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Looking back on what video game CEOs said about violence
Looking back on what video game CEOs said about violence Exclusive
December 27, 2012 | By Chris Morris

The tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT has once again revived the debate about the impact of violent video games in the media. Senators are calling for hearings. Groups like the NRA are pointing a finger of blame at the industry. And parents are confused and scared.

Aside from a couple of statements from the Entertainment Software Association and Entertainment Consumers Association, the industry has kept its mouth shut about the shooting -- and it's likely to do so for some time. There is, after all, no upside in walking into the fray.

But December wasn't the first time the issue of video game violence came up. At E3 in June, show goers debated whether the level of violence in demos was over the top. I had a chance to discuss the issue with several CEOs of major publishers.

It's critical to point out that these statements were made months before Sandy Hook -- at a time when that sort of incident was unimaginable. And these thoughts may have been altered since then.

Still, it's an interesting look at how publishers approach the topic of violence -- and what it means for the industry.

Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft

"In these virtual worlds, credibility is difficult. It's difficult to [raise an emotion] when you shoot somebody. ... That's why people exaggerate this -- so you feel it has a little bit of reality.

"But we must not forget it's a virtual world, it's just a way for us to change reality and try to do things we don't want to do in real life. And it goes to a point -- like in God of War, where it's humorous.

"It's not reality. So it's important to take it lightly."

Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America

"I think it tends to go in cycles. If somebody comes out with a game people enjoy, it draws people to that genre. Shooters have been bigger the past few years. ... I think they're not just the same game done with a different storyline, they're taking that genre and expanding on it.

"Sometimes racing is really relevant. Sometimes it's not. ... The same thing happens with sports and RPGs.

"I don't think our industry is any different than [other fields of entertainment]. You're going to get a herd mentality moving to where the consumer is.

"I think it's a recognition that [all entertainment is getting] -- I don't want to say violent -- but more graphic. Even TV is going that way. There was a time you would never hear a swear word and there were minimal sexual allusions and little violence. People, for whatever reason, want a more immersive experience. And, unfortunately, violence was part of that equation. ... Movies today are made much more graphically than they used to be [too].

"As an art form we follow society's trends."

Peter Moore, Chief Operating Officer, Electronic Arts

"We've been having this conversation since Mortal Kombat -- green blood vs. red blood. ... I think the broader question needs to be asked: Is this a poor reflection on the industry? Is the industry trying to desensitize a generation to violence? No.

"I think a lot of it is because games have grown up with this imagery and we don't lose gamers like we used to. ... When I got into the video game industry, it was still a little bit of a 'boys in their bedrooms' [business]. But when you went to college and in you were in your 20s, the idea of playing as plumber wasn't as appealing. Today, the idea of playing as a U.S. Marine is very appealing.

"I think it keeps gamers gaming for their entire life. M-rated games have served a tremendous purpose of growing our industry, because we finally had content that would stand alongside the consumer as they aged."

Strauss Zelneck, CEO Take-Two Interactive Software

"My barometer is not 'Is there throat stabbing?' It's 'Why is there throat stabbing? Does it create an emotional response?' Is it an act of desperation when you resort to going to that well? ... I like to think our creative folks are more elegant than that.

"We do not do lots of [violent things in our game that are initially considered] and I credit our creative team. ... I do not think you're going to sell one unit more because you've got gore. We've all seen gore.

"The buck stops at my desk. I have to make these choice and they're really important choices. I say we're making art. We're in the art business and I stand behind that."

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Rodolfo Rosini
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Nice. What about some statements from arms manufacturers that sell assault rifles at Wal Mart?

Bruno Xavier
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But no need to worry about that; kids have no access to guns, right...
Apparently they kill each other throwing video-game boxes on them.

Alan Rimkeit
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Assault rifles. Video Games. Exaggeration much?

Thom Q
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Mike: lol, so you're saying Americans are just crazier then the rest of the western world?

Alan Rimkeit
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@Thom Q - I don't think that they are. But America has had atrocious mental health support since President Regan deregulated the mental health care system putting it in the hands of private companies/corporations. Mental health support is the heart of this issue. Not violent media or guns.

Thom Q
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Alan: I agree on media not being the cause. Studies do however show that in countries where it's easier to obtain guns, the more violent violent-crimes get. To put it simply, there's only so much you can do with a kitchen knife, then with a gun.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Thom Q - I too understand that. But removing guns from America is simply not an option. It is never going to happen. Facing the severe mental health issues in America is the only practical soultion avaliable, IMHO.

For example, from a the wiki page of Gun politics in Switzerland:

"Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. Switzerland does not have a standing army, instead opting for a people's militia for its national defense. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations; Switzerland thus has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world.[1] In recent times political opposition has expressed a desire for tighter gun regulations.[2] A referendum in February 2011 rejected stricter gun control.[3]"

Switzerland does not have mass shootings, yet they have a great amount of serious military grade weaponry at their finger tips. My bet is that they not only make sure people are properly trained, but they also spend vastly more money on mental health support as well. it is a sad issue here in America and it seems none of the people with real influence want to face it head on.

