Presenters at E3 began their speeches this week with moments of silence for victims of the Orlando shooting. But in the days that followed, it was largely business as usual for an industry whose biggest hits frequently feature graphic depictions of gun violence.
LOS ANGELES — As the nation was starting to understand the scale of the worst mass shooting in modern American history, the video-game industry was gathering in Southern California to show off its latest wares.
Several presenters at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) began their speeches with moments of silence or words of sympathy for the victims of Sunday’s attack that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
But in the days afterward, it was largely business as usual for an industry whose biggest hits frequently feature graphic depictions of gun violence, a contrast noted by some attendees and commenters on Twitter.
That the shooting receded into the background here may be a sign of the industry’s success in fighting against the perception that video games are a contributor to real-life violence, say game executives.
Academics who study the connection between media and violence have at times described negative social impacts of video gaming, but generally haven’t found firm evidence of video games being a factor in motivating real-life violent acts. And the Supreme Court struck down a ban on the sale of certain video games, finding that games were protected speech under the First Amendment.
“When we have these kind of terrible events, people immediately want to look for solutions to them,” said James Ivory, an associate professor at Virginia Tech who has studied video-game violence. “But unfortunately, the empirical evidence is not very clear in terms of explaining any links between media exposure and violent crime.”
The video-game industry occasionally has been a target of scrutiny amid periodic debates about epidemic U.S. gun violence.
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That concern reached a high volume after it emerged that the two perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 were fans of early first-person shooter games such as “Doom.”
Parents of some of the victims of that Colorado shooting sued game publishers. Though the lawsuit failed, concern over violent crime has occasionally followed the industry as it matured from a niche market to a big business that brings in tens of billions of dollars annually in the U.S. alone.
Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association trade group, said some companies at E3 changed their marketing around this year’s show, tweaking taglines for games and eliminating twitter hashtags that might seem insensitive so near to the shooting. He didn’t specify which companies.
Publishers are trying “to be sensitive to the national mood at the moment,” Gallagher said. “There’s absolutely a sense of shared grief.”
Still, it wasn’t hard to find depictions of violence on the show floor.
A banner depicting soldiers from “Call of Duty,” Activision’s best-selling series, topped the south entrance to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
At a Microsoft media event, the company unveiled a new game controller stylized after its “Gears of War” sci-fi third-person shooter franchise. The controller, designed to look like it was splattered with blood, was introduced in a video with glamour shots that included a close-up of a controller trigger pressing down to the sound of gunfire.
Shooter-style games are a hit among consumers, accounting for a quarter of all video-game sales, according to data from NPD Group.
Chris Bruzzo, chief marketing officer of game publisher Electronic Arts, said people understand those depictions, like film and other media, are fiction. “It’s a fundamentally different universe than reality,” he said.
The industry’s primary response to concerns about the content of its games is the Entertainment Software Rating Board content-reviewing group, which, like film-ratings bodies, flags when a game contains violence or sexual content and sets appropriate age ranges for consumers.
“I think we’re in a much better place, with people’s universal understanding that this industry does not cause any of the violence that you see in our society,” Gallagher said.
Academics who study the links between violence and video games say there isn’t quite that universal certainty.
But researchers in the past decade have indeed tended to find few concrete links, said Dmitri Williams, an associate professor with the University of Southern California. Williams is a co-author of a 2005 study that found a set of gamers that had played a violent game no more likely to be aggressive than a control group.
Others, including the American Psychological Association, disagree on aggression, though links to physical violence are tenuous.
Williams, who also founded Ninja Metrics, a company that studies social influence in video games, later shifted the focus of his research elsewhere, in part over frustration with the political pressures around the debate.
“You have partisans who really want to say ‘games are good’ or ‘games are bad,’ ” he said. “I don’t find it to be a particularly useful conversation.”
Ivory, the Virginia Tech professor, said periodic concern about video games had drawn resources away from fixing things known to cause crime.
“Every bit of attention that goes to violent video games, based on not much evidence, goes away from the things we know that cause crime: child abuse, substance abuse, poverty,” he said. “We’re looking at something that has a really small and variable effect at most.”