Today, US Vice President Joe Biden is set to meet with members of the videogame industry to talk about issues of youth violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. However, not all are convinced the meeting is a good idea.
These talks come as Biden leads a task force that is set to provide information to President Barack Obama next week, which—among other things—will potentially call on the government to look into enacting stricter gun control laws.
So—why bring videogames into the picture? Vice President Biden also met with representatives from other areas of the entertainment industry yesterday, so this isn’t any sort of singling out of videogames as the culprit of what happened in Newtown.
However, some believe that videogames shouldn’t even be brought into the discussion in the first place. The fact that the shooter played videogames as one (of many) hobbies does not mean that violent videogames are to blame at all for what happened—and by agreeing to meet with Biden, those representative are sending the message that it’s okay to look to gaming as one of the sources of the violence that is overcoming some segments of our society.
My views on the topic are a bit complex. On one hand, I do get frustrated when videogames are constantly used as a scapegoat for events where the connection is tenuous at best. And yet, on the other, I think stepping back and refusing to be a part of the conversation—for fear that having that conversation will be a sign of weakness—is a ridiculous argument to make. Keeping ourselves out of these kinds of discussions isn’t going to make us as an industry look better—it’s going to cause us to have less of a voice. Even though the focus of Vice President Biden’s current efforts isn’t some sort of regulation on the gaming industry, he’s asked us to be a part of the conversation; if we refuse that invitation, next time something comes up where we are more directly involved, maybe that offer won’t be so quick to come.
It’s a scenario with no directly right or wrong answer—and one even we here at EGM don’t all agree on. We have a spirited—and multi-sided—argument about what should or shouldn’t be done in this regard in the latest episode of the EGM Game Over Podcast, which will be going up later today. So, if you’d like to hear the opinions of more of the EGM staff, be sure to check it out once it’s gone live.
Also, here’s the response that the International Game Developers Association’s Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee Chairman Daniel Greenberg sent to Vice President Biden on Wednesday. If you’d like to give your thoughts on the whole situation, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Dear Mr. Vice President,
Thank you for your call for information to inform policy recommendations on America’s problem with gun violence.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is the primary membership organization serving individuals that create video games. We are a non-profit organization with more than 100 chapters in major U.S. and international metropolitan areas and over 30 special interest groups and committees. The IGDA is committed to advancing the careers and enhancing the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development and advocating on issues that affect the developer community.
The Need for Science
Unlike some industry groups, the IGDA does not seek to impede more scientific study about our members’ products. We welcome more evidence-based research into the effects of our work to add to the large body of existing scientific literature that clearly shows no causal link between video game violence and real violence.
We ask that any new government research look at the totality of imaginary violence. Instead of simply trying to find negative effects, we ask that any new research explore the benefits of violent video games, too. For example, recent research shows a steam valve effect in which violent video gameplay helps release stress and aggression before it can lead to violence. Others studies have indicated that recent declines in real world violence can be attributed in part to potentially violent people spending more time looking for thrills in video games instead of on the streets. Psychologists tell us that playing with imaginary violence is healthy and can help children master experiences of being frightened. This is beneficial and can even be life saving. We can supply links to this research and spokespersons on these issues. The IGDA supports good research and we ask for more science, not less.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional protection of video games in 2011, finally extending to video game developers the same legal protections enjoyed by authors, filmmakers and musicians. We are grateful that our artistic works are finally beyond legal threat, and we do not take our newly-recognized First Amendment protection for granted. We understand that our rights, like all rights, are limited. We may not make games that are libelous or pose a clear and present danger to others. The government has a valid role in protecting people and especially children from products that are genuinely dangerous. While scientific study has shown that imaginary violence in video games does not cause real world violence, the game developer community recognizes that we have responsibilities along with our rights.
Game developers have been engaged in active and passionate discussions about our role in society and our responsibilities for decades, often facilitated by the IGDA. One way that game developers choose to recognize our responsibilities is by creating games with richer, deeper meanings in the lives of our audiences and by offering a wider range of experiences available than ever before. For example, some violent games add non-violent options and solutions based on problem-solving and player creativity. Other games offer greater rewards for mercy and compassion. Many popular video games offer tough lessons in making better choices through interactive storylines that let players experience the consequences of their actions. And some game developers have responded to real world violence by creating games designed for conflict resolution, anti-bullying and aggression reduction. The government can help this process by supporting this unique, cutting edge research into harnessing the power of video games to help solve our nation’s problem with violence.
Unique Artistic Medium
As creators, working in one of the most popular new forms of art and entertainment, we recognize that video game development not only allows us to express ourselves, but the games we make allow players the chance to express themselves as well. Due to the unique nature of interactivity, video gameplay is not a passive, one-way experience, but an active experience that can be exponentially expanded in multiplayer environments. Governments should not be seeking ways to constrain this emerging medium so early in its development by scapegoating video games for societal ills. The U.S. government did irreparable damage to the comic book industry in the 1950s by using faulty research to falsely blame juvenile delinquency and illiteracy on comic books. The comic book industry never recovered in sales to this day. Censoring violent comic books did not reduce juvenile delinquency or increase literacy, it decimated the production of one of the few kinds of literature that at-risk youths read for pleasure. Censoring video games could have similar unintended consequences that we cannot currently foresee. Ironically, comic books are now used as part of the solution to illiteracy, even by the government. It may seem counter-intuitive, but video games, even violent video games, could be part of the solution here, as well.
Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors of mass shootings. We support your efforts to reduce real-world violence. But we would not want to see those efforts diverted toward non-causal sources and away from meaningful change to real dangers. This is an important effort, and we look forward to working with you further.
Chairman, Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee
International Game Developers Association