In a Tuesday statement, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey called upon video game publishers to stop promoting military-grade weapons in their games by entering into product placement deals with firearms manufacturers.
Sharkey sent letters on Aug. 14 to executives at three different game publishers and to the Entertainment Software Association, calling on them to end firearm product placement agreements in video games. He said the appearance of real-life weapons in games may have contributed to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December.
“Games designed to recreate the experience of wartime carnage and criminal violence constitute protected speech under the provisions of the First Amendment,” Sharkey wrote. “But there is little to be said in defense of an industry-wide practice of arranging licensing deals with gun manufacturers for the rights to use the make, model, and visual design specifications of their real-life weapons.”
Sharkey’s letter went to executives at Blizzard Activision, Take-Two Interactive, and Valve Corporation. In the letter, he cited reports that the shooter in the Sandy Hook incident had been an avid player of Call of Duty games. That series is published by Activision.
“The industry practice of video game publishers entering into licensing, marketing, or other financial arrangements to feature real guns in their games blurs the lines between fiction and reality in ways that can have tragic consequences,” Sharkey wrote.
According to the letter, Electronic Arts, a major video game developer and publisher, announced earlier this year it would sever licensing connections with gun manufacturers. Sharkey said he hoped that the move would become an “industry standard” against the “reckless practice.”
But according to a report Sharkey cited, the move will not be not much of a departure for EA, which plans to continue featuring the weapons just without a formal agreement with gun manufacturers.
“In May of this year, Electronic Arts announced that it would sever its licensing connections to all gun manufacturers, although the company claimed that it would continue to use the guns’ brand and model names, and their likeness in the games, citing First Amendment and fair-use laws in justification,” a June report released by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and The Gun Truth Project said.
Lawmakers proposed several bills during this year’s legislative session pertaining to violence in video games. They ranged from a proposal to place a tax on games rated for mature audiences to calls for a task force to look for a link between video-game violence and violent behavior in kids. Ultimately none of the proposals were passed into law.
There is little scientific evidence suggesting a link between video games and acts of violence. In response to one of this year’s legislative proposals, Christopher J. Ferguson, a psychology and criminal justice professor at Texas A&M International University, wrote to lawmakers saying real life violence has dropped as virtual violence has increased.
“There is no evidence for a correlation between societal violence and the media culture consumed by that society,” he said.
In his letter, Sharkey acknowledges the lack of research showing a connection. But he said there is a connection between the video game industry and firearm manufacturers.
“We have to take steps to institute meaningful change in the way we portray, and effectively market, assault weapons to children and young adults,” he wrote.
The Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and The Gun Truth Project report suggests that the deals between publishers and gun manufacturers effectively amount to a promotional campaign for firearms. According to Sharkey’s office, the group reached out to the speaker, who was “shocked and dismayed” to hear of the licensing agreements.