With the recent shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the issue of gun ownership and gun violence has once again dominated the news in both the US and abroad. With such a sensitive issue, Facebook and its virtual reality (VR) subsidiary Oculus have been unwittingly drawn into the furore due to a selection of titles being shown at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
When Oculus takes a demo booth to an event it’ll have a standard set of experiences for attendees to play, showcasing the range of gameplay available for Oculus Rift. One of those was Epic Games tech demo Bullet Train, where players have to move around a fictional train station taking out enemies with an assortment of weaponry, in addition to several other violent experiences.
Due to the fact that during CPAC there were several talks on the issue of guns – National Rifle Association (NRA) head Wayne LaPierre, spoke on Thursday with President Trump speaking Friday – Facebook was publicly criticised for demoing the violent videogame and others so soon after the shootings at the conference.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Facebook’s vice president of VR, Hugo Barra said: “There is a standard set of experiences included in the Oculus demos we feature at public events. A few of the action games can include violence. In light of the recent events in Florida and out of respect for the victims and their families, we have removed them from this demo. We regret that we failed to do so in the first place.”
Barra also took to Twitter to apologise further: “We removed the demo & regret failing to do so at the start. We got this wrong. Our demos come w a [sic] standard set of content, some are action games w [sic] violence. These shouldn’t have been present, especially in light of recent events & out of respect for the victims & their families.”
While Bullet Train wasn’t the only title to be removed, shooting videogames in general are popular in VR thanks to motion controllers and the general popularity of the genre among gamers. It’s not been made clear which other titles were included in the demo. Oculus Rift has a wide selection of experiences available, both educational and interactive, whether users are looking to explore the world with Google Earth VR or the solar system in Discovering Space 2, to cute titles like Tethered and puzzle experiences such as XING: The Land Beyond. There are plenty to choose from when considering a demo selection for particular events so hopefully Facebook/Oculus will be more mindful in the future.