Games, Guns, Politics and EA Earnings Call

“… there has been an  enormous amount of research done in the entertainment field about looking for linkages between entertainment content and actual violence, and they haven’t found any.  And I could give you long stories about how people in Denmark or the UK or Ireland or Canada consume as much or more violent games and violent media as they do  in the United States, and yet they have an infinitely smaller incidence of gun violence.”

- John Riccitello, EA Earnings Call, 31st Jan 2013

Like many non-Americans, I watch the current round of discussion in the aftermath of the (latest) tragic school shootings with mild bemusement. To me it reads as though the NRA blames computer games and basically anything and everything else they can think of except guns. And whilst the various industries and groups picked out rebutt the claims, they don’t seem able to respond in kind. Like:  It’s not the games, it’s the everything else including the guns. (I know how playground arguments go, that’s what you do.)

The part where the government then runs around consulting everyone and tries to think of some kind of quick fix doesn’t induce mild bemusement, that’s business as usual – except that the US government is more competent than our homegrown omnishambles.

Riccitello isn’t politically able to take a poke at the NRA  (too many US gamers and investors don’t want to hear that argument), but it is his job to defend his corner of the gaming industry, which is an uphill struggle when you can’t use one of your best arguments. As soon as he starts citing countries like Canada, the UK, Denmark, and Ireland (as per the above quote), it’s kind of implicit that:

  • Gamers are gamers. People are people.  So you can compare like with like in different countries.
  • One of the big differences between all of those places and the US is that they all have strict gun control, which may be relevant if we’re talking about gun crime.

In any case, EA are shuttering the Medal of Honor series for awhile, because the last game was a critical disaster that vastly underperformed in sales.   This is a purely business decision and nothing at all to do with the political climate. They’re enthusiastic about other shooters like Battlefield and again, they’re too reliant on selling shooters to criticise them or stop making them anyway.

So again, a bit of dancing on eggshells to put this across while backing the government’s call for research into video game violence and also asserting that there’s no connection between gaming and RL violence.

Gaming <—> Violence? Who knows?

We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks. Does that cause violence? Probably not. I don’t have any concrete reason to believe so, anyway. But it gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives. We can’t just ignore that. We shouldn’t ignore that. It’d be outright irresponsible to do so.

– Nathan Grayson, Rock Paper Shotgun

Personally, I’m all for more research being done on links between gaming and violence. I doubt that gaming has much to do with violence, it’s as likely to be a substitute (i.e. people who might otherwise have gone out and got into fights may play games instead) as a normaliser. But I could be wrong, and it would be good to know more if we can.

And if it becomes less politically fashionable for devs to make ultra-realistic ultra-violent shmups then I won’t be complaining, since it increases the chance that more games will be made that I personally like. John Walker (also in RPS) argues that EA should not have canned Medal of Honor but instead use it to springboard a series of FPS games that challenges the players preconceptions and portrays the experience of soldiers with more choice (and therefore taking responsibility for the consequences of those choices) and less railroaded “kill X enemies” scenarios.

And I think “yes, that sounds interesting”, I’m playing through The Walking Dead at the moment and loving how it carefully explores its genre. I could imagine a war game that took a similar approach. But I don’t like FPS games, and that’s the problem in a nutshell. Your average FPS player may not be your average story-loving RPG fan. EA probably did the right thing to shoot MoH in the head.