkeit
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John, the Supreme Court has made the decision. No one can ban games as they are protected by the First Amendment. That is final. In practical terms the video games industry has nothing to worry about in America as far as banning games goes. It is simply never going to happen.

I would also like to mention that it is a well known fact that the video games industry on a whole is the best in media at educating the customers. More education is always a great thing, but props should be given when they are deserved.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Jeferson Soler - Well said. I agree on all counts.

I was just trying to point out that the possibilities of games being banned are non-existent. It is just not going to happen.

William Volk
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Give EA some credit, they actually opted OUT of publishing a completed game, due to it's level of extreme violence ... and buried the title: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrill_Kill

John Trauger
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There's two ways to take a warning that the First amendment may not protect against public opinion.

One is "they may form a lynch mob."

the other is "We'll be leading the lynch mob."

Alan Rimkeit
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To Joe Public: Good luck on that. The people have tried to do the same to Elvis, Rock N Roll, DnD, heavy metal, slasher movies, gangsta rap, et all. None of those have ever gone down. Joe Public makes a lot of noise, gets loud, then eats some food, watches a foot ball game and forgets about the whole matter two days later.

Tony Giovannini
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Why the fuck are my tax dollars being wasted on this?

Alan Rimkeit
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Good question.

Dimitri Del Castillo
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Because the NRA has successfully deflected the blame. When our industry starts spending millions of dollars to protect out interests we'll get the same level of advocacy from the government.

Jacob Germany
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@Tony Giovannini You mean economic and political leaders coming together, in simple meetings, to discuss how we can work together in a non-controversial way, without standing against each other, to change our culture of violence and hopefully prevent future tragedies and loss of life?

Matthew Mouras
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@Jacob - was thinking the same thing. Seems like an inexpensive investment that could lead to some nice returns.

Tony Giovannini
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I guess my point to the question was, it seems like a waste of resources. Video Games, Movies and Music, do not cause people to be violent. Violent and/or mentally unstable people cause violence.

Jacob Germany
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Which is exactly was Biden said. And then he asked what the industry can do to help people realize that, as it's beneficial to us to become perceived as a common good, instead of a 1st Amendment protected evil.

Leonardo Nanfara
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There are horror/drama movies that depict more brutal violence than video games so why is it that they always point the finger to the video game community?

Scott Pace
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One problem I see these days is that "parents" sit their kids down in front of the TV, PC, or console and let that raise their kids. That similar to what their parents did so they really don't know how to be a good parent and it's not surprising when their kids go out of control, small or large scale. I've seen "parents" in the store buying games for their 8 or 10 year old without even looking at the ratings. There is content that we, as industry professionals, include in our games but we do not intend it for children and there are games and content that we do make for children and we rate our games accordingly. BUT, if the "parent" chooses to ignore that rating, if THEIR kid goes berserk then the parent, the media, the Jack Thompson's, and the Leland Yee's don't look at the parent. Personal responsibility isn't popular so they blame us.

When I was a kid, if I did something bad then my parents were called. They were financially responsible for anything that I did so that fly ball through the neighbors window came out of their pockets. Now days, they just blame us. We are scapegoats. We get blamed by politicians and lawyers and "parents" so that the parent that didn't hug little Jimmy enough or tell him "no" can go to sleep at night. All the while our industry leaders are doing damage control, our sales are affected, we get nice little emails from legal telling us not to talk to the media and, even though evidence and research shows that we are not responsible for tragedy X, we are constantly cast as the evil, greedy video game industry.

Ultimately, this is something that we love doing. It's a passion for us to turn ideas into stories that we can share with others, but I don't think that any of us signed up to babysit anyone's kids? I don't think any Hollywood star or musical sensation did either. I'm not here to raise someone else's kids, I have my own to worry about and I don't get to spend near enough time with them as it is. It's the parent's responsibility to raise their kids, to tell them that they aren't ready to play this game, listen to this album, or watch this movie. It's the parent's job to instill a moral compass and to talk with their kids, sometimes to talk them down, to protect, and to nurture. We can warning label and age verify and rate till there's no game left but it doesn't mean a thing unless the parent CHOOSES to be a parent. It doesn't take a village, nor should it. It just takes a parent turning off the TV and spending time.

