As you probably expected, the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and video game industry representatives wasn’t exactly productive. Representatives from the video game industry including the ESA, the ESRB, and executives from Bethesda and Take-Two met with the President in an attempt to negotiate on whether video games contribute to violence.
As we’ve said in other coverage, the research says that at most it’s a possible contributing factor. It must also be said that the research is conflicting, some studies find no link between video games and violence, some studies claim such a link exists.
But that level of nuance doesn’t seem to matter to the deeply conservative side of the discussion.
Trump opened the meeting with an intentionally selected montage of clips showing violence in video games of various kinds. One could easily argue that the clip represents multiple propaganda techniques. There’s the black-and-white fallacy as it’s attempting to argue for the assumption that there is a link between violence and video games, which once again, hasn’t been conclusively demonstrated. You could also argue that the intentional use of selective framing is meant to reinforce that initial fallacy.
It’s obvious that whoever grabbed these clips and edited them together took footage from other sources, apparently without giving proper credit. So that’s interesting.
Let’s be real here, Trump is shifting blame. Instead of making a substantive effort to address systemic violence and bigotry, which got him elected, he’s going for the scapegoat.
There is an argument to be made about media influencing the perspectives and interpretations of the viewer though, it’s just that Trump is’t doing so. A key aspect of the dog-whistle politics Trump relies on is the usage of coded or allegorical language that elicits a desired response. And just for clarity, in this context, something that’s coded is unintentional. It’s this mixture of authorial intent and unintentional insertion of biases that’s the underpinning of arguments about media and culture reinforcing systemic trends like racism and sexism. The same sentiment can be applied to violence in video games. It’s been argued that imitation of violent acts is common in children who consume violent media. But again, it comes down to much more than just the media itself. Systemic trends like this are much more complex than “video games cause violence”.
And we all know what Trump isn’t interested in a meaningful conversation about any of the above. Because that would mean sacrificing the trends and ideals that empower him.
It would seem that the side that is predisposed to agreeing with Trump’s assumption saw the meeting as fruitful, while those arguing against Trump’s seemingly intended crackdown saw things differently.
The ESA issued a statement of its own following the meeting, saying that it “welcomed the opportunity to meet with the president and other elected officials at the White House.”
“We discussed the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between videogames and violence, First Amendment protection of videogames, and how our industry’s rating system effectively helps parents make informed entertainment choices,” it said. “We appreciate the President’s receptive and comprehensive approach to this discussion.”
The IGDA openly refused to attend the meeting. In its tweets, the IGDA stated:
“Let’s be blunt on video games and gun violence — we will not be used as a scapegoat. The facts are very clear — no study has shown a causal relationship between playing video games and gun violence. The Supreme Court has clearly established video games as protected free speech in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. And the stereotype of gamers as disaffected teenage boys is simply untrue; 41% of the 150M+ gamers in the United States are women, and more women over 35 play video games than boys under 18. The United States plays the same video games as the rest of the world, but we’re unique in our problem with gun violence.”
Following the meeting, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) issued a statement via Twitter,
“Today’s meeting was an opportunity to learn and hear from different sides about concerns and possible solutions to violence in schools. I believe significant progress was made today, and my hope is that we can build on this progress in the future”.
Brent Bozell of the Media Research Council was much more obvious about the goals of the right-wing, however, he openly called for more regulation of video games, citing the following justification:
“I think [Trump] is 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, and I think he’s bothered by that.”
The Media Research Council is one of the right-wing groups that rallied around the openly anti-LGBT Family Research Council after the SPLC labeled the latter a hate group in 2010. So we know exactly where the MRC stand on the issue of actually caring about victims of systemic violence.
We all know this isn’t the first nor the last time conversations about media and violence will be had, nor should it be, but the tone set by this particular instance screams “scapegoat”. It’s quite good if developers and publishers themselves endeavor to make gaming more inclusive. Trump and his allies are not looking for that level of autonomy, they want to control the conversation.
And just because it grinds my gears, I want to discuss something.
There is a key difference between two responses to the same issue of violence in games. Whereas Trump seeks to force the issue with an authoritarian response in order to dismiss deeper examination of systemic problems; someone like Anita Sarkeesian examines the issue from the perspective of deeper examination from the outset, with the goal of encouraging developers to be more sensitive to these issues, as opposed to forcing them. That’s why the reactionaries across the internet trying to slam progressives by seeking to frame their argumentation as similar to Trump have to quote-mine said progressives. Because if they gave that crucial context, their attempted attack would fall apart. So no, idiots on the internet, Donald Trump and Anita Sarkeesian are not arguing the same thing.