In the wake of the latest school shooting tragedy in the USA there was a White House convened meeting to discuss violence in video games. You could be forgiven for being unaware of this though, after all it was closed to the media and somewhat hush hush. The Washington Post had the scoop though and according to accounts it was a very strange meeting indeed. Leading with a montage of video game violence, apparently featuring a fair amount of Call of Duty (the infamous airport scene I would imagine.. ), followed by the President remarking ‘violent isn’t it?’.
The meeting was attended by video game executives Robert Altman the CEO of Zenimax (Fallout), Strauss Zelnick from Take Two (Grand Theft Auto), and Michael Gallagher head of the Entertainment Software Association which is the Washington based lobby group for the industry. Also in attendance was Melissa Henson from the Parents Television Council (self explanatory really), Brent Bozell president of the Media Research Council, various Republican lawmakers, and of course the 45th President of the United States of America Donald John Trump.
The round table session marks the latest listening session on gun violence in the USA. Of course this is far from the first time the video game industry has been called in front of the federal government. And the video game violence debate is one that sparks up every few years. The big difference between the early 90’s and now though is that the industry has grown large enough to rival and in some cases exceed the size of film and music industries, with influence and lobby power to match. Meaning that this time around the industry can fight back rather than being pushed around.
Media violence is a conversation in itself and certainly a flashpoint for many. ESA released a statement explaining that they discussed the numerous studies that long ago debunked the connection between video games and violence, first amendment protection of video games, and self regulation via ratings to help parents make an informed choice. Republican Vicky Hartzler commented “Even though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person”. Which is of course the equivalent of “I have read the studies, but I still know better.”
The White House has hinted at a sustained larger scrutiny of the industry still to come, a fact that likely has the film, music and technology industries watching closely. This is because they will likely be next in line to receive an invite to the White House for a chat. The White House has not responded to questions regarding the meeting and there was no briefing before or afterwards. I personally have not seen any mainstream television coverage of this meeting of the minds.
In my opinion though, I think it is great that we now live in an age where the discussion can be had responsibly, with respect, and that video game executives and representatives of the industry can have genuine input and be taken seriously rather than the witch hunt that was Mortal Kombat and the early 1990’s. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal who was not in attendance said in a statement “Focusing entirely on video games distracts from the substantive debate we should be having about how to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” which is likely a view shared by many.
Ultimately, times have changed and despite how some may say roundtables like this are a distraction, the fact it was closed door I think is respectful and it’s great that we live in an age where our industry has grown large enough to be able to stand up for itself when necessary. This is certainly a flash point issue and I am sure this conversation will be continuing in the near future.
In the meantime, the White House has uploaded the showreel that was played during the meeting. It has gone viral of course with a lot mockery and criticism to follow. Personally I think they should have added some Mario for balance. Check it out, but heed this warning, the video contains graphic violence.