That's just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

Michael Joseph
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@Scott Pace

Assuming people's attitudes about "personal responsibility" have changed from when you were a child, why do you think that is?

When you were a kid, what was on TV? What was on the radio? Do you think that mattered? Do you think that Lassie, Leave it to Beaver or Little House on the Prairie had a negative influence on you. (lol, maybe they did. Those shows reflected certain biases too). Frankly, you lived in an time when even if your parents did sit you in front of the tube all day, you wouldn't have encountered the types of garbage that's on there now. And let's be real, even if you ban your kid from TV and games and movies, do you ban them from leaving the house too? Do you home school them until they are 18? Do you ban them from associating with their poisoned peers in the neighborhood?

The fact is, if we don't all (media makers especially) take responsibility for how the people around us turn out, then we're going to have to live with some undesireable consequences. So they end up being our problem whether we like it or not.

People don't just develop a sense of "personal responsibility" out of thin air so how do you expect cycles like that to be broken? And frankly, "personal responsibility" INCLUDES being responsible for what we produce. That is part and parcel of being responsible for ones own actions. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If we stop and think about how the phrase "personal responsibility" is commonly used today, I think we begin to expose it as pure pathos style political rhetoric. People need to understand that.

As the saying goes, you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. And I'm willing to concede that a lack of personal responsibility is a problem so long as we REALLY accept the full meaning of that phrase... that all of us are responsible for our actions and the consequences of those actions.

Ramon Carroll
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Michael, I'm with Scott on this.

Also, I think you are confusing personal responsibility with social responsibility. Sure, I believe that both are important, but there needs to be a balanced understanding of both. At the end of the day, you've only got so much responsibility over what choices other people make. I can only raise my own children, choose what media I think they are ready to consume, and teach them how to process and interpret the information that is presented to them. That is hard enough in and of itself.

The games that are being railed about are games with mature ratings on the cases. They specifically state that they tend to be a bit much for kids that are not within the targeted age range. If you, as a parent, decide to let your child consume that product, then you play partial responsibility for what may or may not follow. Secondly, there were much more directly significant factors at play here when you consider each one of these shootings, including mental illness, bad parenting, and ridiculously easy access to high firepower (please don't take this as me advocating non-reasonable gun restrictions like what a lot of people are proposing.

I'm just not sure how comfortable I feel about the governments dictating to entertainment and art industries what they can and cannot produce. The industry has caved many times before, and the rating system is a product of that (and a good one too). What else does the industry have to do here?

The only thing I think we could do is, at least for games that attempt to depict realistic portrayals of sex and violence, is actually depict them maturely. Most of today's games, especially our shooters, tend to depict violence and war in a very childish and naive manner. But even that's a matter of debate, because the industry is also in the business of fantasy, so a fantastic depiction of those elements may the order of the day. This also doesn't take away from the fact that parents are responsible for choosing whether or not their child is ready to handle such content. Its not our issue, because we already told them that the game is not designed for their age group. Again, what else is the industry supposed to be doing here?

Ramon Carroll
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Jeferson,

As if there hasn't been enough research out there already. The fact of the matter is that people will only see this research if they are actually looking for it. There's only so much we can do, really. The issue here is that video games are still the latest new medium, and from what we've seen of certain mediums, or genres within those mediums, the new kid on the block continuously gets picked on until another new kid shows up. Only then will people stop trying to blame the game industry for everything, and that is because they will have found a new scapegoat.

Michael Silverman
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I can see why politics has been called the third rail of the game industry. Our industry was just a small stop on a reasonable analysis of things a chunk of the American public think relate to gun violence and from what you'd read here and in the comments you'd think it was the end of the game industry as we know it. This was really a minor PR stunt at worst, and in fact it was likely more productive than that. The mainstream news barely even bothered with it b/c it was so mundane.

Jacob Germany
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Glad to see the cynical predictions and alarmist warnings turned out to be false. Sorry to see the representatives who went to the meeting predicted the same and came so poorly prepared.

Jakub Majewski
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I have to say, I'm pretty stunned by the whole thing. I could understand having game developers called in for this meeting if the VP actually believed that they are to blame. I might not agree with that, but at least it would be an understandable course of action.

