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Video Gaming Panel Discusses Violence, Sexism and the Future of Gaming

March 25, 2013


Days before the influential PAX East video game convention opened its doors in Boston, Curry College convened a panel of experts to discuss the issues concerning the multi-billion dollar industry.

Dr. Robert MacDougall, Professor of Communication at Curry College and the coordinator of the Video Games Studies concentration, was joined by Hal Halpin '92, President of the Entertainment Consumers Association, the industry trade group for video gaming, Jen MacLean, a video gaming industry executive and veteran of more than twenty years, and Amy Kaufman, an artist at the Tap Lab in Cambridge, MA. The discussion was moderated by Professor Jerry Gibbs, chair of the Communication Department.


One of the first topics for the panel involved the issue of violence and video games-a controversial topic in the wake of the Newton, CT school massacre.

It's a very personal issue for Halpin because the Entertainment Consumers Association is based in Wilton, less than an hour from Newtown. But, he says it's wrong to blame video games for the violent acts of others.

"I think it's more of a psychological problem," Halpin said. "We as a society and a culture are not willing to take the problem head on and see how we can identify people with problems without it being a humiliating experience for the family.

Halpin said it's important to look at the potential impact of other media-such as television shows or movies.

Dr. MacDougall agreed.

"The media tends to focus on these things when they happen; they tend to be the outliers.  There's no clear causal relationship between game violence and violence in the real world. We can see those examples emerge, but there are what we call confounding variables that emerge that we have to take into account [as well]."

Another pressing issue for the gaming industry is the role of women. As Kaufman and MacLean explained, women occupy very few positions in gaming companies.

"Part of the problem is that we don't have enough qualified women candidates. What you hear again and again is 'I'd love to hire more women, I just can't find them,'" MacLean said. "How do we create an environment that is welcoming to diversity in general? Women, I think, are the most vocal minority, but it's a very white industry, it's a very straight industry and you can still find a lot of examples of people who feel like they don't belong in the industry and they are actively discriminated against because they are not white men."

Kaufman says that lack of diversity trickles down to the games themselves.

"Women in video games, even ones who are supposed to be empowered icons, have this dichotomous relationship between being both that and being a sex object. They'll have these hyper-sexualized proportions, and these crazy, impractical outfits a lot of the time. Or, if it's on a more innocent level, they just have this single function every time to be a damsel in distress, or to advance the arcs of male protagonists who never really do anything for themselves."

MacLean says that some companies are beginning to change that. She cited one game that had a female hero-even allowing gamers to design their own covers featuring the character.

"My 8-year old girl looked at our covers and asked, 'why is your cover different than daddy's, you have a girl on your cover.' Well that's because my hero is a girl. That's such a powerful message to give to an 8-year old girl. And that's something that we overlook in the industry."


Curry College launched two concentrations in the video gaming field during the 2012-2013 academic year:  a Video Games Studies concentration in the Communication major and a Video Games Programming concentration in the Information Technology major.


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