Trump’s take on gaming and violence was wrong in the ’90s and it’s twice as wrong now


A cobbled-together meeting at the White House is the latest chapter in the long, misguided crusade against video games. It would be comical if the country were not in a bitter ongoing debate about gun control and the safety of children; but since we are, it’s frustrating that time is still being spent on this long-settled “debate” instead of on practical matters.

The administration invited, on rather short notice, several major game studios, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, Entertainment Software Association, and several groups that have worked to limit violent games. Ostensibly the meeting was to hear both sides of the argument, though as with so many other issues, the scientific consensus is considerably more one-sided.

No link between gaming and real-world violence, or deleterious emotional or cognitive effects, has been established by any credible study. And over and over again major groups publish peer-reviewed work showing the absence of any link. One 2014 study even went so far as to conclude that “videogame consumption is associated with a decline in youth violence rates.”

Far from being impartial, the position of the White House itself is clear from the sizzle reel it published, apparently cut from violent games shown or reviewed on popular YouTube channels.

(I don’t expect it will stay up for long, since one of the creators of the footage is sure to issue a takedown notice.)

Trump said in February that “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” but did not say who those people were, or whether they had actually looked into the topic.

At the same event he said “You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”

There is, of course, a rating system for that: the ESRB. Every game shown in the reel above is age-restricted.

In a statement regarding the meeting today, the White House said:

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.

No word on whether the President acknowledged the many studies that indicated no correlation, or even a negative one.

The argument clearly espoused by the Trump administration was wrong in the ’90s, when it was first advanced, and it’s doubly wrong now. Video games have become the most popular and widespread hobby on Earth, yet we have not seen violence erupt among young people the way one would expect from pervasive effects on aggression and empathy.

We have, on the other hand, continued to witness endless violence in our own country that has nothing to do with games. It’s sad and embarrassing that this ridiculous argument is still underway at the highest levels while deliberately ignoring years of research.

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