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Would games get a fair shake in Obama's gun control program?
Would games get a fair shake in Obama's gun control program? Exclusive
January 16, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

It's official. This morning, in reaction to last month's elementary school massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, President Barack Obama asked Congress to fund a $10 million study into the root causes of violence, specifically calling out games as a suspect in a speech this morning.

"Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds," he said in a televised speech this morning.

"We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science."

While we don't know much more than that, the language itself may be cause for alarm. The President's wording, specifically saying "the effects violent video games have on young minds," is in itself already suggesting a link between the two.

Should we be concerned that this research might not be objective? Is there a danger that the results of this research might be influenced by politics, should the funding get approved?

"There's always a danger," researcher Cheryl Olson, who was in attendance during last week's meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and representatives of the video game industry, told us by phone.

"My impression was that the Vice President wanted further conversations with the researchers at his meeting, though, and I know all the researchers at the meeting are people who would want to look at this in an objective way."

Texas A&M's Chris Ferguson, who was also at the meeting, agrees, and even offers a suggestion.

"If the CDC makes data publicly available to be fact-checked by other scholars that would be very important to do," he tells us.

Objectivity might not be the only concern, however. The very nature of the research itself might be misguided, as Georgia Tech's Ian Bogost tells us.

"Even though we don't know Congress is meant to fund vis-a-vis games under this plan, the announcement clearly understands 'games research' only as 'media effects research,'" he tells us.

"This is unfortunate, since it limits the way we might see games understood and used."

It is unclear just how much video games are being targeted in the President's proposed studies, though as Reuters reports, video games would be a piece of a $10 million study that aims to identify the root causes of gun violence.

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Rob Wright
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I want to believe that the inclusion of games in Biden's proposal is mostly pandering to the older/right-leaning electorate. My father, who belongs in both groups and who I love dearly, has never played a game in his life and in our first conversation after Sandy Hook, he blamed violent video games like "Call of the Battlefield or whatever it's called." He is so purely ignorant of games it's almost unfathomable. What will the pandering accomplish? Probably very little. Will it satisfy the older, right-leaning electorate's demand for blood? Maybe only a bit, if at all. Maybe it's just politics as usual.

So yes, I Want To Believe. But I also have nagging voice in the back of my head, reminding me about all the "studies" that were done about D&D and comic books when I was a kid and how it scared my parents away from allowing me to enjoy either for several years (I finally broke through the gauntlet, and So to answer the headline's question, yes, I believe games will get a fair shake, but I'm also slightly fearful.

Alan Rimkeit
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Games won't get a fair shake for the reasons you stated.

Alan Rimkeit
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That would be from people like Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon. He will look at this objectively. Franken seems to have a level head for this kind of stuff as well. Any others that we can expect rational ideas and thought from?

Michael Pianta
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Any time Congress "studies" anything it's largely theater. Has any congressional study ever been truly legitimate?

Scott Clark
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I agree that "Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds" implies they assume there's a link and therefore it's a question of degrees. And there certainly is the stain of being associated with any such study.

But I also think their back is up agains the wall on this. There's always enough vocal about it and they're as big a part of our culture as movies.

Each form of entertainment has had to go through this, most recently movies in the mid-80s and videos games in the mid-00s. At the same time, while responsible parents are the gates to violent and adult content, determining when it's appropriate, we all do bear the burden for irresponsible parenting too.

At the same time, I don't really think this will sway opinions any way. Fans will not buy fewer games because of the study, and the most vocal opponents are against an idea rather than facts, so I doubt the study would change their minds anyway. Thus the two sides will continue being divided.

So I don't decry that video games are being added to the list for consideration.

Mike Griffin
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If it's convenient to postulate this:
"Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds."

It should be just as valid to seek:
"Congress should fund research on why, and how often and easily, young minds are given access to violent video games."

As he mentions, we don't benefit from ignorance.

The perpetuation of violent media has existed since clan artisans painted violent cautionary "graphic novels" on cave walls, murder story scrolls became popular in ancient Egypt, sardonic and violent stage theater at the height of the Roman empire, and so on and so forth.

