Editorial: Thoughts on Trump’s Video Game Violence Conference

Kotaku has reported that the Trump administration held a conference at the White House of industry executives and various “Think of the Children” groups like the US PTA about violence in video games in the wake of the most recent school shooting. Now, for the past 8 or so years, this had been a settled issue, since the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. EMA ruled that video games were an artistic medium and thus could be art, and in turn the 1st Amendment applied to them.

So, Donald Trump dragging this mess out of the trash-bin of history seemed like an odd choice, particularly since his supporters in the Alt-Right include “GooberGob” (name obscured to keep from attracting the Great Old One in question) – a group which formed under the fundamental premise that games were under threat from minority groups and minority perspectives – with some of the games that they held up in their attempts to push back including either graphic sexual content created to depict women as sex objects, sex as a reward, and minorities as stereotypes (HuniePop); erasure of minority groups entirely (Kingdom Come: Deliverance); or specific violence against those groups (Hatred).

However, the icing on this weirdness was the highlight of the meeting – an 88-second clip of violent footage of video games taken from various YouTube videos, including Giant Bomb. This clip has been found on YouTube as an unlisted video file – but one which is still online.

In particular, what was striking for me was not the video itself – if you’re going to make a case against video games, you might as well use actual footage of violent games to make your point – as much as it was the lazy plagiarism and the length.

That’s what you do when you’ve already made up your mind, but you’re not trying to persuade people to agree with you, and instead want to put in the minimum amount of work possible to justify your case. If they were actually serious about trying to persuade people to go with whatever hackneyed, half-assed mess they’re going to roll out, they would have had someone put together a longer reel, and organized congressional hearings – as had been done by Lieberman and Clinton.

Then, during those congressional hearings, the administration or their surrogate would put some member of the ESA or executive from a console manufacturer on the spot, show their tightly edited reel of 3-5 minutes of extremely grotesque death scenes, and then demand a defense of what was on that clip. This footage would either have been acquired by a intern capturing that gameplay footage, or (since we’re trying to be intellectually dishonest and manipulative) carefully selected YouTube footage edited to hide the source,  And, for good measure, include EA’s ad for Dead Space 2.

Then, when you’re grilling the member of the Game Industry, you drop the word “obscene” and “obscenity” to describe the footage that was just shown, to show you’re going to try and use that loophole to get around Brown vs. EMA. After all, Scalia was the swing vote in that case, and he’s dead – and your party has replaced him – so you can hope things swing the other way if things hit the Supreme Court this time, if you hadn’t already brought this up when you picked your nominee.

However, everything I just mentioned requires planning, patience, and deliberate thought – things that this administration has shown with shocking regularity that they absolutely lack.

Does this mean there’s nothing to worry about? No. While this administration has demonstrated that they can’t pour all the piss out of a boot with instructions on the heel, they have shown they can still splash some around in the attempt.

Whatever legislative agenda they push, whether through Congress or through an executive order, will be challenged. But until an injunction is placed against their policy, it will have an effect. Not on whether we have another spree shooting – research has shown that video game have no causal impact on actual violent action. But, it may, at least for a time, have an effect on the games we play, either through retailers not carrying games, or through developers making adjustments to avoid legal retaliation.

Will this cause GooberGob to turn on Trump? I don’t know. It’s too soon to see if Trump’s Tariffs will cause factory workers who were dependant on foreign steel to turn on Trump. The same applies for GooberGob. Still, GooberGob’s actions have shown that they were never about game journalism. Continuing to support Trump in the wake of his attacks against games as a medium should also make clear that they were similarly never about fighting game censorship.