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Conn. Rep. wants to end the 'nefarious relationship' between game devs and firearm makers

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Connecticut Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey called upon members of the video game industry last week to end "the nefarious relationship between video game makers and gun makers."

Sharkey requested that video game developers end the "reckless practice" of "licensing, marketing" and entering into "financial arrangements" that allow them to include real-life firearms in video games in a letter dated Aug. 14, 2013 (PDF link). It was addressed to Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, Valve head Gabe Newell, Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick and Electronic Software Association president and CEO Michael Gallagher.

Sharkey's letter begins with a reference to the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut late last year and acknowledges that "research has shown little connection" between video game gun violence and real-life violence. He goes on to argue, however, that including models of real-life weapons in video games "blurs the lines between fiction and reality in ways that can have tragic consequences."

Further, Sharkey portrays the digital portrayal of real weapons in video games as a form of marketing.

"We have to take steps to institute meaningful change in the way that we portray, and effectively market, assault weapons to children and young adults," he wrote.

"We have to take steps to institute meaningful change."

The Speaker acknowledges that video games are afforded First Amendment freedom of speech protection, likely a reference to the 2011 Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association Supreme Court case whose decision (PDF link) stated that most video games "qualify for First Amendment protection." However, "there is little to be said in defense of the industry-wide practice of arranging licensing deals with gun manufacturers" for the rights to use their products in video games," he wrote.

Sharkey lauded Electronic Arts' decision to no longer pay firearm manufacturers for the rights to license in its games, a decision that he characterized as "the first in what we hope will become industry standard against this reckless practice."

Although EA's decision will cut off some funding to weapon manufacturers, it will not end the practice of using real weapons in games. EA still plans to include the designs and names of real-life weapons, but free-of-charge as an exercise in freedom of expression.

"We're telling a story and we have a point of view," EA president of labels Frank Gibeau said in May 2013. "A book doesn't pay for saying the word 'Colt,' for example."

In a January 2013 interview, Ralph Vaugn, who negotiated deals between video game developers and M82 sniper rifle creator Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, said that it's "hard to qualify to what extent rifle sales have increased as a result of being in games. But video games expose our brand to a young audience who are considered possible future owners."