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Facebook apologizes for promoting a VR shooting game at CPAC

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Bullet Train 1

Facebook has apologized for showing a demo of Oculus Rift shooter Bullet Train at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a week after 17 students were killed in a Florida school shooting. In a statement, Facebook VP of virtual reality Hugo Barra said that the demo was part of “a standard set of experiences” that Oculus featured at public events. “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 tweeted a similar statement. “We got this wrong,” he wrote.

Barra was responding to a video clip posted by NowThis News producer Sean Morrow, showing a short clip of a CPAC visitor firing an automatic weapon in VR.

Bullet Train is a short proof-of-concept shooting game developed by Epic Games in 2015. The sci-fi experience isn’t gory, but it involves shooting human enemies with a wide range of realistic-looking guns — something that strikes a sour note in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting. Video game companies have struggled with this problem before, including during the 2016 E3 gaming convention, where companies awkwardly showed off first-person shooters just hours after the deadly Pulse nightclub attack. (At least one company pulled a VR shooter demo from the show that year.)

This demo was also dissonant because President Donald Trump, who spoke at CPAC, recently blamed mass shootings on violent video games and movies — and so have other conservative political figures, like Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.

The games industry has a controversial symbiotic relationship with arms manufacturers, who look to games as a way of promoting firearms, with some companies distancing themselves from gun makers in recent years. But there’s no conclusive link between video games and violent behavior, and the overall relationship between games and ethical attitudes is complicated. Ironically enough, however, Bullet Train’s developers actually worried about making “a murder simulation” in virtual reality. They eventually turned the short demo into a full game called Robo Recall — where you’re fighting robots instead of people, using guns that look more like sci-fi movie props than present-day weapons.