Has Trump really alienated gamers? And will this affect him in 2020?

On the ironic internet, “Wtf I hate Trump now” means anything but. 

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This coming Thursday, President Donald Trump will meet with members of the video game industry to discuss gun violence and school shootings. The Entertainment Software Association will talk to Trump about game ratings and parental supervision, though the organisation reiterates that there is little scientific proof that playing video games causes violent rampages. “I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” Trump said shortly after the deadliest high school shooting in American history.

Leaving aside any and all scientific inaccuracies, this decision could spell trouble for Trump. A proportion of Trump’s most vocal supporters are gamers, as many journalists posit that Gamergate led to rise of the alt-right, which in turn was linked to the rise of Trump. How does this particular carriage of the Trump Train feel about the president’s proposed regulations on violent video games? Is he going down (down, left, right, left, right) in their estimations?

“I’m pretty sure without Gamergate Trump would never have been elected. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you,” wrote one commenter on Reddit’s pro-Gamergate forum, KotakuInAction. Another writes: “He was funny for a while in a kind of sick way but now he needs to go.”

Others feel less strongly – only slightly wavering in their support for Trump. “I still support Trump, at least for the time being, but I don’t support him saying this,” writes one, adding “I doubt I’d vote Democrat again”.

Another user says:

“I’ve been on board with most of what Trump has been doing, but if he keeps going down this road the softer support that net him the win (aka people like me) will dry up, which would be pretty awful.”

Yet assuming Trump’s comments have gamers burning their MAGA hats and deleting their “2020 memes” folders is overly simplistic. Instead, many on the Gamergate forum are using the news as an opportunity to mock the left, noting that liberals claimed video games caused sexism during Gamergate but – out of disdain for Trump – are trying to deny that they can cause violence now. Other Gamergaters note they never supported Trump at all, and this connection has been overblown. In the online home for Trump supporters, Reddit’s The Donald, commenters are asking Trump to “leave games alone” but are far from actually criticising the president. “This is some fake news bullshit,” writes one user about an article that suggests Trump will ban violent games.

There is a cognitive dissonance, then, when it comes to people who love both games and Trump. Ian Miles Cheong – a writer for the Daily Caller and also Milo Yiannopoulos’s Dangerous.comblames the “progressive” press for Trump’s comments, while others online fall back on the idea that Trump can’t, or won’t, actually ban games. When someone on 4Chan’s notoriously right-wing board /pol/ wrote: “Trump is taking away your guns and video games. And you’re still cheering for him” they were mocked by other users.

“Wtf I hate Trump now,” wrote one, deploying a meme 4Channers use to mock reactionaries.

The idea that Trump-supporting Gamergaters are running around screaming “MUH VIDYA GAMES” and decrying the president is extremely tempting to most of the left, but as such is overly simplistic. One gamer went viral on Twitter for espousing this view, but there is little evidence that the majority of his peers have turned on Trump in the same dramatic way. Most commenters on KotakuInAction are aware that Trump is using a diversion tactic often deployed by politicians, and note that Hillary Clinton has expressed concerns about video games in the past.

“We all knew that Trump wasn’t exactly fond of video games, his comments in the past have made that abundantly clear,” writes one user. Once again, cognitive dissonance prevents most Trump-supporting gamers from reacting as angrily to the president as they would to other politicians making the same claims. 

Yet while these gamers aren’t in a frenzy yet, things may change with the outcome of Thursday’s meeting. If Trump significantly damages the gaming industry, it’s easy to see how he could lose a crucial faction of supporters, costing him re-election. Everything, then, is yet to play for.

Amelia Tait is features editor at Shortlist.com, she was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer, and tweets at @ameliargh.