Thom Q
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@ Alan. Even countries like Switzerland, Germany, Holland etc have their mass shootings. Whether or not it's more or less, relatively then in the US, i don't know, but I do know that in a very high percentage of all mass shootings the weapons are acquired legally, here in the EU, and in the US.

There's a difference between mass-shootings and violent crimes though. Only a very small percentage of violent gun crimes are mass shootings, in both the US and in the EU. The US does however have a relatively very high rate of violent crimes, especially gun related crimes.

The fact remains though that in many cases the US scores high, if not the highest on the list; Murders, Violent Crimes, Serial Killers, Prisoners, etc.

There's not 1 thing that causes this, it's a mix of different factors. Besides the availability of guns, mental health issues, I'm sure social-economical factors come in to play as well. I believe that to truly effectively tackle these problems, advancements need to be made on every front. How much and where is up for debate ofcourse.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Thom Q - I still maintain that mental health support is the key to mass shooting of this nature. But I do admit that many other factors can be correlated to such occurrences. As you pointed put social and economic factors do influence this matter in a wide array of ways I would imagine.

Unfortunately, America does have a higher rate in the mass shooting department. But for over all murders, America per capita, does not even rate in the top ten ever. Needless to say this is a very complex issue that may never be solved 100%

Brandon Van Every
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Flawed argument Mark. Health care, and particularly mental health services, in the USA is not universal. You can spend more mental health money on people with health care, and *no* money on people who lack it, creating a lot of untreated crazy people. Same amount of money spent "on average." This is totally leaving aside whether the money is spent effectively compared to other countries anyways.

Jeffrey Weik
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Jeferson, Assault Rifles are machine guns/fully automatics. Production for the civilian market ended in May of 1986. What is being discussed is Semi-Automatic only rifles that are patterned after Assault Rifles. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of NRA members are against banning military style semi-automatic rifles or any semi-automatic firearm for that matter. Banning detachable magazines that carry more than 10 rounds isn't going to do anything in terms of reducing the carnage of these incidents because you can eject, put in a new loaded magazine, and charge the gun in literally less then a second or one second at most if you train for basically an hour in just reloading a gun.

Banning Semi-Automatics won't work either because pump and lever action firearms can be fired at a cyclic fire rate of around 4-6 rounds per second or on average 300 rounds per minute.

The real issue here is the background check system, especially when it comes to mental health.

To give you an example in my state of Minnesota law enforcement can only check for court ordered psychiatric evaluations and or drug rehab with regards to mental health. So in other words if you voluntarily go in for psychiatric treatment or drug treatment law enforcement wouldn't know and not only would they not know but state law prevents them from even getting access to those records even if they request it when doing a background check especially for buying a gun. So basically if you go voluntarily for treatment and you are declared a threat to yourself and others you will slip through the background check system and be able to purchase any firearm or weapon.

This is how the virginia tech guy was able to purchase his firearm even though an initial evaluation of him declared him an imminent threat to others and himself and at that time Virginia was not supplying ATF and FBI with mental health records so that those people could be added to the NICS system, that is the system used to do background checks when purchasing a firearm.

The next issue is that we need to have mental evaluation be done before someone can purchase a firearm, so when they go to do a background check on someone they will see that within the past year they have done an evaluation and the result is that they are not considered a threat to themselves or anyone else.

Thom Q
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Its cool that publishers tend to defend their products, although I would have expected at least some of them to have mentioned all studies on the effect of violent games on violence in real life.

Somehow this never get mentioned anywhere, almost like science & studies are a bit taboo, what's up with that? You'd think publishers would like to mention them...

Alan Rimkeit
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Data helps rebut the “violent video games cause shootings” argument

Thom Q
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Alan: Yeah, I know, it has done for over 10 years now. That's my point, why doesn't that get mentioned by them

Alan Rimkeit
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@ - You figure that they would, but like the politicians grand standing in front of the crowd the CEO's are not facing the real issue. Facing the issue would take real work. They don't want to get involved in that at all ever.

Thom Q
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True. CEO's aren't going to do that, they'll just listen to what people's gut feeling on the issue is, just to be accommodating.

Alan Rimkeit
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"I don't think our industry is any different than [other fields of entertainment]. You're going to get a herd mentality moving to where the consumer is." - Jack Tretton

He is right. There is little to no difference besides the interactivity of the games. The problem is the people. People have been and always will be the problem and source of the issue. Until people change or are more well managed then this issue will occur as long as humans do. That is a fact and all else, IMHO, is scapegoating.

Humans have always been violent. People have always had mental issues. People who are sensitive to violent things such as video games and movies need to be protected. They need to be kept from guns, knives, and other implements of violence. Proper mental health support for people with violent tendencies need to supported by society. Until these things are done for unstable people then everything else is a moot point.

