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Video games and gun violence: A year after Sandy Hook

Following the horrific December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, the game industry sat down with the Vice President to talk about gun violence. A year later we ask: What's come of that meeting? Gamasutra's Mike Rose reports.

Following the horrific December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, the game industry sat down with the Vice President to talk about gun violence. A year later we ask: What's come of that meeting? Gamasutra's Mike Rose reports.

"Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds," said U.S. President Barack Obama back in January 2013. "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science."

As part of his proposals for a series of gun-control measures in the U.S. following the tragic December 2012 shooting at Newtown, the President said that $10 million in Congressional funding should be used to research the supposed relationship between new media -- including video games -- and gun violence.

This was one of the most significant moments in video game history, and a moment not to be taken lightly -- no president before had taken formal, political steps to study any purported link between violent video games and real-life violence. Though the administration did not condemn video games outright, examining video games on a world stage in the utterly tragic context of deceased children would potentially cement a negative perception of video games in the heads of millions of people.

As the world tried to make sense of such a senseless act, America's leaders called a meeting with the game industry, not to scapegoat video games, they said, rather to work together tos find a way to curb gun violence. But today, the people closest to the issue suggest both Obama's words and the game industry's meeting with Vice President Biden were simply an act to score points with the media and the voters, all the while leaving the video game industry in the lurch.

That old scapegoat

Let's start at the beginning. On December 14, 2012, the mass murder of both children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School left people around the world shocked, horrified, and angry.

As was widely reported for days and weeks to come, Adam Lanza was the individual responsible for the second deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States of America -- and as is the case with every tragic event, the news coverage quickly devolved from cataloguing every horrific detail, to finding some larger cause to blame for the ordeal.

The initial scrutiny fell on gun control, and there was light talk of banning sales of certain weapons and ammo magazines. Mental healthcare issues came to the surface. Yet very quickly the media turned its attention to violent video games.

Within hours of the tragedy, Fox News was pointing fingers at video games, along with the usual suspects like reality TV and Facebook. But this was just the beginning. 

"Adam Lanza was motivated by violent video games," said CBS News at the time. "Lanza was also likely acting out the fantasies of a video game as he killed 20 first graders and six adults at the school. For Lanza, the deaths apparently amounted to some kind of 'score.'" 

"Killer lived in windowless lair playing violent video games," shouted The Sun. "Lanza, 20, spent hours playing bloodthirsty computer games such as Call of Duty and obsessively studying weapons in the basement at mum Nancy's home." 

A similar headline from the New York Post: "Killer's basement his eerie lair of violent video games." And the Daily Mail asked, "Should Call of Duty be banned?" 

Similar headlines were a media mainstay from the weeks that followed Sandy Hook. The National Rifle Association was quick to follow suit -- in an effort to divert attention from the gun industry -- and numerous NRA officials made formal statements blaming violent video games for the mass shooting.

For people who play video games and follow the game industry, these accusations and scapegoating have sadly become the norm. Violent video games are regularly blamed for large-scale acts of violence, including the Virginia Tech mass shooting (where it was later proven that video games had absolutely nothing to do with the massacre). What was different this time around was that the White House decided that it had better say something.

On January 11, 2013, Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the video game industry, to discuss reducing gun-related violence in the country. Some game industry commentators, including Gamasutra's editor-in-chief Kris Graft, criticized the game industry's participation, calling it a hollow photo-op that would be seen as an admission of guilt.

Days later, President Barack Obama asked Congress to fund research into the link between violent video games and real-life violence. "Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds," he said at the time. "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science." 

Though video games once again were in an unwanted spotlight, perhaps there was a silver lining: The game industry could simply sit back and wait for this research to come back and -- maybe, hopefully -- show the world once and for all that there is no link between violence in video games and these real-life mass shootings.

And yet, it's been more than a year since the meeting with Biden, and more than a year since Obama called for $10 million to be set aside for research into whether new media, such as violent video games, influence root causes of gun violence. In that time, you probably haven't heard much about that research.

