After Newtown, video game industry starts education campaign

The video game industry said Monday it will roll out a nationwide public education campaign amid calls that violent games play a role in gun deaths. 

The campaign is aimed at educating parents about tools that can help them manage the type of content their children are exposed to when playing video games.

Since the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 school children and six adults dead, the video game and entertainment industries have been criticized by lawmakers and the National Rifle Association for producing graphic violent content that they say fuels violent behavior in real life. 

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The new campaign will be focused around a series of public service announcements (PSAs) that encourage parents to review the video game rating system crafted by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ads will also show parents how to use the parental controls offered within video game consoles.

“This campaign will connect with consumers in an immediate and sustained way in addition to the traditional mechanisms over TV outlets," Michael Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), said in a statement. "By channeling our industry’s compelling and innovative medium, we will instantly provide proven, practical, and effective information to millions of consumers.” 

The film and television industries made a similar announcement last month about launching a media campaign dedicated to educating parents about its ratings systems and how they can use parental control technology to control the TV shows and movies their children watch.

Representatives from both the video game and entertainment industries met with Vice President Biden in January as part of his gun control task force effort.

The video game industry's PSAs will be featured across various video game platforms and video game-focused websites, online stores, industry news and fan discussion websites. ESA, which represents the video game industry in Washington, said it will also work with broadcasters to air the public service ads on local channels.

In addition, the trade group said it will encourage retailers to feature the PSAs in their stores and websites, and also encourage lawmakers to provide information about the ratings system and parental controls to their constituents.

ESA hopes to expand the ESRB's rating system beyond the video game console and work with policymakers to apply the ratings to games available on smartphones, tablets and social networks.

The video game industry's announcement included praise from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who commended it for taking steps to raise parents' awareness about the ratings system and other tools they can use to better inform them about the types of video games their children play.

“The more parents know about the wealth of dynamic tools the video game industry has developed for monitoring game play, the more empowered they will be to make informed decisions about which video games are appropriate for their family," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

The video game industry has been under pressure from other lawmakers, however. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting that would require the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects violent video games and video programming have on children.

“Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children,” Rockefeller said in a statement when he introduced the bill. “They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on the Congress to take a more aggressive role.”