Games absent from Biden's gun violence report

Games absent from Biden's gun violence report
Seth Tipps

By Seth Tipps

January 16th 2013 at 6:28AM

Researchers present at meeting with industry say VP warned executives of public opinion

Vice President Joe Biden's report to the White House forwarded 19 executive actions as ways of reducing gun violence, none of which dealt with violence in the media or video games.

Gamemakers met with Biden last Friday to discuss possible solutions to gun violence in the wake of December's Sandy Hook school shootings, and many feared that games would once again face threats of censorship.

While those fears have proven to baseless for the time being, reports from those attending the meetings claim the Vice President called on industry leaders to challenge public perceptions of their craft.

"I think the message was that the industry needs to think of some things to improve their image," researcher Cheryl K. Olson, told Gamasutra.

"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."

Instead of asking for legislative solutions, Biden asked those in attendance for suggestions on how they could help change the public image, which one researcher compared to that of the tobbacco industry.

"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.

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

While researchers were obviously ready with suggestions for new research, industry executives reportedly drew a blank.

"I don't think they were quite ready for that," said 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."

Biden did suggest it would be beneficial for the games industry to get behind some form of independent 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."

This proposal was endorsed by all but one member in attendance, who was not identified. Even so, Fergusson worries that the emotional impact of the Sandy Hook shootings could skew the results of future studies.

"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."

The tone of the meeting suggests that while the industry has dodged one potential bullet, the weight of public opionion makes it likely that games will face more legal challenges in days to come, and Biden wants developers to be prepared.

"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," said 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."