Trump meets with video game execs and critics

President Trump has bemoaned the violent images depicted in popular video games that are readily available to children. The makers of such games say research has failed to link their products to real-life violence.

By Tony Romm Washington Post 

WASHINGTON —Republican lawmakers and conservative media critics pressed President Donald Trump on Thursday to explore new restrictions on the video-game industry, arguing that violent games may have contributed to mass shootings like the attack in Parkland, Fla., last month.

In a private meeting at the White House, also attended by several video game executives, some participants urged Trump to consider new regulations that would make it harder for children to purchase those games. Others asked the president to expand his inquiry to focus on violent movies and TV shows too.


Trump himself opened the meeting by showing a montage of clips of various violent video games, said Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri who attended the meeting. Then, Hartzler said, the president would ask, ‘‘This is violent, isn’t it?’’

‘‘They were violent clips where individuals were killing other human beings in various ways,’’ she said.

Trump’s roundtable on Thursday marked his latest listening session on gun violence in the aftermath of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School, which left 17 students dead. In recent weeks, Trump has suggested a number of ideas to address gun deaths — even arming teachers at schools — while lawmakers have explored their own solutions.

In doing so, the president has expressed deep unease with violent video games, at one point saying they were ‘‘shaping young people’s thoughts.’’

‘‘We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it,’’ he said.


Video game executives who were scheduled to attend the meeting Thursday included Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax, the parent company for games such as Fallout; Strauss Zelnick, the chief executive of Take Two Interactive, which is known for Grand Theft Auto, and Michael Gallagher, the leader of the Entertainment Software Association, a Washington-focused lobbying organization for the industry.

Each organization did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Those who did join Trump said he appeared open-minded, seeking solutions from everyone, including executives from the video-game industry. It was ‘‘respectful but contentious,’’ said Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council, a group that is critical of violence in video games.

Henson said that she and her peers argued that a ‘‘steady diet of media violence is having a corrosive effect on our culture,’’ while video game executives were ‘‘every bit as firm in their conviction there is no relation.’’

And at times, calls for greater oversight and regulation came strong.

‘‘I think he’s deeply disturbed by some of the things you see in these video games that are so darn violent, viciously violent, and clearly inappropriate for children, and I think he’s bothered by that,’’ said Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Council, who joined the meeting.


Bozell said he also communicated to Trump a need for ‘‘much tougher regulation’’ of the video-game industry, stressing that violent games ‘‘needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.’’

For now, the White House already has hinted at broader scrutiny still to come. A day before the meeting, a spokeswoman for Trump said the sit-down with video-game executives and their critics is ‘‘the first of many with industry leaders to discuss this important issue.’’

Privately, lobbyists for tech giants and movie studios expressed early unease that they might soon be dragged up to the White House, too.

Along with Bozell and Hartzler, Trump also included lawmakers like Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Martha Roby. Their offices did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

But one Democrat who was not in attendance, however, derided Trump’s efforts, arguing it overshadowed the real issue in their minds: seeking new restrictions on gun sales.

‘‘Focusing entirely on video games distracts from the substantive debate we should be having about how to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people,’’ said Senator Richard Blumenthal in a statement.

Conservatives sharply disagreed.

‘‘I would ask them respectfully for once to stop playing politics. If you care about this issue, you will look at Jonesboro, Arkansas; Columbine; Newtown, Connecticut,’’ said Bozell. ‘‘In so many other places where you had mass shootings by children, and every instance I just gave, that child who was the shooter was watching violent video games.’’