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What do we Know About the Closed Meeting on Video Game Violence?

It has been about a month since the terrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and in the wake of that tragedy both victims and students from the school advocated for stricter gun control law. There was a series of inquiries about the role of guns and gun control, however, the question was posed of what role violent video games might have played in the incident and attention shifted.

This is not the first time that video game violence has been the subject of White House meetings. Following the 2013 shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Vice President Joe Biden held three days of talks on gun violence prevention. Amid those was a meeting with video game industry executives, and after the meetings the White House called for research on the effect of media and video games on gun violence.

The research came back and it was at best inconclusive. Video games, it seemed, had no connection to increased levels of violence. The question, however, was raised once again after the tragedy this past month in Florida and President Trump called for a meeting between members of the video game industry and some of their toughest critics to discuss the issue of video game violence and the effect it has on real world violence.

The meeting was closed to the press, so information on what transpired seems only available from persons who were in attendance, but attendees of the meeting say President Trump wanted to hear from all sides and asked a lot of questions.

A video was shown at the start of the meeting that included clips from games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2Fallout 4Wolfenstein: The New OrderThe Evil Within – all games that are intended for mature adult audiences.

It is no wonder, with titles such as those, starting the meeting, that there were a number of questions and concerns. Speaking of the President, Representative Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo, said, “He asked a lot of questions and he raised concerns with the violent nature of these games and asked the question: Is this causing the kids to have (this) violent behavior?”

It is a reasonable question, and one that studies have tried to answer for years now.  Since the issue was first raised years ago there have been multiple studies, and those studies have shown that there appears to be no evidence to support any connection between video games and violence. In fact, many studies indicate that there is no connection and in at least one study the opposite seems to have been shown, it determined that crime actually decreased following the release of a new violent video game. Another study, conducted over the course of a decade and studying 11,000 children, determined that exposure to video games from the age of five had no effect on behavior, attention or emotional issues for either boys or girls.

The problem, it seems, is not with the games, but with the ability of parents to keep such things out of the hands of their children. Melissa Henson, program director of Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog group, and one of those who attended the meeting, said she sought to convey the challenges faced by even for the most diligent parent of keeping violent games away from kids. She described the meeting as a listening session with no decisions about next steps. “I don’t think there are easy answers and I don’t think that we’re going to be able to figure out the solution in the course of a one-hour conversation.”

Ms. Henson’s observation about the issues parents face seems to extend even to President Trump, who has expressed difficulty in controlling what his son, Barron, has access to;  “The video games, the movies, the internet stuff is so violent. It’s so incredible. I see it. I get to see things that you wouldn’t be, you’d be amazed at. I have a young, very young son, who, I look at some of the things he’s watching, and I say, how is that possible?”

But the discussion, according to a White House statement, was on the effect of the games, not the challenge of keeping them out of the hands of children. The White House statement reads: “During today’s meeting, the group spoke with the president about the effect that violent video games have on our youth, especially young males. The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence. This meeting is part of ongoing discussions with local leaders and Congress on issues concerning school and public safety and protecting America’s youth.”

Given that studies have now shown, time after time, that games are not the cause of the issue, it might be time for the Government to focus on things that might actually solve the issue of violent mass shootings in our public schools. This is a sentiment that some Democratic senators seemed to share when they noted that the meeting on video game violence was no more than a distraction from taking action on gun control. “It’s a diversion,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, while Rich Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “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.”

We may never know exactly what was said in the closed meeting, which is a shame given how important it seemed to be to the safety of children in the public schools. It leads to questions on if the shift of focus toward video games is nothing more than a smokescreen to draw attention away from gun control. I would love to hear your comments on this topic, whatever they may be. Why do you think the meeting was closed to the press? Would you have wanted to see a transcript or watched footage of the meeting? What is your position on the role video games play in violent actions? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

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