President Trump's closed-door meeting Thursday with members of the video game industry, lawmakers, and cultural critics began with the president playing "horrendously violent" gaming content on a laptop, participants say.
Trump played a compilation of clips from video games on a large screen at the end of a table before asking industry representatives to explain themselves, attendees told the Washington Examiner.
"One looked like an ax or machete going through someone's skull," said Melissa Henson of the Parents Television Council, one of 10 invited participants. In another clip, "someone appeared to be impaled on a spike... pretty graphic stuff," she said.
Dave Grossman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and author who also attended, said Trump then turned to representatives of the video game industry.
"President Trump said, 'Did everyone see that clearly?'" Grossman recalled.
"He played a video of a bunch of horrendously violent slashing games and then he turned to the industry representatives and said, 'What are you going to say about this?'" Grossman said.
Grossman said industry representatives offered "bogus research" showing no link between video games and violence. He said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was an active participant in the discussion and said things he agrees with.
"President Trump asked each individual, 'What do you think needs to be done?'" he said.
The graphic compilation that Trump played at the meeting appeared on the White House YouTube channel Thursday evening.
Watch: the White House's violent video compilation:
Although Trump has said he believes there's a link between violent video games and actual violence, a theory unsupported by mainstream scientific research, Henson and Grossman said Trump shared few opinions of his own.
"I don't think he came in with his mind made up.... I think he was gathering information," Henson said. "He didn't come in with an opening statement or a closing statement."
The 2 p.m. meeting lasted about an hour and was entirely closed to the press, despite originally being advertised as partially open to the White House press pool. It's unclear why Trump did not invite the press to cover the beginning of the event or the full discussion, as he has done with other White House events following the Valentine's Day massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school.
Grossman said he personally argued at the meeting that video game violence has caused violent youth behavior around the world, not just in the U.S., as industry representatives argue.
Henson, whose group advocates against depictions of sex, drug use, and violence in mass media, said she could not recall the precise wording of Trump's question to industry members, but that they responded by saying children were not the targeted consumers of violent games. She said that she argued that regardless of intent, children are playing the games.
Industry representatives included Mike Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, or ESA, a video game trade association, video game maker ZeniMax Media CEO Robert Altman, and Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick. Take-Two Interactive owns the well-known video game franchise “Grand Theft Auto,” in which players commit violent crimes including carjacking and vehicular homicide. ZeniMax Media produces the first-person shooting games "Doom," "Risk," and "Prey."
The ESA said it would not grant individual interviews, but said a statement: “We welcomed the opportunity today to meet with the President and other elected officials at the White House. We discussed the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between video games and violence, First Amendment protection of video games, and how our industry’s rating system effectively helps parents make informed entertainment choices. We appreciate the President’s receptive and comprehensive approach to this discussion.”
Other participants included Pat Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an ESA-established nonprofit that since 1994 has reviewed video games to apply warnings for violent content, and Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Center. Lawmakers present included Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.
Several meeting participants said, either directly or through spokespeople, that they did not record audio of the meeting.
The White House offered a readout of the meeting, saying: "The President acknowledged some studies have indicated there is a correlation between video game violence and real violence. The conversation centered on whether violent video games, including games that graphically simulate killing, desensitize our community to violence."
Grossman and Henson said Trump took his guests to the Oval Office for photos ahead of his 3:30 p.m. announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum.