The White House cares about games, but not for the reasons you think

Mark DeLoura, the White House's Senior Advisor for Digital Media, expounded on the government’s games policies at the Gamesbeat 2013 conference Tuesday, focusing on education and the game industry’s problem with “perceptions.”

DeLoura has been around the industry for a while, with stints working for Nintendo, Sony, Ubisoft and others on his resume.

Mark DeLoura

He was also a key figure in the White House’s investigationinto the games industry last year after the Newtown shootings, when Vice President Joe Biden sat down with industry figures like EA’s former CEO John Ricciotello to discuss violent video games.

“There’s a conversation about research and there’s a conversation about perception,” said DeLoura. “The conversation about research is, ‘Do researchers know whether violent games cause long-term violent behavior?’ The answer there is no.”

“The other conversation is about perception, and that conversation is, ‘Do people think that [violence in video games] causes problems?’ And if the public thinks it does cause a problem, then that’s a problem for the games industry. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.”

“Those of you who follow this space know there’s a long history of media forms over time that people have blamed for violent things all the way back to, honestly, writing. This is not a new thing and I personally don’t think it’s a problem. But people think it’s a problem? We need to figure out a way to do something about that.”

The ESRB has a mobile app, but DeLoura thinks they need to take the next step and start evaluating mobile games.

DeLoura’s approach is two-fold. He’d like to see the Electronic Software Ratings Board—the independent body that rates and restricts game content based on age—expand to cover mobile games, rather than relying on Apple and Google to enforce their own systems.

DeLoura is also focused on the potential of educational games, claiming that President Obama “wants to see Natasha and Malia playing a game that teaches them something.”

“Back in the '90s there was this huge ‘edutainment’ industry which thrived for seven or ten years and it fell apart due to a variety of reasons,” said DeLoura—think Mario Teaches Typing, Math Blaster, Lemonade Stand, Reader Rabbit, and a ton of other Broderbund and The Learning Company games (some of which can now be played at the Historical Software Archive).

Anyone remember MARIO TEACHES TYPING, aka the second-greatest educational game after Oregon Trail?

“I think it’s been conventional wisdom since then in the games industry you just cannot make money making educational games,” he continued. “So why are we interested in educational games? There’s a huge missed opportunity for kids there. The fact that money can’t be made doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.”

We’ve certainly seen a few educational games in the intervening years—such as Ubisoft’s guitar teaching tool/game Rocksmith—but DeLoura is spot on in his assertions that this sector of the industry has largely died off.

Will we see a resurgence in games like Math Blaster? The bite-sized format of those games would seem like a great fit on mobile platforms, and those who grew up in the '80s and '90s certainly have nostalgia towards those days spent playing educational games (see Frog Fractions), but it’s all about the money.

“The real question is, how do we bridge that gap? What do we do to convince the marketplace to create educational games when there’s not really clear—at the moment, or historically—reason to go in there to try and make money?”

I don’t know, but you can count my vote for Math Blaster: 2014 Edition, Mr. President.

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