Nearly every time someone is having a conversation about school shootings and asking, "what’s wrong with our youth," the idea that video games are at least partly to blame is quick to come up. But are they really a factor in these horrific, violent crimes? Video game makers say “no” but they feel like they’re shouting into the air… because no one seems to be listening.
Now, at least, the video game industry may be getting a hearing at the highest points of power. They are sitting down with President Trump, hoping to have a productive conversation and, just maybe, push him off a position he reiterated not that long ago, that video games have contributed to some of this violence.
Trump Speaks Out
“The video games, the movies, the Internet stuff is so violent… It's hard to believe that, at least for a percentage — and maybe it's a small percentage of children — this doesn't have a negative impact on their thought process. These things are really violent…” Trump said.
Those comments were absorbed and repeated by tens of millions of Trump supporters, tens of millions of parents and grandparents who are also potential buyers of games for their kids. Also, tens of millions of voters who may find it easy to vote for regulations on a product or an industry that they don’t have any vested interest in.
All of that adds up to a serious Public Relations problem for the video game industry. And, while it’s not a new argument, the perspective has now had decades to take hold on the American consumer psyche.
The perspective that video games contribute to violence goes back about 40 years, to the days when you could only play these games in arcades. The title in question at the time was “Death Race,” a game that allowed players to mow down pedestrians for points. Then, in the 80s and 90s, when console gaming was all the rage, came the Mortal Kombat series, and, about a decade later, the first in the Grand Theft Auto series, a game in which players were encouraged, if not required, to commit virtual felonies in order to advance.
The Shadow of Columbine
But none of those games directly connected video gaming to school shootings. That came in the late 90s, with Columbine. The murderers in that scenario were reportedly big fans of the game “Doom,” and that factoid was repeated ad nauseam.
Since Doom was linked to the Columbine massacre, the video game industry has become a very public target for politicians and regular Joes who are trying to make sense out of horror. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum — including Newt Gingrich, Bill and Hillary Clinton and others — proposed ideas about legislation that could regulate the video game industry. None of the bills became law, but that didn’t stop consumers from believing video games were somewhat to blame for the increase in mass shootings.
And, once again, the argument is swirling, churning both on news programs and on social media. Politicians are denouncing games, and their constituents are cheering. This is not a problem the industry can hope will go away. Sitting down with the president is one thing, but they need to connect with the consumer public directly, before someone else’s perspective becomes the only narrative anyone will hear.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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