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