Tahiya Marome
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If video games were the cause of behavior, there would have been a serious problem in the 80's with people throwing barrels down stairs, or people driving their cars recklessly all over the highways. Mental Illness changes the definitions of reality. Answering why a person with Schizophrenia or Delusional Disorder does something, requires that you know what he or she makes of the world that you think he or she shares with you. That's the point. The mentally ill person DOES NOT SHARE THIS WORLD WITH YOU. They think it means something different than you think it means. Whatever they encounter, a video game, a person, a friendship, a book, a piece of art, a fleeting event, they make of it something their illness causes to be unrecognizable to you. The reasoning they then apply to it, is highly irrational to us looking on because we don't see or feel what they do. They live locked in a mind that makes of this place a kind of strange, unpredictable hell. Depending on the illness that afflicts them, we need to help them contain themselves to places and situations where their misapprehensions don't cause them to act out violently against the world in which their illness defines reality, not the shared perception.

TC Weidner
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As a society, culture, and industry we simply have to stop the glorification of gun violence. We can bicker all we want about what percentage of the blame lies where, but at the end of the day, there is just something wrong about a culture which finds glorification and entertainment so readily in something as awful as gun violence.

Kevin Fishburne
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"...there is just something wrong about a culture which finds glorification and entertainment so readily in something as awful as gun violence."

Agreed. Humans are batshit crazy as a species. We have enough nukes to create a major extinction event, oppressive governments, tribalism of all kinds and its resulting prejudices, overflowing prisons and horrific crimes like rape, torture, murder and kidnapping happening en masse daily.

It's not just culture though, or it wouldn't be so globally universal and span known history. It's instinct, no doubt the remnants of an important survival mechanism from our earliest of days, and it remains within us. Suppression of instinct only works for so long, so we either need safe outlets like video games, sports, target shooting, etc., or genetic alteration (good luck with that last one).

I've espoused this theory before and have found that people are loathe to believe that as a species we are inherently violent. We tend to glorify our species as the pinnacle of evolution and achievement. I guess it's easier to find some bad guy or bad thing (guns, D&D, rap music) to blame than to hold up a mirror. Our violence-loving culture is just a symptom of a disease, and the disease is in our DNA. Maybe the sooner we accept what we are the sooner we can take the next step in our evolution.

John Trauger
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Any influence games and similar gunplay entertainment have are overlaid upon far more broken things.

The US criminal justice system provides a broken risk/reward system for criminal behaviour. We in the games industry would be uniquely equipped to assess this, though our usual focus is how we keep the play playing, not how we get him to stop.

The 24-hour New Cycle provides a broken risk/rewards system for "crazy" killings. It holds out the promise of fame and power and crazy doesn't have in life and doesn't mind giving up life to get.

This on top of the state of mental health in the US.

It's easier to just say "ban guns" and wonder at our own complicity. But not better.

Edward Reeseg
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While I agree with a vast majority of what was quoted in this article, I'm not exactly a fan of Guillemot's suggestion that the content in these games is meant to be taken lightly. It's very likely that all he meant to say was that video games do not alter reality, and thus should not be seen as some threat, but it also sorta sounds like the age-old cop-out of "games are just for fun, and shouldn't be taken seriously".

While we definitely don't want narrow-minded individuals blaming games for shootings and violence in general, we also don't want to paint the medium as something silly. The content that is put into a game is the responsibility of the creator, and that's something we need to be mature about and own up to. Violence for the sake of violence, as was previously said, is often entirely unnecessary. While it may sell more games, or appeal to a more mature audience, should we cater to such a group mentality if all it does is lower the artistic value of the work to the point of being something the public can consider a fad, rather than an art form?

There's not a single reason why we can't point out the fact that the notion of games causing violence is foolish while at the same time defending our right to say that what our industry creates can be artistic, and not just something that's meant to be taken lightly. It's not enough to just say that the industry isn't causing the violence; we have to make it clear that violent video games are as much to blame for this violence as The Catcher in the Rye was to blame for the shooting of John Lennon. Sick minds will twist creative works in a way that was never intended by the creator, nor could be imagined by a healthy person in the same circumstance. That's an issue all it's own that needs to be addressed, but that seems to have been discussed quite a bit already.

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Dave Levison
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I'm proud to have worked on many games in my career and I'm a proud parent. I think what we have are problems with our culture overall. Gun violence in video games is just one ingredient. Easy access to guns, lack of mental health resources, bad parenting (put Johnny in front of a video screen for hours so I can do the things I want to do), and graphic gun violence in all media forms. I think we need to take a good hard look at all these things. The particular problem with video games is that unlike movies and TV, the user is actually in control of virtually killing people with guns. However I think parenting, mental health care and access to guns probably have more to blame. Plenty of kids grow up playing these games for hours and don't kill people, but the current combination of these ingredients in our country are producing more killers I think.

stevanne Auerbach
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I can recall being in the showroom in NYC when Nolan Bushnell introduced Pong and felt it was going to change game playing. It did!

Now if we could only harness all the artists and creative people and powers that be to focus on learning and play, fun and education, helping kids to solve problems, understand how cars work etc. etc. etc.

I would be very glad to see the evolution of technology.

Anyone else agree and interested to do something about changing the paradigm of killing and destruction to make a huge shift in the games being created these days?