Details Emerge in Trump's Meeting With Video Game Industry

ESA, ESRB, experts and maybe press will be in attendance

Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The meeting planned for Thursday between President Donald Trump and the video game industry continues to come together, now including the heads of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board along with the Entertainment Software Association and a number of notable experts. 

The event may also be open to some invited press, though it's unclear how that process will be handled and who would be in attendance. Speaking about the upcoming event during Wednesday's press briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders answered a couple of questions about why it is taking place.

"The president wants to continue the conversation on every different area that we can to help promote school safety," she said, "and I'm not going to get ahead of the discussion that they're going to have tomorrow but we think it is an important discussion to have and one that the President looks forward to."

When pressed on whether President Trump is having the meeting because he thinks video games are too violent, Sanders said, "It certainly is something that should be looked at and something that we want to have the conversation about."

While it's remains unclear just how this meeting will go and what sort of impact it may have on the President, it would be legally questionable to try and curtail the sorts of content created for video games. In 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment. And while Trump raised the issue of video games needing ratings, the Entertainment Software Rating Board has been rating games for nearly a quarter of a century.

It's also worth noting that this wouldn't be the first time that members of the White House have held discussions with the video game industry in the wake of a school shooting. Following the 2013 school shooting in Newtown, then President Barack Obama asked then Vice President Joe Biden to conduct a series of meeting with a variety of sectors including mental health, education, movies, TV, gun owners and the video game industry. Following that meeting, Obama issues 23 gun violence reduction executive actions in a nationally televised address. Among the 23 was a Presidential Memorandum calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct further research into the relationship between video games, media images and violence.

That research was never conducted because Congress never provided the money for the research. A CDC spokesperson told Glixel last month that the request for the money was not even on the most recent budget.

What did come out of that request by then-President Obama was a 2013 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which outlined how such research would be conducted if funded.

Just three pages of the 110-page report, entitled Priorities For Research To Reduce The Threat Of Firearm-Related Violence, deal with video games and other media. 

In those pages, the group notes that despite 50 years of research into the effects of media violence on real-life violence there is little research focused on real-life firearm violence in particular. 

"As a result, a direct relationship between media violence and real-life firearm violence has not been established," according to the report. The report goes on to suggest a a number of topics that could be further examines including long-term studies, a look at what might make someone more susceptible to influence if it exists and if there is any relationship if it is significant enough to require intervention. 

This week's meeting came together seemingly very quickly with little to no advanced warning from the White House. 

The Entertainment Software Association, which said last week it hadn't been contacted by the White House following news that there was going to be a meeting, confirmed earlier this week that it will be attending the meeting. An ESA spokesperson said the meeting would provide the "opportunity to have a fact-based conversation about video game ratings, our industry’s commitment to parents, and the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices". The ESA also reaffirmed that there is no evidence connecting video game play with violence.

The news last week that President Trump wanted to meet with the video game industry was announced seemingly as an aside by Sanders, who noted that the video game industry was among the stakeholders meeting with Trump on the issue of gun violence. She said Trump wanted to see what the game industry could do "on that front as well.

"This is going to be an ongoing process and something that we don't expect to happen overnight, but something that we're going to continue to be engaged in and continue look for the best ways possible to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect schools across the country," she said.

Last month, Trump brought up the potential impact of violent media and video games on school-aged children.

"We have to do something about maybe what they're seeing and how they're seeing it," he said at the time. "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."

He went on to say movies are "so violent, and yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn't involved." He then wondered if some type of ratings system is necessary to fix the issue, but it's not clear if he's referring to an overhaul of the current ratings systems for games and movies (which do take violent content into account) or an entirely new system. Also last month, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a press conference along with members of Congress to discuss school safety.

In the discussion Rep. Marsha Blackburn(R-Tenn.) noted that one of the things that a lot of "young moms" have asked that the group look at is "entertainment and the video games, the rating system, the movies - how things are approved and what children are being exposed to, and especially children that have some of these mental health issues. And they feel that has a role to play."

Trump followed up saying that he thinks that's an important point.

"The video games, the movies, the Internet stuff is so violent," he said. "It’s so incredible. I see it. I get to see things that you wouldn’t be — you’d be amazed at. I have a young — very young son, who — I look at some of the things he’s watching, and I say, how is that possible? And this is what kids are watching. And I think you maybe have to take a look at it. You know, you rate movies for different things. Maybe you have to also rate them for terror, for what they’re doing and what they’re all about. "It’s hard to believe that, at least for a percentage — and maybe it’s a small percentage of children — this doesn’t have a negative impact on their thought process. But these things are really violent."