Tuesday April 21, GamesIndustry.biz shared an interview with a former senior adviser at the White House, Mark DeLoura, about the governments concerns and views on video games.
Video games and violence, it’s a debate almost as old as video games themselves. From the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) because of Mortal Kombat to the 2011 Supreme Court decision giving video games the same first amendment rights as TV, movies, and books. Even after the Supreme Court decision people have argued about the effects violent video games have on people and whether they can lead to real world violence. This is in spite of the numerous studies that have found no link between violent video games and real world violence.
We see the debate flare up whenever there is a major tragedy like the Newtown school shooting or Elliot Rodgers’ shooting spree. Political pundits and some congressmen look at the fact that the perpetrators of these tragedies played violent video games and latch onto them as the cause. Thankfully there were some encouraging views on video games after Newtown when Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the game industry, with Biden saying that video games were not being “singled out.”
DeLoura, who was appointed as Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy shortly after the meetings with Biden, says that the government is not trying to target violent video games. When he was first appointed DeLoura anticipated the violence and video games debate, he says that even having the meeting with game industry representatives can put out a certain perception without meaning to:
I think the perception of having a meeting like that leads people to think that there’s an actual problem. From one angle, it’s ‘we need to have a meeting to talk about it’ and from the other angle it’s ‘Oh my god they’re meeting, that must be awful!’ That is one of the challenges that I realized working inside of government is sometimes it’s just difficult to engage people in conversation because they come in with a set of beliefs and concern about what other people will say.
Preconceived notions about what the government wanted to do with video games even lead DeLoura to have his guard up when he first started saying, “The funny thing is it felt like I was bringing the violence conversation to the table because I have 20 years of scars and I’m from the game industry. So I come in and it’s like I have my armor on, and nobody ever really said, ‘what about violence in video games?’ Or very, very rarely did that ever come up. It was more about the opportunity than it was about the past, which is great,”
So what is the government’s main concern about video games if they aren’t focused on the violence? DeLoura says the government is focusing on the positive effects games can have, such as education. DeLoura says:
When I would have a conversation inside the White House it would be about ebola. The conversation didn’t typically start with games, it started with a challenge, and then it was like, ‘Is there any way that this community of smart, brilliant passionate people who are working on this new media form… is there some way that they can plug in, do they want to help?’ There was this ebola hack-a-thon in Seattle with a bunch of game developers and it was awesome. When I heard about it, we hooked them up with people who were working on the rollout of the ebola treatment centers.
Feel good stories often don’t have the same prominence in the press as negative stories do, DeLoura says. The feel good stories do exist and video games have been doing great things, such as the neuroscience research being done by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). DeLoura says that it’s a great story to illustrate how video games can do more, rather than just entertain.
DeLoura also notes that the government is concerned about diversity, but wants to encourage rather than regulate. He talks about how they want to encourage the non-profits that have started popping up encouraging girls to get into tech and video games, “So from the federal level, when you talk about what can you do, you can see there’s a bunch of interesting places where you can plug in and you don’t want to regulate things but you want to encourage things,” DeLoura says. Helping the games industry with tax breaks for game development is also something the government is looking into, but they have to do it carefully and use the positive effects of video games as leverage. DeLoura wonders what would happen if a congressperson tried to advocate at the state level for tax credits for games saying, “…would they be met with a ‘what’s the redeeming value [of] games?’ argument. Is games just like popcorn [entertainment] and it’s all shooters and violence, and why are we supporting that? They don’t ask that about films. Films are already past that level of conversation in the media.”
So it seems that video games don’t have as much to worry about from the government as some people believe and are even being looked at for their positive effects. Hopefully video games will get out from under the stigma that they have had in the main stream the same way that other forms of media have and be raised up as a medium that offers a lot of positive benefits. How do you feel about the government’s views on video games? Should they be involved, or stay out altogether?