US President Donald Trump is meeting with top figures from the video game industry today to discuss how violent media impacts the mental health and development of young people in the country. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) confirmed earlier this week that they had received an invitation and would be attending today’s meeting, though no further details were known.
The White House released the official guest list for the meeting today, which was tweeted out by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Figures in attendance include anti-video game critic retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression and the Psychology of Killing. The founder of Media Research Center, Brent Bozell, and Melissa Henson, a spokesperson for the Parents Television Council will both be present as well. All three are known to be very outspoken and critical of violence and video games.
On the gaming side of things, Pat Vance, President of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and Mike Gallagher, President and CEO of the ESA will be attending the meeting, in addition to Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, and Robert Altman, chairman of ZeniMax Media (parent company of Bethesda). Three Republican members of Congress complete the guest list.
The official description for the Trump video game meeting from the White House is “to discuss violent video-game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children,” and will be the first of many to discuss such issues. Glixel points out that not a single guest in attendance at the meeting is a scientist or researcher in the field of video games, and none of them have a strong background in psychology that would merit them to make definitive statements on correlations between video games, aggression, desensitization, and violence.
For a meeting that’s about a discussion, the deck seems to be stacked in against video games. Grossman says that games “depict antisocial, misanthropic, casually savage behavior can warp the mind – with potentially deadly results.” He’s been criticized for oversimplifying the issues in his books, which try to paint video games as the primary reason why children become killers.
Bozell is a critic of the ESRB, saying that it fails to fully inform parents about an interactive medium that is growing “increasingly raunchy and bloody.” Henson is an advocate of companies that sponsor family-friendly entertainment, and is on the Parents Television Council, which has told entertainment companies to stop marketing violence to children.
Numerous studies done have actually done more to disprove the connection between violent video games and violent behavior. For example, a statement by Professor of Psychology Patrick M. Markey points at that multiple studies have shown a shooter is three times less likely to have played violent video games. In an opinion piece he wrote on Glixel (co-authored with Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor at Stetson University), he talks about the overwhelming evidence against any kind of connection.
At present we know that the majority of scholars who study video games are skeptical of links with violence in society. Only about 10 to 15 percent of scholars believe in such links, indicating this is clearly the minority opinion. What is more interesting is that age is a strong predictor of attitudes among scholars. Older scholars and those who don’t like kids are more likely to believe violent games are bad. In 2013 a group of over 230 scholars wrote to the American Psychological Association expressing concern that the APA should no longer release statements implying links between violent games and societal aggression. And in 2017 the APA’s own Media Psychology division released a policy statement requesting that politicians … refrain from making these kinds of claims.
Neither Markey or Ferguson will be attendance at the meeting, along with a dearth of knowledgeable psychologists, scholars, or researchers that could provide clear evidence about the lack of connection between video games and violent behavior. Video game industry representatives are going to have an uphill battle ahead of them as talks begin with those who are very outspoken against the medium. The Trump video game meeting is to take place today at 2:00 PM Eastern, and we’ll have any additional updates as they are reported.