President Donald Trump spent an hour today talking to partisans on both sides of the violent video game debate, without any sort of conclusive outcome. The White House also ran a reel of violent video game footage.
The meeting was held following the president’s remarks linking video games to violence in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida last month that left 17 people dead. “ I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” Trump said.
While tongues in Washington wag at the chance to tell wild Trump stories, attendees made this meeting, which was closed to press, sound tame. In attendance to rep the video game industry were the head of the ESA, publishers’ D.C.-based lobbying group, the head of the ESRB ratings board, and the chief executives of Bethesda and Take Two. Repping the anti-gaming side were an author of books that claim violent video games train killers and a member of the Parents Television Council, which supported the California law to criminalize the sale of violent video games to children that was ruled unconstitutional in 2011.
“During today’s meeting, the group spoke with the President about the effect that violent video games have on our youth, especially young males,” the White House said in a statement. “The President acknowledged some studies have indicated there is a correlation between video game violence and real violence. The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence.”
Despite the White House’s statement, there have actually been no studies indicating a correlation between video game violence and real violence.
Melissa Henson, program director for the PTC, said in a conference call this afternoon that “the tone in the meeting was information-gathering. It was a fact-finding meeting.” Attendees described the expected clash of views, with the gaming people standing by the ratings system and saying games aren’t the problem, while the violent-game critics asserting that violent games are bad for kids.
Asked by Kotaku if the President said anything surprising or impressive, she said, “No, not in particular. He was asking questions, genuinely interested in hearing from all sides and getting all perspectives.”
The most provocative thing about the meeting may have been the presentation of an 88-second reel of footage from violent video games. It contains footage from M-rated games such as Wolfenstein, Fallout 4, and Call of Duty, including the notorious No Russian mission that allowed players to witness or participate in a massacre of civilians at an airport. The video is currently hosted on the White House’s YouTube page, unlisted. The clips appear to be ripped from YouTubers’ footage of the game as well as from the gaming outlet Giant Bomb.
Early in the meeting, clips of violent games were displayed for the attendees to watch. “While the clips were playing, he was pointing out how violent those scenes were,” Henson said of the president. “While he was doing that, there was silence around the room.” Henson said she was unable to identify any of the games in the clips and, when asked, said no specific games were mentioned during the hour-long session.
The ESA did not offer any interviews regarding the meeting, sticking to a bland statement: “We welcomed the opportunity today to meet with the President and other elected officials at the White House. We discussed the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between video games and violence, First Amendment protection of video games, and how our industry’s rating system effectively helps parents make informed entertainment choices. We appreciate the President’s receptive and comprehensive approach to this discussion.”
In prepared remarks, Henson noted: “What I heard in today’s meeting is that the entertainment industry is still fighting to maintain the status quo and is not ready or willing to confront the impact that media violence has on our children.”
While the PTC’s position is that science shows that video games can cause aggression, there has been no scientifically proven link between games and violence, let alone school shootings. Decades of research has failed to come up with any correlation between violent video games and actual violence.The ESA, as well as many players of violent video games, have pointed out that violent games are popular globally but that gun violence is only rampant in the United States.
Even the PTC, in a conference call, ranked violent media (including movies and TV) as its third-leading contributor to gun violence, trailing access to guns by those who shouldn’t have them, followed by mental health.
It’s unclear what, if anything, will happen next. A similar listening session hosted in early 2013 by vice president Joe Biden following the Sandy Hook school massacre in the fall of 2012 went nowhere. This meeting, which ended just before Trump’s announcement of his controversial steel tariffs, also concluded with a whimper. “We just sort of all shook hands,” Henson said. “ I think the door was left open for further conversations about this.”
Representatives from Take Two and Bethesda did not reply to requests for comment by press time.
Update 6:14pm, March 9: Here’s a photo from the meeting: