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8:12 am
Thu May 2, 2013

A Real-World Connection Between Video Games And Guns

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 12:43 pm

In the aftermath of last year's Newtown, Conn., school shootings, the Entertainment Software Association, which serves computer and video game publishers, issued a statement saying that years of research has shown no connection between entertainment and real-world violence.

But there's still a connection between video game makers and real-world gun makers.

Ralph Vaughn worked in public relations for Barrett Firearms Manufacturing for six years. He says part of his job was to relay messages between Barrett executives and video game companies to help the two sides come to a deal.

According to Vaughn, "[Barrett was] approached by many, many companies: video game [companies], gun safe companies, Airsoft companies."

All those companies wanted permission to use the Barrett brand.

A Different Kind Of Gun License

Gun sales spiked after the Newtown shooting, and first-person shooter games are doing blockbuster business. Last year, Call of Duty earned half a billion dollars in a day.

That same game features the long barrel and angled cartridge of a .50-caliber sniper rifle that's a virtual copy of a real Barrett gun. According to Vejay Lalla, a lawyer who works with clients to clear brands in video games, that's very much intentional.

"Game developers essentially want to make sure that games are as realistic as possible," he says.

So if the makers of Madden NFL want to use, say, the New England Patriots in their video game, they have to strike a deal with the NFL; and if the makers of Need For Speed want a bright orange Camaro in their game, they're going to have to talk to Chevrolet.

Lalla hasn't personally brokered any deals between gun companies and video game companies, but he says product placement for guns works the same way. Video game makers use realistic, brand-name weapons, and then depending on how the brand is portrayed, they decide whether to license the name.

"If the gun is instrumental in the game or visible or used often, then typically there is a clearance process involved," Lalla says.

According to Lalla, having real brands in games enriches the fantasy worlds game makers create. And for companies like Barrett Firearms, there's also value to making a deal, though Vaughn says it isn't for the money — it's "for the recognition or any potential advertising availability."

A Hole In 'Authentic Action'

In some cases, brand partnerships extend beyond a glimpse of a logo in a video game. Take the game Medal of Honor: Last year, its site featured links to gun manufacturers' websites. (Online sales are a big source of revenue for gun companies.)

Electronic Arts also partnered with the gun company Magpul to produce a promotional video that features Medal of Honor's executive producer and a representative from Magpul showing off gun accessories together.

Medal of Honor's "authentic action" is a selling point for Electronic Arts. (Electronic Arts and the other companies in this story did not agree to be interviewed on tape.) To get a military man's take on the authenticity of these games, NPR spoke with Navy veteran, gun owner and war gamer Nathan Zelk.

"Games today are very, very real," Zelk says. "It's the weapons; it's the story lines, you know, that people get caught up in — even the optics that are used on the guns, it says L-3 EOTech. It actually has the name of the brand on the side of it so you know which optic, you know, you could go out and buy."

But Zelk says not everything in the games is based in reality. "When you get trained in the military, you're taught about [the] use of lethal force. It's a very big deal in the military — you don't draw your weapon on anybody unless there's [an] imminent threat to you, your crew, your ship that you're on, those type of things."

And, Zelk says, that's not a lesson he's sees video games replicating.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, video games and the national debate on gun violence. Following the Newtown school shootings, the Entertainment Software Association issued a statement that said years of research have shown no connection between entertainment and real-world violence. There is a connection, however, between video game makers and real-world gun makers, as NPR's Sami Yenigun reports.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: This is a Barrett sniper rifle.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

YENIGUN: This is "Call of Duty," the biggest war game on the market, and it features a virtual Barrett sniper rifle.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

YENIGUN: And this is Ralph Vaughn.

RALPH VAUGHN: I worked for Barrett Firearms Manufacturing in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

YENIGUN: Vaughn worked in public relations for Barrett for six years. He says part of his job was to relay messages between Barrett executives and video game companies to help the two sides come to a deal.

VAUGHN: The Barrett Company being world-famous, we were approached by many, many companies - video games, gun safe companies, airsoft companies.

YENIGUN: Companies who wanted permission to use the Barrett brand. In "Call of Duty," the long barrel and angled cartridge of the 50-cal sniper rifle is a virtual copy of the real Barrett gun. And this is intentional, says Vejay Lalla, a lawyer who works with clients to clear brands in video games.

VEJAY LALLA: Game developers essentially want to make sure that games are as realistic as possible.

YENIGUN: If Madden Football wants to use, say, the Patriots in their video game, they have to strike a deal with the NFL. If the game "Need For Speed" wants that bright orange Camaro in their game, they're going to want to talk to Chevrolet.

Lalla has not personally brokered any deals between gun companies and video game companies, but he says that product placement for guns works in the same way. Video game makers use realistic, brand-name weapons, and then, depending on how the brand is portrayed, they decide whether or not to license the name.

LALLA: Typically, if the gun is instrumental in the game or visible or used often, then typically, there is a clearance process involved.

YENIGUN: Lalla says having real brands in games enriches the fantasy worlds created by video game makers. And for companies like, say, Barrett Firearms, there's also value to making a deal. Again, Ralph Vaughn.

VAUGHN: It was not for the money. I mean, the money was just miniscule, but for the recognition, for any potential advertising availability.

YENIGUN: In some cases, brand partnerships extend beyond a glimpse of a logo in a game. Take "Medal of Honor."

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "MEDAL OF HONOR")

YENIGUN: Late last year, the website for "Medal of Honor" featured links to gun manufacturers' websites. Online sales are a big source of revenue for gun companies. After the Newtown shooting, the game's publisher, Electronic Arts, took the links down.

Electronic Arts also partnered with the gun company Magpul to produce a promotional video. The video features "Medal Of Honor's" executive producer and a representative from Magpul showing off gun accessories together.

GREG GOODRICH: I'm here with Drake Clark from Magpul, a great partner. They brought CTRs, we got PMAGs, we got EMAGs. What else did you bring today for us?

YENIGUN: Electronic Arts and the other companies in this story did not agree to be interviewed on tape.

"Medal Of Honor's," quote, unquote, "authentic action" is a selling point for Electronic Arts. To get a military man's take on the authenticity of video games, I spoke to Navy veteran, gun owner and war gamer Nathan Zelk.

NATHAN ZELK: Games today are very, very real, ok? It's the weapons. It's the storylines, you know, that people get caught up in. Even the optics that are used on the guns, it says L-3 Eotech. It actually has the name of the brand on the side of it. So you know which optic, you know, you could go out and buy.

YENIGUN: But Zelk points out that not everything in the games is based in reality.

ZELK: When you get trained in the military, you're taught about use of lethal force. It's a very big deal in the military. You don't draw your weapon on anybody unless there's an imminent threat to you, your crew, your ship that you're on, those type of things.

YENIGUN: Do any of the video games that you've seen ever try to communicate the gravity of use of lethal force in the way that you're describing?

ZELK: No. No. I can't say that I've ever seen that.

YENIGUN: Gun sales spiked after the Newtown shooting, and shoot-'em-up games are doing blockbuster business. Last year, "Call Of Duty" earned half a billion dollars in a day, plenty of real-world money to be made on realistic virtual guns. Sami Yenigun, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.