That's because it never actually happened, nor did any funding change hands. As discovered in my various talks with individuals and researchers close to discussions, any potential research efforts from Congress broke down fairly rapidly following the meeting with Biden, and hardly anything has been said since.

Instead, the White House gave itself a photo op to prove that it was listening to the mainstream media; The mainstream media showed the stranglehold it has over the government, regardless of whether it has fact-checked or not; And anti-video game campaigners now have quotes from the president to back up their theories that video games are to blame.


Where's the research?

Christopher Ferguson is a professor at Stetson University, and well known in the field of examining the psychology of violent media's effects on real-life violent behavior. Ferguson not only attended the meeting with Biden at the start of 2013, but he's also been heavily involved in gathering research about how violent video games affect us.

"In terms of research that the government itself has funded -- there was all this talk about the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding something -- nothing really came of all that," he tells me.

Ferguson isn't a political insider, but he's very much a man in the know on this topic -- and while he notes that Congress-led research could potentially still be on the way in the future, no funding has been doled out for research into violent video games. If that research is ever coming, it's a very long way off.

"The CDC did have a meeting in April [2013]," he continues, "and it was on everything, with the exception of mental illness, interestingly enough -- they forbade anybody from talking about mental illness. Other than that, everything was essentially on the table, whether it was gun control, or technology for fingerprints on guns so that the gun can tell who is holding it."

During that meeting, two points were obvious: one, that the CDC was ranking gun control far higher than video games in terms of importance; and two, that politics were playing a large part in what was being said to the public, compared to what was actually happening behind closed doors.

Notes Ferguson, "At one point in the meeting, someone made a comment about gun violence, saying 'We have to make sure that any research that is done is shielded from politics.' And everyone burst out laughing, because of this absolutely ludicrous idea."

"As far as I know, no-one gave the CDC any money in the end," Ferguson continues. "They might shift around some of their own money, but as you might have followed, that whole gun violence debate kind of fell apart anyway. There ended up being not much momentum on much of anything, quite frankly, as an end result."

The push for violent video game research in particular has nearly completely dropped off, he tells me, apart from with those campaigners like Senator Rockefeller who are heavily invested in it.

"There ended up being not much momentum on much of anything, quite frankly."

Dr. Cheryl Olson is another key figure when it comes to research in the field of violent video games, and also is the author of Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. She too attended the Biden meeting, and tells me of the proposed $10 million research, "I haven't heard anything either."

"I've tried to keep my ear to the ground about opportunities that there might be, because I have collaborators who I work with at MIT, or other different places," she adds, "and I'm not hearing any offers to do research."

"It's kind of disappointing," Olson says, although like Ferguson, she's keen to stress that "these things do take time, especially since there were these U.S. government fights about how new funding must be offset with cuts somewhere else. So it's been a difficult environment to try to get some of that going. But I think it has been a little bit disappointing."

One person who was an advocate for the meeting with Biden was the IGDA's Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee Chairman Daniel Greenberg who, in an open letter to Biden, said that these talks would hopefully allow the video game industry to work alongside the White House to research any potential links between violent video games and real-life violence. 

He tells me today that he's under the impression that funding is underway, although he isn't entirely sure. "It's hard to follow it," he says. "In fact, I was thinking of using the freedom of information act just to see where it is, but I thought I would just let sleeping dogs lie for a while."

"I believe at the time they did allocate some money, or allocate some resources within the CDC to do this," he continues. "They just wanted to make sure that it was completely clean, and that it was clean from any kind of interference. Unless Chris or Cheryl know something I don't know, then I believe they are proceeding ahead. Research takes time."

Greenberg notes that this sort of research is going to take a while, because a lot of the similar research that has come before it has missed the mark.

"There are some pretty big impediments to designing research, not the least of which is that the research that has been designed to date has used metrics and measurements for aggression that have never been validated in the real world," he says.

