The publishers of video games such games as Doom and Grand Theft Auto joined President Trump Thursday in a White House roundtable discussion about violent video games and whether they play a part in desensitizing some players and contribute to the likelihood they might commit violence.
Thursday's meeting was part of the president's response to last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 were killed. Trump has made a range of remarks as Democratic and some Republican lawmakers call for more gun control, suggesting he would take guns away from mentally ill people — with or without a court order — and supported arming teachers. He also criticized violence in video games, as well as in movies and online.
"I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts," he said during a meeting about school safety with local and state officials.
In the meeting Thursday afternoon, the president said some studies have indicated shown a correlation between video game violence and real violence, the White House said Thursday. No reporters were allowed in the meeting.
During the meeting, a short video was played showing some violent imagery from video games such as Call of Duty, Fallout and Wolfenstein. The clips, since posted on the White House YouTube channel, "appear to be ripped from YouTubers’ footage of the game as well as from the gaming outlet Giant Bomb," reported video game news site Kotaku.
This likely feels like déjà vu for the video game industry. Several attendees Thursday had also attended a January 2013 meeting convened by Vice President Joe Biden after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, a video game industry trade group; Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board; and Robert Altman, CEO of ZeniMax Media, which owns Bethesda Softworks (Fallout) and id Software (Doom). Also attending: Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto).
“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," the ESA said in a statement after the meeting.
The trade group officials and the video game publishing executives declined requests for interviews.
Also in attendance were several long-time industry critics including Brent Bozell, the founder and president of the Media Research Center, a conservative-leaning media watchdog group. He had criticized President Obama for targeting gun makers but going soft on violent video games, TV and movies.
During the meeting, President Trump "was asking questions and listening to the answers. He didn't give any speeches. He was genuinely inquisitive," Bozell said. "You hate to speak for everybody in that room but you got the sense everyone was appreciative of the way he was dealing with this, no matter where you go with this issue."
The Parents Television Council, a parents education group also founded by the Media Research Center's Bozell, on Wednesday called for the entertainment industry to stop marketing violence to children, citing an increase in violence on TV since the Sandy Hook shooting.
While the video game industry representatives were "not willing to concede video games have a role to play" in mass shootings, said Melissa Henson, a participant and program director at the Parents Television Council, she argued that there is a "burden of responsibility on them."
Even though there is a video game rating system, many children and teens get to play games labelled for older players, she says. "Video game industry representatives say (violent games) are ... only ever intended to be played by adult players, but they must surely be aware that kids are playing them despite whatever their intentions might be," Henson said.
Parents and retailers have some responsibility, too, in keeping violent games out of the hands of young people, Bozell says. Treating video games like alcohol or tobacco products could help restrict young people from getting violent games, he says. "I think the industry should support something like this," Bozell said.
Video games use rise as violent crime rate falls
While some research suggests that playing violent video games can increase aggression, the violent crime rate has fallen as video games have grown in popularity.
The first-person shooting computer game Doom gained notoriety after it was learned Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two teenagers who committed the Columbine High School shooting, were players.
However, the number of people who play first-person shooting games such as Doom and Call of Duty, and other games with violent content such as Grand Theft Auto, has increased over the decades.
Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed a link between violent games and aggression in the majority opinion he wrote in the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.
"These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively," he wrote.
Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. homes (67%) have a video game device, according to the ESA. The average gamer is 35 years old and those over the age of 18 make up more than 80% of all gamers.
Only 11% of video games released in 2016 were rated for ages 17 and older, according to the industry's voluntary rating system, which was adopted in 1994 after Senate hearings about graphic violence in video games such as Mortal Kombat and Night Trap.