President Trump hosted a discussion on video-game violence at the White House Thursday, reviving a decades-old debate over a link between graphic, onscreen depictions of bloodshed and real-life massacres.
The meeting, hastily assembled in the aftermath of last month’s school shooting in Florida, included gaming executives, lawmakers, and representatives of conservative watchdogs, one of whom told the Washington Post that the gathering was “respectful but contentious.”
It was also a waste of time. The question of whether video games create “monsters,” as Trump put it in a 2012 tweet, is settled. They don’t.
There’s another question on the periphery of this debate that’s not as settled though, and given the expectation that gun-control advocates understand every abbreviation applied to a firearm before they advocate for change, it’s a question worth asking: Has Donald Trump ever even played a video game?
The White House didn’t respond to an email asking, so it’s not possible to definitively say he hasn’t. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that’s the case.
It begins with Trump’s general aversion to technology. Despite his early embrace of Twitter, the 71-year-old has been slow to adopt other, more accessible innovations, such email and the personal computer, neither of which he used as late as 2007.
In his 2005 book Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, he advises wannabe moguls to push aside technology.
A lot of it is unnecessary and expensive. I don’t have a computer on my desk. I don’t use an intercom. When I want someone in my office, I yell. It works a lot better than an intercom, and it’s much faster.
He goes on to write that “Email is for wimps.”
In 2016, Gizmodo’s Matt Novak dug deep into the question of whether Trump has ever used a computer. While a tweet from Kellyanne Conway months later would suggest that he has, Novak established that Trump leans luddite. He reads articles printed off the internet, often has aides send his tweets, and has said under oath that he doesn’t text.
None of this is terribly surprising for a wealthy 71-year-old who came of age in the era of typewriters and adding machines. Born in 1946, Trump was already in his 30s by the time video games became a mainstream force. With a growing real-estate empire, he was probably too busy to spend much time playing Pong.
But in 1977 something happened to Trump that would eventually bring video games into his home, if not his life — he became a father. When Nintendo launched the NES Donald Trump Jr. was 8, the prime age to while away hours with Mario and Luigi.
And it’s clear that there was a Nintendo in the Trump household. As Don Jr. revealed in a 2011 tweet, he and his brother Eric used to play a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, not with their father, but with Michael Jackson, who lived in Trump Tower in 1994.
It’s possible that at some point Trump squeezed in a game of Tecmo Bowl with Don Jr., but based on the younger Trump’s description of his childhood, it doesn’t seem likely. “My father is a very hardworking guy, and that’s his focus in life, so I got a lot of the paternal attention that a boy wants and needs from my grandfather,” he told New York in 2004.
Eric Trump shared a similar sentiment with the Times in 2006. “Donnie’s always been my best friend, a mentor,” he said, referring to his older brother. “In a way, he raised me. My father, I love and I appreciate, but he always worked 24 hours a day.”
Trump, in his book The Art of the Deal, admitted that he prioritized work over his children: “I adore [my kids], but I’ve never been great at playing with toy trucks and dolls.”
With his 11-year-old son Barron though, Trump has a second chance. Despite his father’s objection to them, Barron is apparently allowed to play violent video games, as Trump said in a White House meeting last week. But he didn’t make them sound like something the father and son bond over.
“The video games, movies, the internet stuff is so violent,” Trump said “I have a very young son who I look at some of the things he’s watching and I say, ‘How is that possible?’”
So Trump’s children probably never got him to pick up a controller, but maybe his business partners did? After all, he has slapped his face on a handful of console and PC games over the years, including a series of gambling games called Trump Castle, the business simulation game Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon!, and a PC version of The Apprentice.
It’s unlikely. In 2007, amid Trump’s public spat with Rosie O’Donnell, a simple game allowing the two to pummel each other began making the rounds online. The Daily News asked his longtime assistant Rhona Graff if Trump ever played the game. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Certainly not during office hours.”
And that might be the closest we get to a definitive “no” on the question of whether Trump has ever played video games. Because if he’s not playing a game that allows him to kick Rosie O’Donnell in the teeth, then he’s not playing anything.