President Donald Trump will host a White House summit on Thursday with members of the video game community, video game manufacturers, and video game critics, in an apparent effort to address the “violence” the president believes video games have fostered in society.
Trump told media last week that he believes there’s a connection between first person shooter and other violent video games and mass shootings, like the one that happened in Parkland, Florida, in February. This week, the White House followed up on that, convening a group they believe will fully inform the president on the issue.
The group reportedly includes Republican Members of Congress — Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Martha Roby (Sen. Marco Rubio says he was asked but had a scheduling conflict) — representatives from Rockstar Games, the Entertainment Software Association, ZeniMax and Take Two Interactive, but also representatives from the Parents Television Council, a group heavily critical of most mass media, including video games. No behavioral scientists, it seems, were asked to participate.
The suspicion that violent video games somehow breed violent rampages is nothing new. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Rep. Hartzler and some social conservative groups allied with then-President Barack Obama to call for further investigation into precisely this postulated cause-and-effect. Before that, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and even failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton led similar crusades.
This time around, Trump joins “gun safety” activists like Moms Demand Action in tying shootings to video games.
Two decades of research, however, seem to indicate that, while there may be some correlation between video games and aggression, there is no link connecting video games and mass shootings.
A 2006 study showed a link between violent video games and emotional arousal, the Associated Press reports, and a task force commissioned by the American Psychological Association, which produced perhaps the most in-depth study so far, found similar results — that playing some video games led to “increased aggression” — but even the APA was forced to admit that there’s no link between that aggression and any criminal behavior, including mass shootings.
“All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence,” the APA report said. “This distinction is important for understanding this research literature, for considering the implications of the research, and for interpreting popular press accounts of the research and its applicability to societal events.”
These same video games also do not make kids more likely to develop a fondness for — or purchase — real life weapons. And back in 2013, similar experts even noted that video games don’t actually make society more violent; as video game play has increased, youth violence has decreased, even though mass shootings have become more common.
This is largely to say that efforts to regulate the video game industry aren’t likely to stop the next mass shooting — or any more likely to stop the next mass shooting than increased regulations on the gun industry itself. In fact, the comparison is apt because restrictions on both are subject to Constitutional issues; none other than Justice Antonin Scalia declared that video games themselves are a form of speech and protected by the First Amendment.
So while it might be a fun meeting — heck, they might even give President Trump access to the next “Grand Theft Auto” — blaming video games for violence simply won’t work.