At the White House earlier today, President Donald Trump sat down for a round table meeting with a few game industry execs, as well as a group of determined critics of games. Trump began the meeting by screening a montage of games, commenting “This is violent, isn’t it?”
The meeting was closed to members of the press, but the Washington Post spoke to a few attendees right after the gathering. At this point, information about the meeting is mostly coming from the game industry’s critics. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, furnished the information about the sizzle reel. “They were violent clips where individuals were killing other human beings in various ways,” she said.
For game industry insiders, the meeting is seen as a diversionary tactic to take attention away from the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association, which is facing strong public opposition in the aftermath of the murder of 17 people at a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, three weeks ago. On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz had a history of behavioral problems. He made hateful social media comments about minorities. He was also a keen video game player.
Trump called the meeting after making comments widely seen as an attempt to shift blame to the games industry. “We have to look at the Internet, because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds, and their minds are being formed,” said Trump during a meeting in the days after the shooting. “And we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”
From the games industry, the meeting was attended by Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda) and Strauss Zelnick, chief executive of Take-Two. Entertainment Software Association head Michael Gallagher was also there. The game industry has yet to make an official comment.
According to Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council, the meeting was “respectful but contentious.” Henson believes that violent video games are having a negative effect on society. She said that the game industry execs stood their ground in asserting that there is no connection between video game violence and real world violence, something that is broadly borne out by years of research into the matter.
But Trump, who backed down on calls to regulate the sale of guns following a meeting with the NRA, may be leaning on the side of gaming’s critics. Brent Bozell, president of the strongly anti-games Media Research Council, said, “I think he’s 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.” Bozell told the president that games need to be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol.
Update: The Entertainment Software Association has released comments to Polygon following today’s meeting with the Trump administration. It stands by previous statements that video games are not to blame for gun violence in the United States.
“We welcomed the opportunity today to meet with the President and other elected officials at the White House,” said the ESA. “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.”
Update 2: The White House released an unlisted version of the video montage that Trump presented to those gathered during the meeting. It is embedded below.
Update 3: The International Game Developers Association, a non-profit that represents members of the development industry, decried the association between video games and gun violence in a tweet thread following Trump’s meeting on the subject.
“Let’s be blunt on video games and gun violence-we will not be used as a scapegoat,” the IGDA account tweeted. “ The facts are very clear-no study has shown a causal relationship between playing video games and gun violence.”
The entire thread spans seven tweets, with the conclusion being this:
“Making video games-or any form of media-a scapegoat for consistently refusing to even CONSIDER the reasonable, rational firearm restrictions Americans want and deserve isn’t fooling anyone.”