After industry meeting, Trump highlights alleged game violence effects
If game industry representatives hoped their meeting with President Trump today would help change his mind after recent statements of concern over violence in video games, they came away sorely disappointed. In a statement following that meeting, the White House said that President Trump "acknowledged some studies have indicated there is a correlation between video game violence and real violence."
"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 statement reads. "The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence. This meeting is part of ongoing discussions with local leaders and Congress on issues concerning school and public safety and protecting America's youth."
The White House statement goes against the overwhelming consensus of the research community, which has shown wide agreement that exposure to violent games in youth has little to no relationship with violent outcomes later in life.
"Surveys of scholars in the field suggest that only 10 to 15 percent of scholars agree that violent games contribute to societal violence, so scholars who'd support Trump appear to be in the minority," Stetson University Psychology Professor Chris Ferguson told Ars last month.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), an industry lobbying group that sent a representative to the meeting, said it used the opportunity to "[discuss] the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between video games and violence." Though Trump highlighted the opposite conclusion in the White House statement following the meeting, the ESA said it "appreciate[s] the president's receptive and comprehensive approach to this discussion."
Other lawmakers who attended the meeting disagreed with the President's takeaway on the science as well. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) acknowledged to The Washington Post that there was no evidence showing a link between violent games and the recent Parkland High School shooting, but he said he wanted to make sure "parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to."
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), a critic of game violence who attended the meeting, told the Post that she "know[s] there are studies that have said there is no causal link" from game violence to real violence. In practically the same breath, though, she said that "as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person."
A “deeply disturbed” president
Hartzler told Glixel that the behind-closed-doors White House meeting began with a viewing of a montage of violent scenes from various games. The White House included a link to just such a montage in its statement, compiling graphic YouTube footage from games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Fallout 4, Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Evil Within, and others.
"While the clips were playing, [Trump] was pointing out how violent those scenes were," meeting attendee and Parents Television Council program director Melissa Henson said in a conference call. "While he was doing that, there was silence around the room."
"I believe the solution to curtailing violence lies in an all-encompassing approach, focused on several different factors that may contribute to school shootings," Hartzler said in a tweeted statement which acknowledged "significant progress" during today's meeting. "Discussions should not be limited to just video games and guns. The president's approach of leaving no stone unturned is prudent, and similar meetings with the movie industry pertaining to gun violence on film should also be conducted."
Brent Bozell, the founder of the Parents Television Council, told the Post he used the meeting to push for "much tougher regulation" of the game industry, insisting that game violence "needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor." Such an approach would run afoul of a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting full First Amendment protections to video games, a fact which the ESA highlighted at the meeting and which Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged in a statement recorded by Glixel outside it.
"I compliment the president for looking at the cultural aspects of this, but the First Amendment exists," Graham said. "I don't know how far you can go in banning a video. I don't know how far you can go in banning a movie [or] what books you should read that incite violence."
Still, Bozell told the Post that he felt the president was "deeply disturbed by some of the things you see in these video games that are so darn violent, viciously violent, and clearly inappropriate for children, and I think he's bothered by that."
Changing the subject
Outside the meeting, Democratic senators accused Trump of wasting time and using a meeting on video game violence to distract from needed action on gun control. "It's a diversion," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Glixel. "It's so you don't have to talk about the obvious: what to do with these semi-automatic weapons, with bump-stocks, and high-capacity magazines, and the sale of AR-15s to kids, background checks–the obvious things that would make a profound difference."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) agreed, saying that "I do think the president is trying to change the subject and shift focus," in a statement to Glixel. "That's not to say that cultural factors are irrelevant, but I think Congress has a job to do and we ought to be doing it." Rich Blumenthal (D-Conn.) rounded out the chorus of skeptical senators, telling the Post that "focusing entirely on video games distracts from the substantive debate we should be having about how to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
While some attendees said they hoped to build on the "progress" of today's meeting in the future, neither side of the debate seems to have made much of an impact on the other or on the president's previously stated views on the matter. Yet Supreme Court precedent would seem to limit any substantive, content-based regulation of games on the government's part. Presidential concerns or not, the federal government's interest in the issue of game violence seems limited to a lot of talk for the time being.