Joe Biden Asks The Video Game Industry To Improve Its Image

Over the weekend, US Vice President Joe Biden met at the White House with video game industry leaders and researchers to talk about school shootings, violent video games and Blastman III.

Today we spoke to attendee Chris Ferguson, a professor at Texas A&M and a leading researcher on violent video games, in order to find out a bit more about what happened during Biden's meeting.

The atmosphere was formal, Ferguson told me. Biden went around the room, round-table style, and let attendees speak for three or four minutes each. There were no arguments, and Biden noted that he was "agnostic" about whether violent video games can actually be linked to aggressive behaviour.

"I think on one hand the vice president was sort of interested in, I guess what you might kinda call a fact-finding kind of thing, and curious to learn about the research from the researchers who were there," Ferguson told me on the phone this morning. "And on the other hand, I think he was inviting the industry to consider basically ways that it could improve its image among non-gamers."

Public education campaigns, for example: Psychiatrist and professor Cheryl Olsen suggested at the meeting that game leaders work to give parents more control over violent content in games, and publicize it when they do.

According to Ferguson, Biden wasn't interested in drawing a connection between video games to the recent Sandy Hook shooting during the meeting, whose attendees included EA boss John Riccitiello, ESA chief Michael Gallagher, Attorney General Eric Holder, and a number of other video game industry leaders.

"As much as anything, he seemed to be encouraging them to think about their public image, irrespective of the 'truth' of the violence/media debates," Ferguson said. "I don't know if they were quite there yet, I think they were trying to emphasise that they are not part of the problem, which is understandable, whereas VP Biden was trying to emphasise that even if they are not part of the problem they could be part of the solution."

Biden, by the way, is not much of a gamer, although he said at the meeting that he's watched some of his grandchildren play video games. No word on what he thought of Blastman III, the fake video game that ESRB head Patricia Vance brought to the meeting in order to demonstrate what ratings look like.

"We didn't like circle Blastman around the table and talk about it at length or anything of that sort," Ferguson laughed.

So what's the next step? Ferguson told me that nothing conclusive came out of the meeting, and that Biden didn't show any of his cards: tomorrow, the vice president will present his Sandy Hook task force's recommendations for ending gun violence, but Ferguson has no idea what he will say.

"I think the tenor of the meeting was that we're not gonna see anything huge or unexpected or brutal from it," Ferguson said. "But you never know: politics is politics. I'm not stupid enough to try to fortune-tell when it comes to politics."

Picture: AP/Susan Walsh


    "Improve your image"????!!!!

    "Give more control to parents in relation to violent games..."

    The second point invalidates the first. Parents should be taking a vested interest in their children's interests which includes gaming. This burden should not fall on gaming companies to essentially do their job. If a game is marked M/ MA15+ or R (Australian poster), then children under these ages should not have access to them, simple as that.

    As an outsider looking in, I can't help but think that gaming is the scapegoat from all of this. And in times like this I like to think that gaming is the Dark Knight. Not the hero we deserve, but the one we need right now.

      Guns are a multi billion dollar industry in America and so are Video Games, they are probably just trying to wait for things to quiet down.

      It's pretty sick I know.

      Video games are the scapegoat, and it's totally unfair that you can say, make movies about guys going nuts, popping out the kevlar, and going on a massacre ( without anyone being concerned about the image of movies.
      But it being unfair doesn't mean that video game companies can't try to improve their image, not that I can imagine how that would actually work, parents already have the exact same tools to stop their children watching adult movies as they do adult games.
      Still the tone of this article makes it seem like Biden wants them to think about it without posting and specific blame, which seems fine.

        Maybe Sony can put that new anti-second-hand RFID tech to good use by improving parental controls.

      I actually see Biden's point.

      What you are doing here Gonzo is exactly what we gamers have been doing all this time, saying "we are not part of the problem, go find the real culprit".

      Improving the industry's image is actually good advice. How about this.
      PSN or Xbox-live develop a "parent account". Then every violent game is built with two modes - "censored" and "original". Now a parent can lock a game to censored mode and this will be governed by the parent account - meaning the child can't unlock censored mode without the parent's password.

      We gamers know this is a pretty pointless add-on for us...BUT, it will certainly improve our image. The media can't ignore a big implementation like this and it makes our industry look very mature in handling this situation.

