Trump’s Violent Video Game Distraction Lags Out

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Chuck Grassley cheered on Thursday’s violent video game summit hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House. Grassley is one of the few who did.

The purported connection between violent video games and youth violence has long been a pet issue for Trump, as it has been for many politicians before him. In 2012, Trump tweeted, “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!” Then, after the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month, Trump turned the conversation to games: “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”

Although this cause has been egged on by the National Rifle Association, the White House unexpectedly closed Thursday’s meeting to press. Going after games doesn’t look to be a winning issue for the Trump administration, and officials may have seen the writing on the wall. The Drudge Report, never one to miss an opportunity to fan conservative ire, omitted the event altogether Thursday based on my intermittent checks. So, too, did the fanatical Trump devotees over at r/The_Donald.

Breitbart News, often a supportive messenger for the president, wrote ahead of the event: “President Trump is set to meet with leading figures in the video gaming industry Thursday, following the Parkland school shooting in February, despite the fact that his claim video games influence violence has been factually disproved.” The site’s top-voted commenter wrote, “If video games were the problem, Japan would be a slaughter house.”

Given that it’s 84-year-old Grassley and 71-year-old Trump championing this issue, it’s hard not to see this as a generational conflict akin to a parent protesting Pink Floyd in the 1970s.

That’s how John Riccitiello, the former chief executive officer of Electronic Arts Inc., sees it. Just as his industry peers were meeting at the White House, he reminisced with my boss Brad Stone about his parents’ admonitions toward the creators of The Wall (Pink Floyd, not Trump).

“My parents told me I wasn’t supposed to listen to that. It was going to make me a Communist,” the 58-year-old video game executive said. “We’re not that far past that point. The 50-year-old audience—the ones that vote in high numbers and represent the halls in Congress—are of a generation today looking at video games as my parents were looking at Dark Side of the Moon. They can’t understand video games. Most gamers would tell you they have experiences—they’re frustrated or anxious. Games are a massive release for them. The research can’t find a correlation [between video game violence and actual violence] if you look at anything reputable. The data is clear.”

Riccitiello, now the CEO of game engine startup Unity Technologies ApS, sat in a similar such discussion during the Obama administration. Riccitiello recalled telling Vice President Joe Biden, “There’s no issue.” Biden’s response: “If people think there’s an issue, there’s an issue. That’s the issue,” Riccitiello recalled. “He was so right. The theater allowed them to move on from it.”

Riccitiello said he was less optimistic that the current administration would be quite as thoughtful. “We are in a world where you can call facts fake news.” But he said, “I believe in the fullness of time, data wins.”

But some officials make a habit of overlooking facts in favor of politically convenient tropes. Pink Floyd had a lyric for that: “We don’t need no education.”

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To contact the author of this story: Eric Newcomer in San Francisco at enewcomer@bloomberg.net.

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