As acting president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, Stanley Pierre-Louis views himself as one of the leading voices for the positive impact video games can have on society.
“We’re seeing video games being used in lots of positive ways, and that’s a great narrative for video games,” he said in a recent interview with Gamasutra during the DICE Summit in Las Vegas this month.
It's in the ESA's interest to highlight the positive aspects of the game industry – ESA is the U.S. trade organization and lobbying group that represents some of the biggest corporations in the industry, including Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, and Nintendo, to name just a few.
So last summer, when the World Health Organization officially classified “gaming disorder” alongside established addictive disorders, Pierre-Louis, who’s been with the ESA since 2015 as general counsel, took particular issue with the classification's negative connotations.
“[The ESA’s] concern with this particular classification – ‘gaming disorder’ as being proposed by WHO – is that it’s not based on medial consensus. It’s based on a point of view by some medical experts," Pierre-Louis said.
WHO’s website states that the decision to include the “gaming disorder” classification is “based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions.”
WHO defines gaming disorder as such:
Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.
In a corresponding talk he gave at DICE, he noted that the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association all declined to classify “any level of video game use as a disorder.”
Pierre-Louis said that a “gaming disorder” misdiagnosis could have negative consequences on people with physical and/or mental health issues. “There are several instances where kids who have turned to video games to escape mental and physical abuse are undergoing treatment for ‘gaming disorder’ instead of the underlying abuse they’ve endured,” he said.
Some people do have unhealthy video game habits that they form, and when someone has underlying addictive or compulsive tendencies, they can get “hooked” on games, sometimes to extreme effect.
Pierre-Louis acknowledged that there is debate among medical experts that amounts to whether games cause disorder, versus game addiction “being a symptom of a larger concern.” (He sides with the latter notion.)
So where does that leave game developers in terms of responsibility to players; to not invoke compulsive tendencies? Pierre-Louis declined to speak directly about what individual game developers should do, and rather deferred to the game industry’s history of self-regulation, such as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
“I think that the video game industry has the strongest self-regulation model of any entertainment industry,” he said. “That’s the Federal Trade Commission [who says that], that’s not Stan talking…We have an industry that really listens to consumers.”
Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last year that left 14 students and three staff dead, and many wounded, the Trump administration saw fit to invite representatives from the game industry, including the ESA, to talk about video games and real-world violence.
Asked about the reasoning behind attending at all – the ESA is quick to cite studies that show no evidence of a link between games and real-world violence – Pierre-Louis argued that the game industry needed to speak up in order to avoid being scapegoated.
“Our takeaway was…we were able to express the importance of video games writ large,” he said. “We were also able to look at the evidence that’s out there about what happens when people play the same games in the United States, vs. other countries.
“The same games are distributed worldwide, but you don’t have the same violence issues in other countries that you have here, which says that there’s something else going on—it’s not video games. I think that had a really big impact on discussions.”
Pierre-Louis said that even though a meeting with The White House might not translate into policy, being part of the discussion is important in order to avoid video games from becoming “stifled due to concerns that are unwarranted.”
Former ESA head Michael Gallagher last year said the organization is watching the topic of unionization from a distance, and not taking an active role in advocating for game workers. This comes amid pro-union traction in the wake of reports of crunch, lack of severance pay, mass layoffs, and in general, poor working conditions.
“[Unionization] hasn't been a significant issue in the game industry for the last ten years,” he told Waypoint at the time.
Under Pierre-Louis, the ESA, which represents large corporations and the industry, and not necessarily their individual employees, distanced his organization from any definitive stance on unions or workers’ rights.
“I know that our members and our industry wants the best place possible for the creation of games,” he said. “And that means creating the workforce in a very respectful way. At the same time, [each company’s workforce] needs to make its own independent judgment about issues related to unionization. That’s not something ESA really engages on.”
When further asked if the ESA would stay completely neutral on the issue of unionization, even in light of the GDC State of the Industry report that said nearly 50 percent of game devs believed game workers should unionize, Pierre-Louis reiterated it’s up to each company’s workforce, adding, “We’re trying to amplify the positive of what the industry does. I think that answers your question.”