Do violent video games and violent media consumption in general cause children to become violent themselves? It’s a debate that has heated up in the wake of last month’s Florida school shooting and one that took center stage at the White House on Thursday.
President Trump has made video games a focus as he looks for solutions to gun violence after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. He has publicly bemoaned the abundance of violent media easily accessible to children, including his young 12-year-old son Barron.
The president’s viewpoint is sharply challenged by the video game industry, whose leaders came to the White Thursday along with one of its most vocal critics, the Parents Television Council (PTC).
The industry contends that decades of research have failed to show a direct link between gun violence in real life and violence in video games, TV and movies.
But groups that advocate for greater parental controls say research shows a definite correlation between violent media consumption and long-term harm to a child.
“What I heard in today’s meeting is that the entertainment industry is still fighting to maintain the status quo and is not ready or willing to confront the impact that media violence has on our children. But time is up for the entertainment industry to put a stop to marketing graphic, explicit, and age-inappropriate content to our children,” PTC Program Director Melissa Henson told reporters after the closed door meeting.
“The video game representatives pulled out their same old talking points that have long been refuted. During the meeting, I was able to interject and say just how untrue their excuses are,” she added.
PTC President Tim Winter told CBN News that violent video games “desensitizes kids to real-life violence, encourages them to resolve disputes with violence and gives them an unfair sense of fear of their environment around them–that it’s more dangerous than it is.”
Winter also told CBN News that given the billions that advertisers spend every year to change behavior, he finds it ludicrous to believe that violent media consumption is not also influencing children’s behavior.
The Entertainment Software Association released a statement prior to the White House meeting saying that studies “have found no connection between games and real-life violence. The statement also touted “the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices.”
The PTC also disputes the effectiveness of those tools, especially with regards to television. It points out its November 2017 survey of primetime broadcast TV shows which found that every program containing graphic violence or gun violence was rated TV-PG or TV-14.
“We are told to use the ratings. But those ratings are often misleading, or outright deceptive. The process by which the ratings are applied is secretive, those who administer them are accountable to nobody; and parents have no real recourse when they are misapplied,” Henson said.
While Thursday’s meeting didn’t end with a final solution, Winter said President Trump was attentive and listened to everyone’s perspectives.
“We were proud to be included at the table. We hope that this is just the first step towards meaningful reform, meaningful remedies and solutions to our real life gun violence,” he said.
Washington most recently focused on video game violence in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2013. Vice president Joe Biden held three days of talks on gun violence prevention and also met with video game industry executives.
After the meetings the White House called for research on the effect of media and video games on gun violence but no substantial progress was made.
In 2011 the Supreme Court turned over a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children. The court ruled that the games are protected by the First Amendment.