There's also plenty of documented history showing crazy mass murderers and serial killers have existed since, well, the human mind evolved to a point where crazy was identifiable. Using chiseled stones, daggers, arson, poison, bows and arrows, or assault rifles and bomb vests.

Nutjobs will be nutjobs, regardless of era and irrespective of violent media influences or endless weapons of choice, which human society has surrounded itself with for tens of thousands of years.

It's the correct identification, treatment and therapy of broken and violence-prone individuals that brings us to the core of the issue. And we're better equipped today than at any point in history to recognize and contain these potentially dangerous individuals, to correctly curb their access to objects of violence, and to understand their effects.

I fear that accessory and material scapegoats may steer us around the larger issue:
Helping people stay safe and sane via awareness and shared well being, regardless of what's playing on screen or available for purchase behind the gun counter at the local Wal Mart.

Arming the public at large so it's capable of actually addressing root causes, not heaping blame exclusively on ancillary devices.

The comfort of objects distracts from the discomfort of actions.

Dean Boytor
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"Congress should fund research on why, and how often and easily, young minds are given access to violent video games."

Right on the nose.

The mind of a derelict will find a way.

Or as a friend said, "Even if they take away all the guns, there will be a spike in knife stabbings"

Robert Schmidt
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@Dean Boytor, please look up the fallacy of the perfect solution.

Toby Grierson
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"Congress should fund research on why, and how often and easily, young minds are given access to violent video games."

This is skipping ahead; it assumes the answer to the prior question is "yes".

Do they or do they not have an effect? If not, than asking why people have access would be a non-sequitur.

Start from the start.

Alan Rimkeit
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Everyone should know that for over all violence America is never in the top ten for murders per capita ever. Period. Forget gun violence. I am talking violence over. Why should we separate gun violence from all other types of violence and murder? I don't think we should. But that is just my opinion.

Mario Wynands
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I don't think suggesting "America is never in the top ten for murders per capita ever" is a metric to be proud of. There happen to be a lot of countries in the world, so any advanced society shouldn't find itself in the top ten.

If you actually look where the US rates in intentional homocide compared to the rest of the world, you'll find that it has a higher rate of murder than Georgia, Niger, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, pretty much all of Europe, and dozens of others. Still want to tout not being in the top 10 as meaningful?

Alan Rimkeit
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@Mario Wynands - No, it is nothing to be proud of. But the violence in America is not the "out of control" problem a lot of people seem to be saying it is. I also disagree with the idea of splitting gun violence from other kinds of violence, ethically speaking.

TC Weidner
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But the violence in America is not the "out of control" problem a lot of people seem to be saying it is.

Depends on where you live. There are parts in EVERY american city it simply isnt safe to walk through. Now I suspect "poverty" is the largest factor involved, but to say the US doesnt have a violence problem, I beg to differ. Go walk through north philly after dark, or west philly, or camden, or ... ( fill in the blank)
For example the US has 30,000 gangs.( not members..gangs), another example 1 in 4 american women will be the victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, the stats go on and on

William DiSanto
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Strange I seem to remember the US government using game like violence to leverage recruitment. There's a deadly fire arm in every inch of every frame, and its patriotic. How could this message possibly be misunderstood? It's not like these commercials are targeted towards children ....

Oh wait, yes the US government uses entertainment industries to glorify and trivialize violence in the eyes of children across the internet, on cable television and at recruiting events held in our US public and private schools.

Have you ever talked to a marine/army/navy recruiter ... yeah it goes like this:

"Hey kid, do you want to blow shit up, do you want fully automatic weapons ... well we've got the job for you!"

Nathan Destler
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Gamasutra's comment section is sounding more and more like the NRA with every politics article. This is sad, people. We're better than this.

Here's the thing: there is no language the president could have used that wouldn't have implied something. He chose the language that implied there is some link, and honestly, speaking as an avid gamer and as a psychologist, there probably is. Is that link strong? Probably not, but I can practically guarantee that video games, violent or otherwise, affect us in some way. It's virtually impossible for anything we experience not to affect us, and saying that video games can't is tantamount to denying that our medium has any power. If video games don't affect us, they're just time wasters, and all the "video games aren't art" people are right.