Meanwhile, Dr. Patrick Markey at the Department of Psychology, Villanova University, also notes that research can be a slow process.

"Not only do you have to collect the data," he says, "you have to write up the data and you also have to go through the review process. Average turnaround time for a journal article is a few months. Even after the article is accepted it usually takes at least six months to go to press. Therefore, any research that started a year ago would probably start coming out this summer."


The truth about the research

There didn't appear to be a consensus on where exactly any Congress-lead research was up to at this point, so I got in contact with someone who was directly involved in gathering information for the vice president.

XEOPlay president Nicole Lazzaro was contacted by the Office of the Vice President at the start of January 2013, and asked to gather concrete proposals from industry leaders with regards to how the Obama Administration could tackle this issue of violent video games head on.

Lazzaro pulled together proposals from inflential game industry veterans like Robin Hunicke, Earnest Adams, Warren Spector and more. From these proposals, she put together a list of 10 resolutions that Biden could utilize when deciding which direction to take with the issue.

Since that point, Lazzaro concedes that not a lot has happened at all.

"I have to admit that since that time, there hasn't been a lot of new groundbreaking research on connecting this and time," she says. "There hasn't been new legislation passed to really work on these effective gag orders."

"It's all been kind of a wash," she adds. Indeed, Lazzaro notes that there was most likely other reasons for the outcry from the White House at the time, apart from genuinely wanting to find a link between violence in video games and real-life violence -- but what could that be?

What was the real meaning behind the meeting with Biden, then?

At the very least, then, it would appear that research into a potential link between violent video games and real-life violence has been put on the back burner, with research into gun control measures very much the real focus of the White House and the CDC's future examinations.

Which raises the question: Why were video games brought so front-and-center by the White House? Biden's talks with the video game industry were given as much attention as his talks with the firearm industry, even though after the media furor subsided, the focus in closed-door meetings turned away from video games.

So why drag video games through the mud, and cause potential harm to the games industry? Could it be that Biden's meeting with the video game industry was simply a direct reaction to the mainstream media's banal headlines and reports, leading the White House to feel pressured into wasting time on video game talks?

"Yeah, I think so," says researcher Ferguson. "I think in many ways, the Lanza case is a pretty classic moral panic in action. I'm not privy to their internal deliberations within the White House -- I can only speculate -- but yeah, I'd say they were perhaps afraid of looking like they were going to go all-in on gun control, and wanted to make it look like they were taking a comprehensive approach."

"Their thought may have been to deflect any criticism that they were going after people's guns, by also going after their video games," he continues. "I think the intent was to say, 'We're not specifically going after games, we're going after everything!' I don't think it was very helpful in the end. I think they ended up doing more damage than good."

Olson is of the impression that the meeting with Biden occurred simply out of a sense of public concern. People were reading these newspaper headlines, and were genuinely afraid and upset as a result. The White House had to respond.

James Ivory, a professor at Virginia Tech whose research deals with the social and psychological effects of new media such as video games, backs up this theory.

"While I'd like to assume the White House and Vice President Biden had good intentions with the series of meetings held last January to discuss gun violence, I think the issues that got attention in those meetings were a better reflection of what the news media like to talk about in the wake of prominent shootings, than they were of the issues that need to be addresses to reduce gun violence," he says.

"I don't think it was very helpful in the end. I think they ended up doing more damage than good."

"In a week of meetings, spending two days examining media industries (a day each with Hollywood and video games) compared to only a day with the firearms industry is not how I would have recommended the vice president spend his time if he's looking for answers to gun violence in the United States."

XEOPlay's Lazzaro adds that what happened at the start of 2013 was "just the psychology of politics."

"They had to," she reasons. "As the leader of a country, you've got to react, right? You have to respond."

Regardless of the reasoning behind the meeting with Biden, the IGDA's Greenberg says that he still feels great that it went ahead.

