Vice President Biden warns game industry of violence and public opinion

"You have not been 'singled out for help,'" the Vice President told the gaming executive.

This past Friday, United States Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the videogame industry as part of a series of meetings Mr. Biden had with several industries and groups in an attempt to find ways to limit gun-related violence in the country. But the VP’s meeting with these figureheads also had a second objective: warn them of the power public opinion can wield.

“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 Gamasutra 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.”

Today is the day when Mr. Biden is to deliver a set of proposals to President Barack Obama for reducing gun-related violence as part of a task taken upon by the White House following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last month. The meeting with the game industry was one of Biden’s last in a series that also included law enforcement, educators, civil rights organizations, gun safety advocates, and the film industry, among others.

These proposals don’t look to put limits on the sale of or content within video games, as the VP and his task force seem unconvinced that a link between videogame violence and real-life violence exists.

“He said upfront that he didn’t think the evidence he’d seen showed a link between violent video games and real-life violence,” said 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.”

However, public opinion can be a powerful thing. If enough voters — uniformed about or unwilling to accept the research’s inability to find a link — want the government to take action on games, there’s a very real chance it can happen.

“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,” said Texas A&M’s Christopher Ferguson, who was also in attendance and spoke with Gamasutra. “I think his message was, ‘I don’t believe that, but other people do. So what can you do to try to fix that?”

Keeping with the theme of a more roundtable discussion, Biden went around the room asking all in attendance to speak for three-to-four minutes on ways to improve the industry’s image. While researchers proposed more research, the industry figures present weren’t prepared to make any presentations.

“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.”

Figureheads present for the meeting included Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, ESA President Michael Gallagher, the ESRB’s Patricia Vance, Epic Games’ former president Mike Capps, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, and ZeniMax Media CEO Robert Altman. ZeniMax is the parent company of Bethesda Softworks.

“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 the exact person the statement came from. “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.'”

As for Olsen herself, the researcher suggested that more games include a reduced violence option in the games’ settings. It’s a feature that has been used in Japan and Australia, and Olsen believes it would serve the industry well to include it in games sold in the US.

“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,” said Olsen. “We’re providing controls. We’re providing content options for you to do that.”

Though no sense of a threat was visible in anything Biden did or said at the meeting, Ferguson believes that the industry needs to take the VP’s warning regarding its image seriously.

“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,” suggested 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.”

To see part of Biden’s meeting with the videogame industry executives, take a look at the video below. Also, be sure to let us know your opinion on videogame violence and it’s relationship to real-life violence in the comments section.



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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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