Looking back on what video game CEOs said about violence

December wasn't the first time the issue of video game violence came up. At E3 in June, show-goers debated over the level of violence in demos -- we talked to some of the industry's leading execs about the issue.
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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