Violence in Video Games: A Hot Topic at the White House

Parents Television Council, others took part in talks with the president — in our culture, 'deck is stacked against' moms and dads

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month, President Donald Trump hosted a meeting on Thursday on gun violence and the potential connection to many of today’s most popular and most violent video games — and there is more to follow on this subject, the White House indicated.

As he has done with other recent listening sessions, the president brought together representatives from a range of interests, in this case executives from the video game industry, members of Congress, and parents groups. In attendance was Parents Television Council (PTC) program director Melissa Henson.

Since 1995, the PTC, headquartered in Los Angeles, has been sounding the alarm about inappropriate material for kids and advocating for content that is far better suitable for children.

Much of the mainstream media are already criticizing the president for the composition of the attendees — and the proceedings were closed to the press. But reports indicate that the discussions focused on potential age restrictions for some of the more violent games and what measures, if any, the industry itself could take. “The president encouraged [game developers] to explore things they can do on their own to make things healthier in society,” said Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, as The Verge and others reported, “and that’s where it was left.”

“The Ingraham Angle,” on Fox News, took on the topic as well on Thursday night — see the clip below.

Henson of PTC spoke with LIfeZette and other members of the media by conference call after the meeting.

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“What I heard in [Thursday’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,” she said. “[The] time is up for the entertainment industry to put a stop to marketing graphic, explicit, and age-inappropriate content to our children.”

A media analyst and child advocate for more than 20 years, Henson is also the mother of a nine-year-old boy — and she struggles herself with the ubiquity of the gaming industry’s widespread influence, she said.

“I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve seen how the deck is stacked against parents in our culture. We are told to use the ratings. But those ratings are often misleading — or outright deceptive,” she said. “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.”

Equally daunting, she indicated, is that there seems no escape for kids from the pressure they feel to keep up with the latest video game, TV show, or movie. Witness, for example, the runaway popularity right now of the video game “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” described by The Guardian as a “mass online brawl” in which “100 players leap out of a plane on to a small island and then fight each other until only one is left.” Kids as young as seven and eight are playing it nonstop, as are college kids (who would be far better off hitting the books). Released last year, the game already has some 40 million players around the globe. There’s the perennial favorite, “Call of Duty,” the first-person shooter franchise whose first game release was in 2003, and so many more.

Related: Boys and Violence in America: What We’re Missing

Ads and promotions for these games are just about everywhere — on cereal boxes, in retail displays, you name it. Even the most diligent parent can’t completely shut this out, at least not without keeping children completely isolated from today’s reality.

Henson’s observations should spark concern among parents and guardians — and urge them to some type of action about the violence in these games and other forms of entertainment and media to which kids are exposed.

“I’ve seen how marketers foster feelings of social-isolation among children, boys in particular, by making them feel like if they aren’t playing video games, or if they don’t own a game system, they are different from ‘normal’ kids. I’ve seen how same-age peers can act as the most effective marketers for the entertainment industry — and that there’s virtually no way to inoculate a child from the peer pressure to play these games,” she said on the conference call. “I’ve seen how the incentives and rewards systems built into these games can make even an occasional gamer behave like an addict. I’ve seen how even supposedly child-friendly environments like Chuck-E-Cheese make violent video games accessible to children without limit or restriction.”

Prior to the roundtable, LifeZette reached out to the Parents Television Council about what the group hoped the meeting at the White House would accomplish.

“We hope that the entertainment industry will agree to find practical ways to decrease the marketing of violent entertainment to children, and for gun violence and graphic violence to decrease in TV and films that children are more likely to be watching and rated by the entertainment industry as appropriate for children,” said spokesperson Kelly Oliver.

Related: Video Gaming Disorder Soon Will Be Classified as a Mental Condition

The latest PTC research has found that TV violence, and especially gun violence, has increased on prime-time television shows in the past five years since the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed the lives of 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Hollywood, and particularly the television industry, is offering America’s children a nightly blueprint, or dress rehearsal, for the violence that is committed in the nation’s school halls with troubling frequency. Hollywood stands at the very nadir of hypocrisy: So many voices in Hollywood, from actors to writers to producers, loudly condemn gun violence, but are unwilling to condemn their own industry for promoting a culture of violence,” reads a section from PTC’s latest research.

In a statement after the White House meeting, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) issued this statement: “As a mother, former teacher, and member of Congress, I am clearly concerned with violence in our schools. Parents need to know that their children are safe in school, and more importantly, students must feel safe in their learning environment.”

“The president’s approach of leaving no stone unturned is prudent, and similar meetings with the movie industry pertaining to gun violence on film should also be conducted.”

She also said, “I appreciate the president’s efforts in bringing together groups of all kinds with the goal of finding solutions to the horrific acts of violence in our schools and society. I believe the solution to curtailing violence lies in an all-encompassing approach, focused on several different factors that may contribute to school shootings. Discussions should not be limited to just video games and guns. The president’s approach of leaving no stone unturned is prudent, and similar meetings with the movie industry pertaining to gun violence on film should also be conducted.”

She added that the Thursday meeting “was an opportunity to learn and hear from different sides about concerns and possible solutions to violence in schools. I believe significant progress was made today, and my hope is that we can build on this progress in the future.”

Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage image: Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s Beta Drops Next Month on PS4, CC BY 2.0, by BagoGames)

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