"At the time there was a tremendous dissention in the video game community about whether we should co-operate," says Greenberg. "They claimed it was a trap. I pointed out that there were ministers being invited too, and they're not claiming that ministers cause violence. They're looking for solutions, and video games can very much be part of -- even though video games don't cause violence, they can be a solution to a violence problem."

"I don't think nothing came from that meeting -- I think a tremendous amount came from that meeting," the IGDA head adds. "For the first time in history, a politician of any level of significance at all agreed that we're not the problem -- that our image problem is the problem. That's what Biden said. Biden embraced the video game industry like that, and to embrace real research instead of this bogus research that has been thrown out by every court in the country -- that's huge. I don't think gamers or developers made enough about it, because it was a tremendous first step in overcoming this overall moral panic."


The mainstream media, and the moral panic around violence in video games

Greenberg mentions moral panic there, which is obviously a major factor in this entire back-and-forth -- if not the main factor.

However you look at it, the mainstream media's obsession with painting violent video games in a bad light plays a massive role in both scaring the general public, and pushing governments to consider video games some kind of threat. Who cares that it's all based on conjecture, and past research has failed to find any link between violence in video games and real-life -- the media is very much in charge, and the White House's response last January proves this.

"The political process was driven in many ways by the media reports, and vice versa," reasons Ferguson. "I remember after the Biden meeting, and about a month later when the White House released its plan -- which all fell apart -- I think I was never so popular in my life. My phone was ringing off the hook. The two forces were feeding into each other, and I think some people took it as an opporuntity to promote their own agendas."

This large-scale feeding frenzy between the newspapers and the White House snowballed because, quite frankly, a large number of news organizations both big and small are happy to jump on any video game violence rumor and promote it to readers as if it were true.

"The question now is: Who, if anybody, is going to be left holding the bag?" continues Ferguson. "Now that we look back a year later, there seems to be this sense of 'Who is mainly responsible for not showing much leadership here?' I guess you can say, 'The news media do what they do.' Maybe they could have done a better job, but they go for headlines. So maybe it's the politicians, or the scholars, or should have stepped up more?"

"They will never willingly give up this moral panic, because they don't have a lot of moral panics left."

Andrew Przybylski is a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Oxford, who has published papers and articles on the supposed link between video games and real-life aggression. He notes that "there is a deep human need to know why people do bad things."

"Anomie makes people really uneasy," he adds. "In the face of tragedy people want to know why these things happen. For many in the press and society, games (outside of discussions around tragedies) are not a well understood thing."

At the heart of the matter, he believes that the negative reporting in the press comes down to four points: "Press willingness to speculate about motives of perpetrators  before the facts come in; positive beliefs of pundits in a gaming-aggression link; willingness of these pundits to apply their belief before the facts come in; and an audience that would be receptive to this formulation."

"So unfamiliarity with games may contribute to games being brought into media reporting on tragedies at all four stages," he notes.

"There's this sense among the general public that violent media, and video games in particular, are somehow making things worse," Olson adds to Ferguson's thoughts. "I don't think most people realize that crime is down, and down dramatically in the U.S. since the mid 1990s. When I mention it to people, they say 'Wow, really?'"

Of course, that sort of news report wouldn't bring in the clicks, hence why the public is so ill-informed. That, says the IGDA's Greenberg, is why the meeting with Biden wasn't a loss at all -- because the press would have continued on its tirade against video games regardless.

"We'll get the moral panic from them when we pry it from their cold, dead hands, to paraphrase our friends in another industry," he notes. "They will never willingly give up this moral panic, because they don't have a lot of moral panics left. Video games are still widely available for that, so the media isn't going to want to give that up, because if it bleeds, it leads. Even if it's bleeding electronic pixels."

The Sandy Hook report

In November 2013, the Sandy Hook report was finally released, detailing what the authorities had discovered about Lanza and his motives for the shooting. It was a 44 page report, describing the event and what is believed to have been the cause of Lanza's rampage -- but you'll have to scroll a fair amount to find any mention of video games.

