Inside Trump's Meeting With Video Game Industry

It started with shocked silence following a video reel of violent video games

President Donald Trump (C) arrives for a signing ceremony for the 'Section 232 Proclamations' on steel and aluminum imports with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Roosevelt Room the the White House shortly after meeting on video games Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The hour-long meeting Thursday between President Donald Trump, politicians, video game executives and critics kicked off with a video of violent video game clips that at least one in attendance described as so violent it shocked some in the group to silence.

After showing the clips, Trump essentially went around the table asking for comments and thoughts from all of those in attendance. The meeting, those who were there tell Glixel, was clearly a listening session with no concrete action planned out of it, though future meetings sound like they may happen.

"They started by showing some violent video games and [Trump] was pointing out how violent those scenes were. I think for many of us there, there was a shocked silence," Melissa Henson, a spokesperson for the Parents Television Council, said during a press call following the meeting. "Those from the video game industry were quick to defend [the video games] saying they were meant for a mature audience and that they weren't intended for kids to see."

You can see the full 88-second video below which contains footage captured from a variety of Mature-rated game franchises including Call of Duty, Fallout, Sniper and Woflenstein. Glixel reached out to all of the publishers of the games included to ask for their thoughts on the reel. We will update this story when they respond. 

Henson, who says that her group believes that violent video games and other media are one of three core causes for violence in America, said that the meeting ended with no real outcome, but that those in attendance didn't really expect one. There was a clear sense, also, that this was not the only time Trump might be meeting to discuss the topic.

"The tone of the meeting was that it was for information gathering, fact finding," Henson said. "I don't believe anyone came in there with a policy outcome in mind. The President was not walking in there with his mind already made up. I am under the impression there will be future conversations, though no next steps were discussed."

The Entertainment Software Association declined to discuss the meeting, but did release a statement saying, in part that they welcomed the opportunity to meet with Trump.

"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," according to the statement. "We appreciate the President’s receptive and comprehensive approach to this discussion.” 

Others of those in attendance at the meeting were a bit more circumspect in their take, saying it was fruitful, but just the first step in a much needed larger conversation on the topic of gun violence in America.

“Today’s meeting was an opportunity to learn and hear from different sides about concerns and possible solutions to violence in schools," Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) said in a prepared statement following the meeting. " I believe significant progress was made today, and my hope is that we can build on this progress in the future.”

She went on to say that she appreciates Trump's work to bring together "groups of all kinds with the goal of finding solutions to the horrific acts of violence in our schools and society. I believe the solution to curtailing violence lies in an all-encompassing approach, focused on several different factors that may contribute to school shootings. 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."

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Hartzler said the federal government needed to address violence in video games. In a 2013 column for Politico, she wrote that "unproven and emotionally driven gun control legislation is a simplistic response."

"We must have a meaningful conversation about mental health issues and other possible cultural and societal contributors to violent behavior, such as violence in video games," she wrote at the time. "As Americans, we must commit ourselves to the difficult task of addressing the human factor behind gun violence, rather than simplistically and emotionally attacking the tool used by criminals."

Trump's meeting on Thursday with members and naysayers of the video game industry was meant to discuss violent video games and any connection they may have with desensitizing children or making them more aggressive. The meeting, which the White House describes as one of many with the game industry and other stakeholders in a national discussion surrounding school shootings, was closed to the press.

The meeting rekindled a debate about gun violence and video games that many, both inside the video game industry and those who research the topic, thought was long settled. While the game industry has long operated a voluntary ratings system through the Entertainment Software Rating Board and the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment in 2011, video games are still being pulled into the conversation surrounding the gun debate sparked by last month's Florida school shooting.

While the Entertainment Software Association has repeatedly noted that there is no connection between real world violence and video game violence, The Parents Television Council apparently went into the meeting saying essentially the exact opposite: That all reputable evidence points to the fact that there is a correlation. 

The group reiterated that during it's post-meeting call with press.

PTC president Tim Winter told the press on the call that the ESA's contention is "flatly untrue" and that there is both correlation and causation between playing violent video games and enacting violence in the real world. He went on to say that the group believes the number one issue surrounding this discussion is access to weapons, followed by mental health and then a "violent media culture that leads to aggressive behavior."

Winter's statements seem to contradict research done by the U.S. Secret Service into school shootings, researcher's own studies into the topic and many others. And while Winter noted the American Psychological Association's concern about a possible connection, he left out that in 2013 a group of more than 230 scholars wrote to the group asking them to reconsider previous statements. In 2017, the APA seemed to do just that.

Henson said the meeting with Trump, while dealing with contentious issues was cordial and productive.

"I'm hopeful," she said, "this will lead to a real change."

Glixel reached out to Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl), Representative Martha Roby (R-Al) and ESRB president Patricia Vance for comment about their take on the meeting. We will update this story if they respond.

In a statement sent to press from the White House, the meeting was described as one of many on the topic of violence in schools.

"Today, President Trump and senior members of the Administration met with leaders in the video game industry and experts on violence to discuss violent video game exposure and its impact on our children. To date, the Administration has led many discussions about how to prevent violent behavior in our schools, with a focus on stopping those intent on committing mass murder. 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 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. This meeting is part of ongoing discussions with local leaders and Congress on issues concerning school and public safety and protecting America’s youth."