So this brings us to a very important question. Why are we afraid of research? Yes, science can be biased, but it is far less biased than the wild, baseless speculation that both sides throw around constantly. Research will give us a more accurate picture of reality, even if no individual study is perfect. So why are we afraid of that? What result could come forth that we would rather live without? If the research vindicates us, all the better. If it shows that video games are actually seriously harmful, isn't it better to know? Are we really so fanatical that we would defend our pastime if it posed a serious danger to our children's lives? I think we're better than that. We want to do what's right. We just also don't want what's right to conflict with what we enjoy. That's perfectly normal, but it's no reason to hate the science. More research isn't going to create the conflict. Research can only bring to light what already exists. By denying that, by saying a call to research is a bad thing, we're just hiding under the covers because we're afraid of what might await us outside. But whatever's out there is already there, and hiding from it can only harm us. It's time to stop being cowards and face the truth, whether it's pleasant or not. I think it will be pleasant, mostly, but we're better off knowing either way.

Chris Charla
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The fact that the NRA -- whose position I assume you disagree with -- has a reaction to things is impassioned and reflects fear of government does not mean that all passionate reactions that reflect fear of government intervention are wrong.

There is something the president could have said about games that wouldn't have implied something, which is "clearly, this type of violence isn't about videogames." This is a pretty easy position to derive when you look at the rates of spree killings in other countries which have the exact same videogames as the United States, played by the exact same proportion of the population, in the exact same demographic categories.

Additionally, since peer-reviewed studies have already been done on this subject, the president could have simply referred to this issue as settled science. Instead, he chose to dredge up and reinforce the scientifically untenable cultural meme that "videogames are bad" for which no evidence exists. To me this is intellectually dishonest pandering.

(Also please let me note explicitly that this comment reflects my own personal opinions only.)

David Serrano
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@ N D

Thank you for pointing this out because it needed to be said.

Personally, I believe the reason why many people in one segment of industry don't want more research is on a conscious or subconscious level, they know the existing research has been focused on the wrong questions, issues and concerns about the impact of games on real life behavior. I also think they know none of the research has been performed on large enough groups of test subjects, over long enough periods of time, with the actual games played by consumers to conclusively prove or disprove anything. So while I think the IGDA's call for more research was clearly insincere and disingenuous, it was still the right thing for the industry to do.

I'd also strongly urge the industry to follow Hollywood's lead in the coming weeks and months. Because I don't think game developers and publishers understand this is not another astroturf controversy fabricated by the usual religious and right wing fringe sources to further an alternative agenda. This controversy is radically different. As a result, all forms of mass market mainstream entertainment are about to face a level of objective and informed scrutiny which they have never faced before. Hollywood clearly understand this as members of the film and TV industry and their professional organizations have only made a handful of generalized statements since the tragedy. While the game industry, as usual has firmly placed foot in mouth. It has aggressively gone on the offensive and official representatives are making claims to the media and politicians that will without question, come back to bite them in the ass before the controversy has fully played out. And in light of the nature of the tragedy, the holier than thou denial that any segment of the game industry could play any role in a larger problem has only reinforced the largely unfavorable view many people already have of the industry. A little restraint, humility and transparency would go a long way here.

Daniel Miller
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We should probably study if the horrific stories and images from being in a state of constant, flaccid war for nearly a decade has any effect on young minds.

Vincent Hyne
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No, that only has an effect on the bank accounts of corporations that get first refusal rights to exploit the natural resources or markets of the invaded country.

Ed Macauley
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I must be alone in that I think this particular piece has no value. All this article does is reiterate vague points that have already been covered and encourage wild speculation and another idiotic debate in the comments section. Gamasutra, you are better than this.

Games might not get a fair shake. In other news, fire is hot and will burn you.

Gamasutra, please don't contribute to the echo chamber of paranoia and speculation. Instead of telling us what we already know, how about some ideas about how we (the industry) can help drive the process and make it objective?

Vahid Kazemi
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Quote: The President's wording, specifically saying "the effects violent video games have on young minds," is in itself already suggesting a link between the two.

Yes. That definitely suggests the connection! Gamasutra sounds like Fox News defending guns.