That's because, as discovered, Lanza didn't really have any out-of-the-ordinary desire for violent video games at all. Sure, he played them -- the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Grand Theft Auto were found in his basement -- but if anything, he actually had an obsession with a certain non-violent video game: Dance Dance Revolution.

"The shooter liked to play a game called Dance Dance Revolution, which is a music video game in which the player stands on a platform, watches a video screen and moves his feet," explains the report.

"The GPS found in the home and reportedly belonging to the shooter indicated that he regularly went to the area of a theater that had a commercial version of the DDR game in the lobby," it continues. "In 2011 and up until a month before December 14, 2012, the shooter went to the theater and played the game. He went most every Friday through Sunday and played the game for four to ten hours."

According to the report, Lanza also enjoyed Phantasy Star Online, Paper Mario, Luigi's Mansion, and Pikmin. Essentially, he enjoyed all the same types of games that millions of other young adults his age do.

Nowhere does the report suggest that video games were to blame for the shooting, just as was the case with the Virginia Tech massacre. Rather, the report noted that Lanza's mental health issues were "significant," and that these issues greatly affected how he interacted with others, and generally led his life.

"For all the talk of how he was obsessed with violent video games, and the investigation had a primary focus on video games, the report mentions video games for a page and a half out of 40-something pages," muses Ferguson. "He played both violent and non-violent games like any 20-year-old does, but what's interesting is that he spent most of his time playing non-violent video games."

"I think for people that were hoping the report would come round out and say video games were the big issue, it certainly didn't do that... It sure didn't substantiate all those rumors going on last Spring about what an obsessive violent gamer player he was. They actually found around 12 games -- you can find more than that in my closet!"

Olson notes that the report mainly focuses on the weapons that Lanza had access to, and his mental health. Games were barely mentioned because, as we've discovered, the White House didn't actually believe for one minute that video games were to blame.


"I think for people that were hoping the report would come round out and say video games were the big issue, it certainly didn't do that!"

"One of the things that really struck me was it mentioned that he wrote about fantasies of violence for his teachers," adds Olson. "There was just one teacher saying she was really upset about it, it was so graphic she didn't want to share them with other people. That is something you saw with the Virginia Tech shooter as well -- violent fantasies being handed into teachers."

"That's the thing: The typical teenager, especially male, is playing a violent video game on a regular basis, but I don't think the typical teenager is writing about graphic violent fantasties and handing them to people."

Later still the full report was released, with thousands of pages to digest. A quick search for mentions of video games again makes it clear that the investigation wasn't focused on video games at all.

"There were a couple of times where the families of the victims asked the police about these rumors, and the police responded with this sense of 'Don't believe everything you hear in the media'" notes Ferguson. "They were specifically warning families, in a neutral way, 'These are just unsubstantiated rumors in the news, they don't necessarily reflect what's going on in the investigation.' So they basically were telling the families not to pay attention to the video game rumors."

It was becoming clear that once again the mainstream media had wrongly blamed video games on a grand-scale, leading hundreds of millions of people astray. So did we see numerous headlines and apologies saying that video games weren't to blame after all?

The vast majority of articles from the likes of CBS, Fox et al simply chose not to mention video games at all, while others -- such as the Daily Mail -- decided to take what little had been said about video games, and produce headlines like "Lanza's descent to madness and murder: Sandy Hook shooter notched up 83,000 online kills including 22,000 'head shots' using violent games to train himself for his massacre."

"I call it 'The Follow-Through Failure Effect' of the media," Ferguson sighs. "You start off with a story, and once the story loses its kick, you just drop it. You never really exhonorate. The news media never bothers to say 'Okay, we were wrong.' They kind of move on to the next story. That's what happened here with Lanza -- it was 'video games video games video games,' then "Oh wait, he played Dance Dance Revolution? Never mind, we'll just move on.'"

"Experts agree about why crime is down, but there's this sense that everyone is still in danger," Olson says of the media's attitude to video games. "I had a call a month ago from a Canadian station about some crime that happened in New Orleans -- some kid who had stolen a car after midnight drunk, crashed into someone immediately, and then mumbled something to police about how he wanted to see what real life GTA was like."

