Video game industry emerges from White House meetings unscathed

It appears that the video game industry will be relatively unimpacted by the three-day White House hunt for concrete proposals to address gun violence in America.

An hours-long meeting between video game industry executives and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Friday afternoon was "cordial" and "reasonable," people in attendance at the meeting told Polygon. While Biden said he called the meeting in part to examine whether the U.S. was undergoing a "coarsening of our culture," that wasn't the main thrust of the behind-closed-doors meeting.

Instead, the meeting seemed centered around exploring a deeper knowledge of existing research into the impact of gaming on youth and how the industry can take proactive, positive steps to improve its image among the broader, non-gamer population.

Among those attending for the video game industry were ESA president Michael Gallagher, ESRB head Patricia Vance, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, Epic Games board member and former president Mike Capps and ZeniMax Media CEO Robert Altman.

The gathering of game industry professionals included people representing developers that make a wide array of games including Call of Duty, Battlefield, Madden and Skylanders; educational game publisher E-Line Media; and research and innovation lab The Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Three researchers were also present.

Prior to the meeting's start, Biden made a few remarks to a pool of reporters. Trailed by members of the video game industry and researchers, Biden walked into the Cordell Hull room at about 2:30 p.m., according to pool reports. Seated between Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello and ESA president Michael Gallagher, Biden said that the reason for the meetings was the recent tragedy in Newtown, adding that he has "not seen anything that has shocked the conscience of the American people" like the shooting.

Biden made it a point to say that the range of meetings he had this week should prove that the video game industry was "not singled out for help."

"I come to this meeting with no judgment," he said. "You all know the judgment other people have made."

The meeting seemed centered around exploring a deeper knowledge of existing research into the impact of gaming on youth and how the industry can take proactive, positive steps to improve its image among the broader, non-gamer population.

The government, Biden added, is "looking for help."

"We're anxious to see if there is anything you can suggest to us," he said. The country has a "problem beyond quote-unquote massacres.

"It's a real problem. It's serious."

Before wrapping up the remarks to the press, Biden reiterated that he was hoping to get a proposal to President Obama by Tuesday. He said he knows there is no easy answer.

"We know there is no silver bullet," he said, and then added that "we know this is a complex problem."

Once the press left, the gathering of executives, politicians and researchers held a discussion that felt like a "fact-finding" mission. Biden, for his part, seemed open to the existing research and felt that video games were perhaps the least critical of the issues explored this week.

While the Entertainment Software Association declined to talk about the particulars of the meeting, they did release a statement.

"The video game industry had a productive and candid conversation with Vice President Biden and his Gun Violence Commission today," according to the statement. "We thank the President and Vice President for their leadership, and including in their discussions a diverse array of stakeholders and perspectives. We look forward to working with the Vice President on meaningful solutions to the issue of gun violence.

"We expressed in the meeting that the United States Supreme Court recently affirmed that the independent, scientific research conducted to date has found no causal connection between video games and real-life violence. We also recognized that gun violence is a serious problem in our country. We are saddened by the recent tragic events, and as an industry integral to the social and cultural fabric of America, we look forward to continuing our engagement with government officials and policymakers focused on meaningful solutions."

Robert Altman, Chairman and CEO of ZeniMax Media, also issued a statement of his own.

"We appreciate the Administration's strong leadership in addressing the pressing issue of gun violence in America," Altman said. "We were pleased to participate today in a candid exchange between the Administration and industry leaders as the Administration looks at entertainment and media as part of its work. While video games have repeatedly been shown not to be a cause of criminal violence, we look forward to examining how we might work together, responsibly and effectively, to aid the Administration's important efforts."

This marks the last of a series of meetings this week among Biden, other top White House officials and a variety of sectors including mental health, education, movies and TV and gun owners. The strongest message to come out of the meeting to date has been Biden saying that he plans to recommend a package of gun-violence reforms to President Obama by Jan. 15.

In the days leading up to today's meeting, several video game-related organizations wrote letters to Biden offering to help with his research into the topic, including the International Game Developers Association, the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Consumers Association. Separately, a bill introduced in Congress last year calling for a study into the effects of violent video games and other content on children is planned to be reintroduced by the end of the month.

While this evening's meeting wrapped up without any official statement, even shared among those present, the takeaway seems to be that the industry should be more proactive about the way it educates the public about what it does, and how parents can control the settings of the games their children play.

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