        As a gamer and a parent - I absolutely agree with this. I have no control over what my ex lets the kids play & watch, but I at least get involved with there game playing and discussion of the content. The kids want the gameplay, not necessarily the bloodshed & adult themes

        Lol I'm sorry but the though of adding a 'censored' mode on an ma15+ rated game is a bit retarded, how about they just run an educational campaign about not showing high rated games to kids under that fuckin age? Or am I just being idealistic?

          No you are right to think that way. In fact that is how we would all feel.
          But the trick here is...try to see it from a non-gamer or anti-gamer's point of view.
          Who do you think is going to pay and lead this campaign? The government? We are going back to shifting the blame again.

          So again, who to run this campaign? The gaming industry? That won't work because outsiders would immediately accuse them of pushing a hidden agenda or whatever else Fox news would call it. Its about image here, not logic.

          You are actually being extremely sensible and voice an opinion I reckon a lot of people would agree with, it is however, not something that you can say publicly, true though it may be and here lies the issue. There are limits to what the games industry can do to effect positive change to its image due to how people currently perceive the industry, gamers and the games we play. It is not in the truth, it is in what people believe the truth is, and for the uneducated, sensationalism is king.
          I think Biden makes a reasonably valid point, whether it was our fault that we are here now or not is irrelevant, but we do have a say in what happens next.
          Take Nintendo for example, specifically the Wii and Wii Fit. There was a topic yesterday I think that brought up parents and older people calling all gaming consoles a Wii. I believe (personal opinion) that this has a lot to do with the publicity that the Wii got for making a positive change to the gaming scene. With the idea that people would be up and active infront of their TVs and getting fit by way of the Wii Fit board and so on. Whether it was true was irrelevant, it certainly wasn't true in my case, I played bowling sitting on my couch and I have limited experience with the Wii Fit because as a gamer, I have little interest in it. But it doesn't matter because it wasn't aimed at me. The media campaign was aimed at people who aren't gamers and judging by how well the Wii Fit moved consoles I'd say it worked. And we got a less crappy public image out of it, event if it was mostly bullshit and accounted for maybe 10% of gamers.

    So that is it? No debate, no looking at other media, no looking at gun reform, no improving the treatment of mental health, just straight to lets "fix" gaming. Way to go, America, really got the finger on the pulse of the issue.

    Last edited 15/01/13 2:22 pm

      the story doesn't say that Biden hasn't been looking at the other causes.

      It's not up to the 'heads' of the video game industry to discuss mental health reform or gun control.

        I am not saying Biden himself, I stated the country as a whole. i don't just follow gaming news either, and I have not heard anything what so ever about meetings like this with other forms of media, its not like the heads of Fox, HBO etc etc have been called in to be told to change what they make, and there is clearly nothing being done to improve the other 2 areas stated. So fine maybe he looked at other media, but they sure as hell arent pointing the finger at them.

        Last edited 15/01/13 4:40 pm

    He's looking at, and has had discussions regarding a variety of topics.
    This Kotaku though, and they are focussing on his discussion with various video game execs (and rightly so, that's why we're here).

    Do you want articles about his other plans? That's just not relevant on this forum. Go to google.

    Cliff B didn't attend with the replica Lancer he is sometimes photographed with? Shame....

    Trust a politician to come up with "fix your public image, regardless of the truth". And it's a great idea - thanks to sensationalism in mass media, people already think they know the truth, and therefore are likely to ignore any defence that contradicts it. Only way to change their minds is to get the media on their side, but, as far as I know, the gaming industry has been trying to do this for years...

    The world asks USA to improve it's image

    In other words get the same spin doctors as the NRA

      The NRA don't really make themselves look good, they just try to make something else look worse.

    Yay.. more bum fluff theatrics... so typical of politics in ALL countries of the world.

    What a joke.

    Dudes, perception management is always a good thing. Biden seems to be taking a stance of we know you're not the problem, but if ya don't do something now you'll continue to be a scapegoat.

    It wouldn't matter anyway, uninformed media looking for a headline would still point the finger at games because they're an easy target.

    clean up your image gaming! tell us more about the last guardian! you dirty swine.

    EDIT: meh supposed to be reply to @Eko
    No you are right to think that way. In fact that is how we would all feel.
    But the trick here is...try to see it from a non-gamer or anti-gamer's point of view.
    Who do you think is going to pay and lead this campaign? The government? We are going back to shifting the blame again.

    So again, who to run this campaign? The gaming industry? That won't work because outsiders would immediately accuse them of pushing a hidden agenda or whatever else Fox news would call it. Its about image here, not logic.

    Last edited 15/01/13 11:43 pm

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