"Off-hand remarks from a drunk college student got picked up because of this pre-existing idea that violent video games can corrupt kids," she adds. "It makes no sense at all, but the mindset is out there, that violent video games must inspire copying. And people's radars are up looking for evidence to fit into that pre-existing frame."

What research has happened, and where should it head next?

It's clear from the discussions I had over the last month that nothing has happened with regards to Congress-funded research as of yet, nor has anything really happened in terms of changing the common perspection that violent video games can cause real-life violence.

But outside of that, there are plenty of ideas as to where research should be headed next. The problem is that much of the research that has occurred up to this point has focused on the effects of violent video games and the link to aggression, rather than discovering whether video games have any meaningful influence on serious violent crime.

Take the Australian Attorney's Office review on the impact of playing violent video games on aggression from 2010, for example, which found similar patterns to the majority of such research over the years. The report gave no conclusive evidence that video games were the problem, but there are some concerns that this sort of research is asking the wrong sorts of questions anyway.

Here's what we know in a nutshell: The best research into the field has found very little evidence of a link between violence in games and real-life violence, and past research suggests that video game violence has even less impact that other media, like television for example.

There is absolutely no consensus amongst researchers -- and even when a group does claim to find that link, they are quickly rebutted by numerous others. For example, when the American Psychological Association recently said that a link might exist, a group of 230 experts in the field wrote an open letter to the APA demanding the organization stop making such ill-informed claims with no evidence to back it up.

"Even though the research on effects of violent video games is mixed, and we have very little at all in terms of evidence linking violent video games to serious violent crime, that's not what you hear," notes Ivory. "The debate has grown extremely polarized, and a lot of researchers and politicians are probably more concerned about defending an extreme position than finding out the truth for the good of the public and game players."


This polarization of opinions is slowing research progress, he reasons, and shifting resources away from topics that actually matter far more, like the objectification of women in games.

"I really don't enjoy the way a lot of media products celebrate violence," Ivory says, "but if all we ever do is argue about whether that media violence causes crime, we are missing out on a lot of other things that need to be discussed."

"If there was something there, we would have found it at this point. Calling for more studies isn't going to get us anywhere."

 


Ferguson agrees that research needs to move away from the push for how violent video games affect behavior, noting that there are now hundreds of papers on the topic, and they're all finding the same results -- there is no link.

"It's now about moving past that, into studying it on a much more phenomenological basis -- more of a motivational basis," he tells me. "What is it about video games that attracts people? Why do they play them? What do they get out of it? How is the user a much more important part of that process?"

"I think we've just been obsessed with this idea of finding out whether video games make kids more aggressive," Ferguson adds. "If 15 years later we still haven't come to any obvious answer, we need to keep doing it? Well, if there was something there, we would have found it at this point. Calling for more studies isn't going to get us anywhere."

One thing we could be doing, says the researcher, is looking at how a piece of media can affect lots of different. Take the Bible, for example -- different people read it in different ways, and while some people read it to motivate themselves in a positive way, others use it to learn how to be more close-minded and hate others more, essentially making it as much a piece of violent media as any violent video game is. Or any other piece of media, for that matter.

"There you have one piece of media that arguably has very different influences on different individuals, probably depending on what those individuals wanted to get out of it in the first place," he reasons. "And it would be nice to see media effects research head more into that direction, than it has in the last few decades."

"It'd be a much more sophisticated research field even if it's maybe harder to get grant funding for that, rather than just 'video games are killing our kids.' Otherwise I think we'll just keep spinning our wheels if we keep doing the same research over and over again."

Tackling the disinformation head-on

So we've already plugged years and years of research into finding this elusive link, and come up with barely anything. Perhaps maybe it might be best to block the leak at its source -- the mainstream media.

As discussed, and as is clear to see whenever an attack on video games is in progress, the mainstream media at large enjoys running inflammatory headlines and articles about violent video games, based on little to no evidence.

