Video Games

Trump Wants to Meet with Video Game Industry Leaders to Complain About Gun Violence That's Not Their Fault

No, Call of Duty is not making kids shoot up schools.


Donald Trump

President Donald Trump, who has complained bitterly that safety rules have made professional football less violent and dangerous, apparently plans to meet with video game companies to "see what they can do" about school violence.

This came as news to the video game industry's trade organization, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which told the press the White House had not contacted it about a meeting. The White House subsequently said it would be sending out invitations soon.

The answer to the question of what video games can do about school violence is "nothing," because studies have consistently shown that these games have no meaningful relationship with real-world violence. The ESA notes that these same violent video games are played all across the world in countries that do not have a problem with school shootings.

Trump told politicians earlier this week that they need to stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA), but blaming video games for gun violence actually plays right into the gun group's tactics. The NRA is quick to toss the First Amendment under the bus in order to protect the Second.

It's nothing new for politicians to blame video games for violence as an excuse to try to regulate them, but there are fortunately limits to what they can actually accomplish. The Supreme Court intervened when California attempted to put age restrictions on video game sales, ruling that games are protected under the First Amendment. (An amusing bit of trivia: The anti-gun lawmaker responsible for getting violent video game restrictions passed in California was subsequently arrested and charged with being a gun smuggler. He pleaded guilty to racketeering.)

As Reason's Jesse Walker has documented, pretty much the entire history of video games has been mired in moral panics that politicians from both parties have attempted to commandeer for their own gains. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also been big on trying to regulate video games, so seeing her grinning next to Trump at the prospect of using government regulations to suppress citizens' freedoms should concern more than just gun owners.

Trump also raised the issue of a ratings system for games. He is apparently ignorant of the fact that one already exists and has for quite a while. Due to some of the aforementioned political pressure, the video game industry instituted the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) in 1994 to inform consumers and parents about what sorts of violence (and other types of mature content) a game might contain. These rating operate much like movie ratings, and they appear on labels affixed to video games sold in stores. The ESRB site allows people to search for games by name to see their ratings. There is no reason for any consumers to be surprised by violent video game content, unless they decide not to pay attention.

We ultimately shouldn't expect much to come from this meeting with video game publishers, and that's a good thing. They're not responsible for gun violence and they're certainly not responsible for coming with a solution for it.

Fun Friday pop culture bonus: One of those early arcade games that prompted moral panics about extreme violence was Narc, released in 1988. In it, players represent law enforcement officers from a fictional narcotics unit who are sent to the street to stop drug trafficking by slaughtering hundreds of dealers without due process. Frankly, that sounds like the kind of violence that would make Trump happy. Watch the game below (and marvel at the tight jeans technology of the 1980s):