On Thursday, March 8, the White House will hold a meeting with members of the video game industry to talk about gun violence. Few people know who will be at that meeting or why it is taking place, but one thing is clear: Like all things involving the Donald Trump administration, the process has been a mess.
Since well before he was elected President of the United States, Trump has had a vendetta against violent video games, writing on Twitter in 2012: “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!” Now, in the wake of the February shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead, Trump is reigniting that old fire. In comments shortly after the shooting, he suggested that violent media led to violence, and now, with this meeting, he is taking more tangible action.
The meeting has been a debacle from the start. Reports for the past year have pegged the Trump White House as sloppy, unprepared, and disorganized, and by all indications, this planned meeting has followed that same pattern.
The chaos started last Thursday, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump planned to meet with “members of the video game industry to see what they can do on that front.” This was news to the video game industry, whose representatives told Kotaku on Thursday night that they had not been invited. On Friday, Sanders said invitations were going out the following week. Then on Monday, March 5, a spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the video game lobbyist group, said that it had received an invitation and would be attending. As part of a statement, the ESA added, “Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the US has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation.”
The ESA serves a number of functions, including putting on the E3 trade show, representing big publishers’ business interests, and defending video games. It did the last in 2011, when its lawyers successfully argued to the Supreme Court that a California law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors—something not on the books for violent movies, music or other entertainment—violated the First Amendment.
Since Monday, we’ve heard from people involved with the process that the White House meeting has remained unorganized, and that solid information has been hard to come by. Two people involved have described it as wildly frustrating. Nobody knows whether the meeting will be televised, although it appears to be closed to press.
Trump’s reclusive brother, Robert Trump, serves on the board of directors for Zenimax, the company behind game publisher Bethesda and all of its subsidiaries. Bethesda makes many excellent games, some of which, like the 2016 reinterpretation of Doom, are both gory and rated M for players age 17 and older. In a manner of speaking, violent video games are in fact part of the extended Trump family’s business. We’ve heard Robert Trump plans to attend, although based on how this process has gone down so far, it’s impossible to say that anything is a certainty.
A White House spokesperson told Kotaku this week that it will provide more details on the meeting Wednesday night in its regular Daily Guidance report. The White House also plans to release a full list of attendees today, which we’ll add to this article when we see it.
When asked by Kotaku if they will be attending this meeting, representatives for EA and Activision referred us to the ESA. Microsoft declined to comment, and reps from Sony, Ubisoft, Take-Two and Nintendo did not respond.
One person who’s angling for an invite is Jack Thompson, the attention-hungry disbarred lawyer who has waged a crusade against video games since the 1990s. In an unsolicited e-mail to me last week, Thompson wrote, “So, Jason, is Trump going to meet with Mexican drug cartel lords to ask them what to do about the opioid crisis. I need to be in that meeting, and I’m working on it, trust me. Jack Thompson (yes, THAT Jack Thompson).”
One thing’s for certain: Trump isn’t gathering video game executives to talk about what might be coming in Thursday’s Nintendo Direct. They’ll be talking about violence in video games.
Researchers have spent decades studying the links between violent games and real violence, and have failed to come up with any correlation. There are conversations worth having here, ones about how video games affect our brains (who among us hasn’t rage-quit or gotten a bit too angry in a heated competitive match of StarCraft or Counter-Strike?). There’s room to talk about the links between video game companies and gun manufacturers, or the psychological tricks that video games use to keep people hooked on loot boxes. But this meeting will not feature those conversations. It will be about the least nuanced—and most easily disproved—issue of them all. Like when former vice president Joe Biden met with video game executives after the Sandy Hook shooting, this meeting will likely lead to no legislation or policy changes, but it will certainly make for good theater.
UPDATE (3/8, 7:49am): Finally, via Jake Tapper, here is the full list of attendees:
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
Representative Martha Roby (R-AL)
Strauss Zelnick, CEO Take-Two Interactive
Brent Bozell, Media Research Center
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of “Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing”
Pat Vance, president of Entertainment Software Rating Board
Mike Gallagher, President and CEO of ESA
Robert Altman, Chairman and CEO of Zenimax
Melissa Henson, Parents Television Council