After each mass shooting in America, so-called "experts" -- usually the leadership of the National Rifle Association, gun lobbyists, or sympathetic politicians -- wag an accusing finger at the video game industry. And the video game industry invariably pushes back, pointing to numerous studies showing no meaningful link between the violence of first-person shooting games and the real-life horrors that unfolded at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown.
But that's not the whole story. For all the gun lobby's complaints about the dangers of video games, they are simultaneously fostering direct relationships with video game manufacturers through a web of licensing agreements and product placement deals. In other words, they are directly contributing to an industry they say is part of the problem.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America agrees that, too often, video games are used as a scapegoat to avoid discussion of the true problem: the shockingly easy availability of deadly weaponry and ammunition in America and the appalling accumulation of deaths and injuries we endure as a result.
But video game manufacturers are culpable, too -- they can't claim to be free of blame for society's gun violence when they collude with gun manufacturers to market assault weapons and military-style guns to our children.
As video games have become more sophisticated, manufacturers have prided themselves on extreme attention to detail, including every facet of the realistic weapons used in military-themed shooting games like Activision's Call of Duty or Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor. To that end, video game manufacturers have established commercial relationships with gun makers and provided a promotional platform for their wares. Not only are the guns they feature identified by make and model, in some cases, the video game company provides links through its website to places where the weapons can be purchased directly.
This practice is dangerous, and it must stop.
Moms Demand Action, together with The Gun Truth Project, has just published a report demonstrating how gun manufacturers use video games to market real weapons to children and young adults. And while the link between video games and real-world violence continues to be investigated, the report also shows that some of the perpetrators of the worst shootings in recent years have taken their inspiration directly from those games and used the weapons featured in them to carry out their rampages.
For example, it has been reported that Adam Lanza, the Newtown elementary school shooter, was allegedly a player of Call of Duty, which features and promotes Bushmaster semi-automatic rifles. During the December 2012 shooting spree, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in less than five minutes, Lanza fired off 154 shots from a Bushmaster XM15-E2S.
The video game industry has long defended first-person shooter games, arguing that they are just make-believe and that there is no connection to real-world violence. But when money is changing hands with gun makers in marketing arrangements to promote and sell these weapons, the game is no longer make-believe.
It's not clear how much is in it for video game manufacturers anyway. As our report illustrates, games featuring real-world guns identified by make and model do not sell any better than games with made-up weapon names. The economic benefit is almost exclusively on the gun manufacturers' side.
If video game executives truly want to push back against the perception that they bear responsibility for real-life violence, then they should end their licensing and product placement deals with gun manufacturers.
One major video game company, Electronic Arts (EA), has already done just that. About a year before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, EA broke off negotiations with Textron, one of a number of arms manufacturers and defense contractors seeking to profit from featuring their products in video games.
Last month, as that dispute was about to go to court, EA upped the ante further and said it would not enter into licensing agreements with any arms manufacturers this year.
We not only applaud that decision, we are asking the rest of the video game industry to follow suit. There is no reason why video game manufacturers should do the gun industry's dirty work of promoting assault and military-style weapons to our children and teens.
We invite companies meeting this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles to sign our pledge agreeing to put an end to licensing and product placement deals. It's not only the responsible thing to do; it is also smart business.