But the VP calling them in to tell them... that the real problem is PR, and they should work on that? Seriously, what gives? Government - private enterprise. Two separate entities that are supposed to stay very separate. When in blazes did the vice-president of the United States get into the business of giving friendly advice to private enterprises? It's crazy. I don't believe the games industry has the influence to orchestrate this kind of thing, but you could almost believe that this whole thing was organised by the games industry, as a way of persuading the public. Did EA donate a wad of cash to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign? What's going on here?

Jacob Germany
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The idea is that the negative image fosters demonizing the industry, and distracting from the problems that are not shown to be unconnected. That is important, politically, as the public perception is vital, politically.

Michael Joseph
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Physically attacking someone is illegal. Nobody would suggest that it is your responsibility to avoid getting hurt while people are punching you in the shoulder while you are walking to school. Nobody would suggest that it is your responsibility to avoid becoming an addict when strangers are injecting you with drugs as you head to work.

Yet right now, we say that it is individuals' responsibility (and perhaps parents in the case of impressionable and impulsive youths) to avoid getting hurt whilst being attacked psychologically through the media (tv, film, advertising, games, magazines).

Maybe one day, psychological attacks ('attack' implying unwarned and unwanted) will also be illegal. But before that can happen, alot of education needs to take place that covers the full scope of the media's effect on culture, and on individuals. If the media can influence the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and your self esteem then surely it can do alot more?

Of course if one is made aware of the risks, then they should be able to purchase or use any product they wish. The key is that today, we don't want to acknowledge negative psychological influences in our society. And it's quite odd because on the one hand we know advertising and marketing work (we talk it about here with regards to games all the time) but we don't want to acknowledge that either SOME finished products or SOME forms of marketing or SOME forms of advertising are a type of pyschological attack on individuals because they attempt to exploit our weaknesses without our knowledge.

How about a study that examines the medias influence on college majors overs the last 50 years? When need to resist getting boxed into these "game violence make people snap" and think much much more broadly about how media shapes our societies.

Michael Joseph
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Direct versus Indirect consequences.

It's easy to avoid taking responsibility for our actions when negative consequences are not the direct result. We can fool ourselves into thinking indirect consequences have nothing to do with us.

I think there must be some primitive brain defenses at work there.

Eric Robertson
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All this government interference does is remind the new and existing game companies that they might have a better long term profitable future if they build and market games outside the country.

If Americans don't want to work, and would rather have their government telling them what they can and cannot do, no worries. The industry will adjust fire and remain profitable.

Michael Joseph
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well mr troll

http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/us-is-the-worlds-biggest-vide
o-game-market-with-165-million-players/

Cordero W
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Or it reminds us to be more careful with the ethical repercussions of our game themes and gameplay. If we do so, we ensure a greater long term investment turnout as people will come to trust your products more and thus create a nation wide brand and feel. Moving games to other countries is still a short term profit method. They're doing it because it's the easiest and quickest way to see money rather than investing in human nature. Do not underestimate the power of the family or the philanthropists, which usually consist of most of the "casual" fanbase.

Robert Webb
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You guys/gals might want to take a look at this:
http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/ig8oa5/annoyed-gamer-a-war-of-
words--and-guns--

I think he is absolutely right. Regardless of the outcome we should still be involved in this kind of dialog as apposed to not being involved and then having to deal with the consequences of that choice.

While we may not be responsible for some of the most heinous acts seen as of late (or ever really), you would be naive to believe that any type of media doesn't have influential properties inherent in their nature. This dialog needs to happen before something is done to negatively impact this industry.

Michel Desjardins
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Extract: "but by accounts most of the industry executives and representatives weren't prepared to give positive suggestions."

My statement: WTF were they really doing there then? Going to a meeting of this importance, NOT prepared.

Alan Rimkeit
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I figure that this relevant. Just came up on Ars Technica a few minutes ago.

House bill wants $5,000 fine for video games without ESRB rating - http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/01/house-bill-wants-5000-fine-
for-video-games
-without-esrb-rating/

Crazy huh?

Alan Rimkeit
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@Jeferson Soler - Oh, I agree that this will not pass. But to me it is interesting to note that this issue of laws and restrictions for video games is spreading every where. This issue is so very far from over. If it ever will be that is.


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