The perennial controversy over violent video games was again a topic of discussion at the White House on Friday, where Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the video game industry as part of his effort to find legislative remedies to the problems associated with gun violence.
Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher and other video game industry representatives were scheduled to meet with President Obama's gun violence task force on Friday, the Hill reports. The committee, led by Biden, is getting ready to release its recommendations next week.
The Entertainment Software Association is a lobbying group for a number of major companies, including Electronic Arts and Microsoft. These companies' products -- "Call of Duty," "Halo" and other "first-person shooter" games -- have come under criticism in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre last month. It has been widely reported that the killer, Adam Lanza, was "obsessed" with video games, and police found thousands of dollars worth of violent video games while searching his house.
One of the most prominent critics of the video game industry is the gun industry. In a press conference last month, Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, criticized the media for ignoring "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people ... through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse."
Despite the source of this criticism, violent video games appear to benefit the firearms business. Robert Farago, a gun-rights supporter and the founder and publisher of The Truth About Guns, a web site aimed at examining "the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns," spoke to The Huffington Post last month about the relationship. "Video games are the most effective advertisements there are for firearms," Farago said.
Several gaming sites have equated the practice of portraying authentic guns in video games as "product placement."
Gun enthusiasts certainly haven't been alone in raising objections to the prevalence of violence in video games. In recent weeks, lawmakers and media watchdogs have called for studies into the effects of violent games on children and for tighter regulation of the industry. James P. Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, wrote a letter to Biden suggesting that the Federal Trade Commision require the gun industry to "explicitly reveal all product placements and other marketing practices and tie-in with the video game industry," as well as taking steps to cut down on children's exposure to violent videogame commercials.
But in his own letter to Biden, Mark Fisher, the interim president of the Electronic Merchants Association, a Silicon Valley trade group, dismissed the idea that video games contribute to violent behavior and questioned whether anything could be done to regulate violent video games anyway.
Fisher noted that video games already carry voluntary age advisories in the form of ratings including "Mature" (M), which suggests that the games are "suitable for person age 17 and over," and "Adult Only," which signifies that the games have content that "should only be played by person 18 or over." And he cited a recent Federal Trade Commission report asserting that video game retailers enforce the ratings "most vigorously."
He also mentioned several studies that mainly attribute youth violence to other factors, although at least one of them -- a 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General –- acknowledges that video game violence may have a "small average effect" on physical aggression.
Finally, Fisher brought up a bill introduced by State Sen. Leland Yee (D- Calif.) in 2005, which sought to regulate the voluntary age-advisory system. That law went to the Supreme Court, where it was overturned on First Amendment grounds. "Any attempt to legally restrict the sale or rental to minors of entertainment containing depictions of violence will likely be found to be unconstitutional," he wrote.
Yee, who has also introduced several recent bills aimed at restricting ownership of semi-automatic weapons, told The Huffington Post that he agreed with this prognosis. "There's not a whole lot that we can do on a legislative level," he said. "The responsibility really falls on the violent video game industry."
He recommended that the industry step up its own efforts to ensure that retailers abide by age advisories, and suggested that an "Adult Only" rating be given to many games that are currently labeled "Mature."
But he conceded that the industry isn't exactly clamoring for that chance to do that. "If you do that," Yee said, "the market for buying those games becomes very, very small."
The objections to gun control and to the regulation of violent video games have at least one thing in common, he argued: "It's about money."