President Trump recently hosted a bizarre meeting with representatives from the video game industry and well-known critics of violent media, held in response to what he believes is a link between virtual and real-life violence. The meeting featured a montage of violent scenes from various games; it was also posted on the White House’s YouTube channel.
Games for Change, a non-profit group that focuses on using games and technology as social activism, is now pushing back against the message of Trump’s video with its own video montage, which shines a light on the beauty found in games. The response video includes scenes from games like Journey, Mirror’s Edge and Monument Valley, among many others.
“We felt that the video game industry at large took a hit with the White House video,” Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, told Polygon. “Their video was so pointed at ultra-violent moments in games that we wanted to highlight that there is so much more to be expressed in the medium. We wanted to support the game creators and players out there that participate in making this medium such a powerful one. It was a love letter to the community.”
You can watch the Games for Change video at the top of this post, and it is a moving look at what video games do well visually and thematically. But this video is unlikely to get as much traction as the White House video — “beauty” doesn’t really have the same zing in a headline as “graphic violence” — and it suffers from the same rhetorical problem of cherry-picking examples without context to prove a point about games as a whole.
Pollack is aware of the issues that may undercut the message, she told us.
“On one side we are happy that because video games have grown into a mass form of entertainment like film and television and the enjoyed by people of all ages around the world,” Pollack said. “But somehow video games fall into the black-and-white argument around whether games are ‘good or bad.’ Like every art form, video games are nuanced and there are experiences of all sorts that can move us, entertain us, teach us and sometimes disturb us.”
So while this sort of counter-programming may not get the attention that Trump’s arguments have, it’s still a pleasant reminder of all the things games can be — far more than just violent.
I asked Pollack how the organization deals with the argument that games can be the source of real-world, positive change while also dismissing a connection between games and real-world violence. If games are powerful enough to change how we act and feel in one direction, is it fair to say the same thing isn’t also happening in the other direction?
“Our organization is built on the belief that video games can affect positive change by educating people, building awareness around an issue or bringing people together,” she answered. “And there are groups of developers and researchers that spend years both intentionally designing these experiences and testing the games to prove these outcomes. But what hasn’t been proven is whether violent video games cause real-world violence. And to state that games are the blame for the current trend of gun violence in America is simply a scapegoat for the real conversation we should be having.”