Ferguson notes that, given how relentless the media was hounding video games following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the event can now at least serve as a reference point for what can go wrong in these debates, and an example that can be linked back to in future years when the media kicks off again.

"Obviously a lot of people, whether they're journalists or politicians or scholars, said a lot of stupid stuff about this case without waiting for actual information," he adds. "It's part of human nature, but I think it helps to point to this case as an example of a media panic in situ."

"The White House certainly, I would say, dropped the ball on this particular issue."

But Ferguson argues that it isn't just the media to blame in these situations. He says that this is how the media has been for generations, and that if you take a step back, the people in a position of authority should at least be looking to step in themselves.

"It was perhaps more of an unfortunate circumstance that we didn't have more courage among our political leaders to direct the discussion in more productive ways," he reasons. "The White House certainly, I would say, dropped the ball on this particular issue, and probably should have shown more leadership in terms of directing the conversation to something more fruitful."

"Maybe gun control was that thing or wasn't -- I think we should have talked more about mental health, myself -- but certainly they ended up doing themselves more damage, and now they look a little silly since the report's come out."


Where do we go now?

Ferguson continues to be heavily involved in video game studies. He told me about a special project that he's currently putting together that will encourage discussion about video game research

Essentially, Ferguson is looking to pull together all of the studies that have been done in the field within the last year (outside of the supposed Congress-driven research, of course), and build a special platform for discussion.

"I hope the special issue will change some of the dialogue in the field," he tells me. "Parts of the field had become mired in a kind of quasi-religious ideology where one view consisted of 'truths' and anyone who disagreed with that were heretics, i.e. 'industry apologists', even though scholarly skeptics are not invested in the video game industry."

With this special issue, which closed for submissions earlier this month, Ferguson hopes to provide a platform where scholars from all walks of life can engage in the topic. It'll include dialogue from a non-scholar taking a broader view of the field (possibly Revision3's Adam Sessler), and an exchange between Ferguson and "a person from the other side who is eager to engage in cordial discussion and debate rather than hyperbole and acrimony."

"We know that guns kill us in America, but we aren't allowed to talk about it."

But there may be newly-approved outside forces which slowly but surely shift the blame away from video games too. Around the same time that President Obama was calling for research into video game violence, he was also calling for an end to a 17-year freeze that's been in effect on federal funding of gun violence research.

Essentially, up until this point researchers were not allowed by law to gather data on how gun statistics contribute to gun violence. It's not exactly a freeze that many people know about, and even some of the researchers I talked to confessed that they had no clue about the freeze until last year. As Lazarro puts it, "We know that guns kill us in America, but we aren't allowed to talk about it."

However, it's now possible to collect data on this topic without a researcher's career being negatively affected, notes Olson. Unfortunately, as with the proposed video game research, nothing solid has actually come out of that yet -- and it doesn't sound like much will either.

In an NBC report earlier this month, NBC's reporter found that nothing has come out of the proposed gun research ban lift yet, and that the CDC -- once again in charge of putting together the research -- has not yet received any funding from Congress to date, nor does it sound like money will ever be handed out.

"I still get calls regularly from the press around the world, especially when some bad thing happens to somebody."

The overall message I got from my discussions, then, is that a lot more effort needs to be put into educating people on the topic of video game violence, and gun violence, and whether or not there is actually a link, regardless of what the press says.

Unfortunately, the underlying message is that perceptions are not going to shift substantially anytime soon. While the people I talked to would like to see this situation resolved as quickly as possible, many suggested that it could be decades before we finally see any real acceptance that violent video games really aren't as bad as the general public overwhelmingly believe. That they can actually be a force for good, culturally and economically.

"Just this morning on National Public Radio, they had Martin Luther King's daughter calling for more research, including violence in video games," sighs Olson. "So that idea is still out there, and I still get calls regularly from the press around the world, especially when some bad thing happens to somebody."

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