President Donald Trump wants to meet with members of the video game industry this week to talk about violence in their games, which he believes might be at the root of gun violence in America. Video game fans — including some of Trump’s earliest and biggest supporters, many from the Gamergate movement — are furious.
In response to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, Trump held a White House roundtable where he said: “We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it, and also, video games.”
“I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” he said.
The meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet — in fact, representatives of the largest video game companies had not been informed of any such meeting in the first place. But the reaction among politically minded gamers has been harsh and swift.
The political elements of Gamergate helped contribute to the rise of the alt-right. Some of them morphed into hardcore online Trump fans — defending him with aggressive tactics from trolling to doxxing. But Trump’s anti-video game views have roared back to the surface — putting many gamers on the defensive.
Trump is disappointing some of his biggest supporters
Gamergate began, as my colleague Todd VanDerWerff has written, with two separate issues: the treatment of women in gaming and the ethics of video game journalism, with criticism of how much coverage goes to social issues featured in video games as compared to the gameplay itself. The launchpoint centered on a woman game designer and her ex-boyfriend, and her alleged relationship with a writer for an influential video game website. But over time, the movement seemed to metastasize into one dedicated to trolling.
In their quest to defend video games from the threat of censorship by so-called “Social Justice Warriors,” Gamergaters doxxed their opposition, harassing women on Twitter and even driving some of their targets from their homes — a tactic that the alt-right would later use against anti-Trump voices. As one of Gamergate’s biggest targets, Brianna Wu, told CNET in 2017, “GamerGate was the canary in the coal mine.”
Some Gamergaters (particularly those who joined the movement to protest “political correctness” in video games) contributed to the rise of the alt-right, a loose cadre of populist-leaning reactionaries and some conservatives who deemed the traditional right wing as ineffectual.
They found a voice in Trump, particularly after former Breitbart News chair Steve Bannon took a role in Trump’s campaign. Many of Trump’s biggest online supporters came into pro-Trump activism from Gamergate. These include people like Mike Cernovich, who called Gamergate “the most important battle of the culture war this century,” and disgraced former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who attempted to “legitimize” the alt-right within conservative media and take it (and its racism and anti-Semitism) mainstream.
Gamergate Reddit’s response: “I don’t even know what the fuck he’s doing”
It’s likely that Trump’s meeting with video game executives (if it happens at all) will have little impact on the industry. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that video games are protected under the First Amendment, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing, “[t]his country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.” And as Polygon’s Mona Ibrahim writes, video game companies have powerful lobbying arms and considerable sway in Congress.
But the biggest supporters of Gamergate are still trying to figure out what the hell Trump, the loudest voice in the fight against perceived “PC culture,” and his fellow Republicans are doing when they try to regulate video games.
Trump’s views on video games aren’t new. The president has long believed (despite ample evidence to the contrary) that playing violent video games leads to violence in real life, and that something should be done about it.
In 2012, three days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he tweeted:
Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2012
(According to state police, the primary game of choice for the Sandy Hook shooter was Dance Dance Revolution.)
It should be noted that many of those who still consider themselves Gamergaters knew that Trump wasn’t a video game supporter in the first place. In response to a question I put out on Twitter, one Reddit user posted the following:
And others would still prefer Trump to the liberal journalists they view as the true enemy of gaming:
But other gamers, particularly those who have supported the Gamergate movement from the beginning, are confused, as America’s “tells it like it is,” anti-PC president has started to sound like the left-leaning media some of them seem to despise.