A culture war is raging in the United States right now and video games are losing.
That's according to Gilman Louie, former video game developer, founder of a venture capital firm that works with U.S. intelligence agencies, and advisor to the CIA, NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency. Louie, who founded and ran Spectrum HoloByte before leaving the business of game development, was named one of fifty scientific visionaries by Scientific American in 2002.
"The anti-gaming establishment owns the vocabulary and have done a very successful job of convincing many that interactive games are harmful (especially to children) and that screen time is to blame for most of the social ills," Louie tells Polygon. "Whether it be the awful events that took place at Sandy Hook or bullying in schools, video games have been the easy target for those who wish to pass blame."
Louie spoke at last week's DICE Summit in Las Vegas, flying in for the day to deliver a message that more needs to be done to combat what he sees as misconceptions about video games and what the industry needs to do to win the "culture battle around gaming."
The talk was sparked by a tumultuous year for gaming. Last year kicked off with President Barack Obama calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research into the relationship between video games, media images and violence. The mandate was part of the Presidential Memorandum spurred by the Newtown shootings. In the months following the call for greater research into games and violence, a variety of lawmakers attacked gaming. One survey found that 89 percent of American parents believed violent video games were a problem.
"My principal message is that the industry needs to invest more in a grass-roots campaign at the local level — in the homes, at schools, on the playgrounds, in the popular press to communicate the positive value of game playing," Louie said. "It needs to be proactive — not only in sponsoring game-related activities for children (such as eSports) but also in non-game activities such as sponsoring physical-education activities, traditional school sports teams, maker labs and learning technologies. The industry needs to be more proactive rather than reactive."
Louie recommended that 0.1 percent of the $93 billion video game market be invested in various institutions and nonprofits to work to promote the positive aspects of gaming and how gaming can provide a competitive advantage for children.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the public continues.
"I was advocating the need for more research," he said, "a closer affiliation with the education industry, a significant increase in scholarships for those pursuing career fields related to gaming, increased sponsorships for K-12 athletes, grants for increased technology capabilities of public schools, direct media campaigns to promote positive and safe use of games."
While Louie told Polygon that his speech wasn't meant to be an attack on the effectiveness of the Entertainment Software Association, many in attendance, including ESA president Mike Gallagher, felt it was.
"He provided a perspective from Washington, D.C., decrying what he feels is an industry with a ‘weak voice,' no commitment to partnerships and education, and one that is an easy target for attack from legislators and culture critics," Gallagher wrote in an open letter. "It is unfortunate that those who heard the remarks were left with a mistaken impression and a skewed — if not even a completely inaccurate — view of our industry's standing with policymakers around the country."
Gallagher noted that the ESA already does many of the things that Louie said needs doing, including investing in research, establishing safe use standards, investing in educational initiatives and sponsoring physical education and sports activities. He added that the industry has plenty of political support as well.
"The industry enjoys support in both Congress and in the White House — as evidenced by the strong and productive relationships ESA has had with both White House video game czars and our presence and support at the launch of the Digital Promise Initiative, which went without mention in Mr. Louie's presentation," he said.
Following the speech, Louie told Polygon that he gives credit to the ESA for blocking an overreaction by the government, but that the battle for the hearts and minds of the public continues.
"The ESA has done a great job winning over many on the hill," Louie said, "but we still have a ways to go — especially at the campaign level where political messaging are shaped."
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.