Game developers urge balanced approach in Biden probe of violence

The International Game Developers Association will not seek to impede scientific study into links between games and real-world violence but asks that any new research also explore benefits of violent video games.

Vice President Joe Biden meets with pro-gun groups in Washington. Getty Images

Ahead of a meeting between Vice President Joseph Biden and video game makers, one of the trade organizations representing game developers put out a statement today saying it "does not seek to impede more scientific study about our members' products."

In a letter to Biden the International Game Developers Association's Daniel Greenberg wrote that the organization would "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."

Greenberg also urged Biden to look at the positive effects of game playing. "Instead of simply trying to find negative effects, we ask that any new research explore the benefits of violent video games, too."

The vice president heads a commission charged by President Obama to come up with recommendations to stem gun violence. His report is due by the end of the month.

Here's the text of Greenberg's letter:

Re: Task Force on Shootings Policy Recommendations

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 nonprofit 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.

Rights
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.

Responsibilities
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 nonviolent 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 noncausal sources and away from meaningful change to real dangers. This is an important effort, and we look forward to working with you further.

Sincerely,
Daniel Greenberg
Chairman, Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee
International Game Developers Association

 

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