The Video-Game Industry Needs to Defend Itself—Here's How

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Video games don't cause violence. The fact that so many people believe otherwise means that the those who make and play games need to speak up.

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A copy of the book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games sits at the table as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden convenes a meeting with representatives from the video game industry, in a dialogue about gun violence. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

In the wake of the recent mass killings, one thing is clear: Change is necessary from politicians, the press, and even the video-game industry—just not the change most people think.

Ferocious new, evidence-free attacks on the video-game industry remind us how much politicians and the press can wildly overreact. But even though the facts are overwhelmingly on the side of game makers, the industry's tepid response shows that it need to change as well.

We, the gaming community, need to be better informed debunkers of anti-game fallacies. We need to demonstrate how seriously we take not just our rights but also our responsibilities to society. We need to talk about pro-social games, like games for conflict resolution, anti-bullying, and solving medical problems.

We need to talk about how many games transcend the limitations of other media to become inspired meditations on and explorations of the consequences of human actions, including violence. In short, we need the conviction to be fearless advocates for our art.

The facts

Politicians are proposing new video-game regulations, taxes, and outright bans. Senator Charles Grassley questioned some games' "artistic value." He should have checked with the US Supreme Court, which said in 2011, "Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas ..."

Citing no facts, Senator Lamar Alexander called games "a bigger problem than guns." But the Supreme Court found that "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively." Violent video games have no more effect than "video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated 'E' (appropriate for all ages)" or "cartoons starring Bugs Bunny."

Even before the recent mass shootings, Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf wanted to place advisory labels on all games, even games with no violent content: "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior." It's as if no one told them that the Supreme Court already threw out every one of those "links," finding that "These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason."

That "good reason" includes the fact that the tests that some researchers use to measure aggression have never actually been validated for aggression, just for competiveness. At best, all the anti-game researchers can show is that imaginary violence leads only to imaginary violence. At no time can they show that imaginary violence ever crosses over to cause actual violence. Or even real aggression. Just competiveness.

Some political representatives are simply ignorant of the facts and need to be informed. But some might be informed and shamefully exploiting public ignorance. Either way, whose job is it to inform the people? Everyone who loves video-games: developers, executives, journalists, and players.

The media

The media has largely failed to make these distinctions. A spate of recent news stories uncritically reported attacks on video games or made fresh attacks of their own without attempts to balance the coverage with the game-industry perspective. Not many people from the industry stepped up to defend our work, our art, and our rights. I can't say I blame them, based on my recent experience, but that doesn't make engaging with the press less necessary.

Unlike the gun industry, we have not lobbied to stifle research into our industry, we have not lobbied for liability protection, and we are not proposing that violent games be bought by every school as a solution to school shootings.

After the recent tragic shootings, I volunteered to answer media questions, representing the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) through the Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee that I chair. I made the rounds including NBC Nightly News, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, etc., I found many of my questioners had not done their homework prior to the segment and were sometimes quite resistant to facts.

They scoffed at the growing body of research showing benefits of violent video games, including helping people reduce and release their anger and stress. They accused the video-game industry of being just like the gun lobby, even though we have not lobbied to stifle research into our industry, we have not lobbied for liability protection, and we are not proposing that violent games be bought by every school as a solution to school shootings. And I got a substantial amount of hate mail.

But despite all that, the results of my media tour were overwhelmingly positive. I heard from many game developers and game players who said they were grateful to have games defended and to see the facts survive the media buzzsaw.

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Daniel Greenberg is a freelance game writer and designer who has worked on CrysisThe Lord of the Rings Online, and Earth Explorer from Apple. He volunteers for the International Game Developers Association as chair of the Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee.

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