Toby Grierson
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"Seems like it's totally acceptable to let players blow somebodies head to pieces in fotorealistic detail, as long, as you don't show the cleavage of a young woman in your games."

Incidentally this sums up the broader society's reaction to games that gamers often mock. I think we've all shared a laugh about parents who buy their child Grand Theft Auto a game of robberies, drive-bys and murder then are shocked and appalled at the sexual content.

james sadler
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I really think this is all just going to blow over for the games industry as it has in the past. These politicians are catering to the media fire going on right now. When they say "lets research it" that usually means they'll give some scientists money to look into it, but they really don't care about the results. By the time the results come in the subject will be over and a lot of them will be out of office anyway. Its a way to appease the public by showing that they're doing something, but not actually do anything that would affect them now. Ahhhhh politics.

Rebecca Richards
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Wow, you guys are going to keep riding this sensationalist train all the way off the cliff, aren't you? Call me when Gamasutra is interested in covering real news again and not trying to gin up hits on sensationalism.

Seriously, think about this - you guys spent the entirety of 2012 decrying the effects of misogyny and sexualized violence on our industry, it's perception, and its customer base. And when I say "you guys", I am also going to note that this article's writer was involved in a great number of those. Why are you suddenly backpedaling now except that you think you'll get more hits off of Kotaku-like paranoia? Gamasutra has been and should be better than this and its seriously damaging your credibility on the real issues I just mentioned.

Don Meyer
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This article is typical of the government on the violent video games and its relationship to point the finger first at the gaming industry. What happen at the Sandy Hook Element School was very extremely bad without any doubts. But the same study was done several years back when 2 other guys did similar things. One of the guys in a high school shooting said that Grand Theft Auto 3 or Vice City told him to do it. Just so he didn't have to face jail time instead be mentally insane. Then another guy went into a city close to a jail and start shooting cops and wrecking cars. Then he said that Grand Theft Auto Vice City made and told him to do that. They always point directly at the video game industry never ever point at the movie industry.

Now the thing about this is to face the facts. They even got reports back about this guy. The state police even said. This act was pretty much planned by the shooter. Because they heard from witness there. That as soon as he heard the police sirens. He turned the gun on himself. What they should worry about why the guns were even bought in the first place by his own mother. If he had a mental illness! How on earth did he even know she bought this guns.

Now on the other hand is the gaming industry going to get a fair shake in this. As long as these people keep a level had about things. And they are not a holy roller. Then maybe! If not -- then they would pretty much kill off one of the leading profit end of this industry plain and simple. Then what they really should do is bring out games based on.

"My Little Pony"
"Cabbage Patch Kids"
"Rainbow Bright"
"Muppet Babies"
"A heavy dose of Dora the Explorer"
"A heavy dose of Barney"

Oh yes in other cases you might want to just get rid of all video games because they all have violence in them somewhere.

Walter Verburg
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All this fuss just seems silly. Whatever the effect is, it isn't going to be zero. We are a product of our experiences, and if nothing else, it's common sense that seeing violence desensitizes one to it.

The real question is a matter of degree, and I for one would some to see some actual research done on the topic. I've always thought that the interactive and immersive components of video games give it more psychological potential, but I've never known for sure, despite the fact that I would very much like to.

The fears of games not getting a fair shake are not totally unfounded, the US government hasn't always been out best friend, but it has never been a true enemy. If there is an enemy in this case, it's the NRA, and if you didn't know, they aren't too friendly with the Obama administration either. If this is skewed in any way, I think that it would be "in games favor" to make the NRA and the "right wing nut jobs" look ignorant.

TLDR: I think that game designers have much to gain and little to fear, despite a catastrophic worst case scenario.

Brandon Van Every
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It is the 1st time I've heard Obama say something where I thought he was seriously full of s**t. It's clear: he heads up an anti-gun lobby. He wants to find something to blame. We've had decades of research, as well as a SCOTUS decision, saying video games are not to blame. Yet he calls for "more research" and beneficial "information." It's like the Religious Far Right getting in charge of the White House, then calling for more "information" about why women choose to have an abortion.