Donald Trump is holding a meeting with the video game industry Thursday, but the official list of attendees is very light on people who make games.
Only two publisher executives will be present, as will the head of the industry’s trade group. But also present in the room are two of the most vocal critics of the industry, including one who coined the term “murder simulators,” referring to action games.
Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software (makers of Grand Theft Auto), and Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of ZeniMax Media (owners of Bethesda, which publishes The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom), are the only publishers scheduled to be at the meeting. Representatives from the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group for the industry, and the ESRB, which is responsible for age ratings on titles, will also be at the meeting. Activision and Electronic Arts, the industry’s two biggest publishers, did not send executives.
Zelnick is an ardent defender of the industry’s first amendment rights. Altman will likely offer a spirited defense as well, but has the complication of having Trump’s younger brother Robert S. Trump as a member of his board of directors.
Joining them will be Dave Grossman, a long-time critic of the industry and author of Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression and the Psychology of Killing. (Grossman is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist.) Grossman, whose “murder simulator” phrase became popular among industry opponents in the years leading up to a landmark Supreme Court case ensuring video games were protected by the first amendment, has long argued that games drive children to violence.
He’s accompanied by Brent Bozell, another long-time industry critic and head of the Media Research Center. Also attending is Melissa Henson from the Parents Television Council.
Not attending the meeting are any scientists who have studied the effect of video game violence on players, both young and old. To date, every major study showing a connection between games and real world violence has been rejected, something Justice Antonin Scalia addressed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Schwarzenegger v. EMA.
“California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children,” wrote Scalia. “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively.”
Several studies, meanwhile, have discredited the correlation.
“As a video game violence researcher and someone who has done scholarship on mass homicides, let me state very emphatically: There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth,” wrote Chris Ferguson, professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M University, a week after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
The Secret Service has also looked into the issue, with a specific focus on tragedies like Sandy Hook. In 2002, the organization found no evidence to suggest that school shooters consume more media violence than anyone else.
Given the fact that Trump has called for this summit, it might be easy to think violent games dominate the industry. Truth is, they don’t.
In 2017, in fact, shooting games made up just 27.5% of all video games sold, according to the NPD Group. And mature-rated games made up just 11% of the games rated by the ESRB.
The video game industry is big business in the U.S. Last year, consumers spent $30.4 billion on games and game hardware. Industry revenues have climbed steadily since 2010.