With tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio the issue of the link between video games and violence has once again reared its head. The good news for the game industry is that this time it does not appear the public is buying claims of a connection.
In the past week, DFC has received several worried calls from investors of public game companies. They are concerned that the stock of video game companies will decline as they are linked to mass shootings. Our response has been emphatic, the video game industry has largely matured beyond this point.
Back in 1993, Connecticut Senator Joe Liebermann and Wisconsin Senator Herbert Kohl held hearings on the impact of violent video games on children. This led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). (It also ushered in the start of the ESA led E3 show).
Over the next few years, the ESA spent substantial resources fighting the common public perception that video games did not provide a direct link to violence. However, laws continued to be passed, including a 2005 California law that banned the sale of violent games to minors.
In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down the California law and declared video games were a protected form of speech under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court noted that historically children had been exposed to many forms of violent media. The late Justice Scalia noted that high school reading lists, Grimm fairy tales, and Saturday morning cartoons are filled with violence. (He also could have mentioned the movies of the California Governor who passed the original law, Arnold Schwarzenegger).
However, being protected as free speech does not mean being protected under public opinion. The Ku Klux Klan may be free to march and spread its racist message, but they are widely condemned by society. The video game industry needs public perception on its side.
The good news is that public opinion has matured. Shortly after the attack, President Trump in a speech said the government needs to do a better job regulating video games. Last week, Wal-Mart, one of the country’s leading sellers of video games announced it was pulling displays of violent video games (not the games themselves).
Unlike what occurred 20 years ago, both these moves were widely ridiculed. Most headlines noted that President Trump is a huge supporter of the NRA and against gun control. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is a leading gun retailer. In other words, the message was Trump and Wal-Mart are hypocrites.
Of course, past critics of video game violence have included strong supporters of gun control. In 2005, Senator Liebermann, along with then-Senator and soon to be presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, tried to pass a law similar to the California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors (the Family Entertainment Protection Act).
In a recent article with Fortune magazine, retired Senator Liebermann said that while he is still concerned about violence in video games, gun control is a much bigger issue. That seems to be the common consensus of the general public.
Society today has grown up with video games and have a real understanding of their potential impact. The parents of a hypothetical 10-year old boy back in 1993 would have had no frame of reference to violent games like Mortal Kombat. Today, that 10-year old is in his mid-30s and probably still plays games like Call of Duty. He feels comfortable assessing what games his kids should or should not play.
The public fears what it does not understand. Video games, Marvel movies and violent TV shows are part of culture. Back in the 1990s, most adults simply did not understand the new media of video games.
Today people get what video games are about. When President Trump tries to blame video games for mass shootings he is widely ridiculed. The media chorus was loud this past week saying “Don’t blame video games for violence.”
Of course, investors are right to be concerned about the potential stock hit. However, it appears those concerns were last week’s news. Stocks dipped some after President Trump’s speech but they quickly bounced back.
As part of its new Executive Briefing Series, DFC Intelligence is giving access to qualified executives and investors that want to discuss these issues in person with an analyst. For more information go here or download the brochure for more details.
For the latest DFC Game Industry Brief go here.