Last week, the White House press secretary announced a meeting with the game industry to discuss gun violence. That caught the team at the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s largest trade group, completely by surprise. It wasn’t formally invited until the following Monday. Now, nearly a week after the meeting was first announced, there is still no list of attendees, nor word from the Trump administration on the stated purpose of the meeting.
Following a “madcap” televised meeting on gun control last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked why President Trump could not make legislators “bend to his will.” Instead of answering the question, she offered that a meeting was being scheduled with the game industry the following week.
At today’s press briefing, reporters at the White House were likewise still in the dark about the stated purpose of Trump’s meeting with video game executives.
“What does he hope to accomplish?” asked one reporter. “And why is he bringing them in?”
Sanders said that President Trump “wants to continue the conversation on every different area that we can to help promote school safety” but was unable to provide a complete explanation. Asked whether the President thought video games were too violent, Sanders responded, “It’s certainly something that should be looked at and something that we want to have the conversation about.”
Polygon has reached out to the White House repeatedly and so far has received no response. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reports indicate that the White House is critically understaffed, and recently suffered the resignation of communications director and long-time Trump confidante Hope Hicks. Nonetheless, it’s anticipated that something will shake loose this afternoon.
Meanwhile, there are concerns that Thursday’s meeting could be a diversion to distract from the gun debate that has cropped up since 17 people were killed by a young man wielding an assault weapon in a public school in Parkland, Florida.
This morning, The Daily Beast published an article that said President Trump plans to pin the blame for gun violence on the game industry at large. Quoting anonymous sources, it said that the Trump White House is scrambling to “cobble together some semblance of a serious policy meeting.” It also confirms a second attendee in addition to the ESA, a man named L. Brent Bozell.
Bozell is the head of the Media Research Center, which describes itself as a nonprofit media watchdog. It regularly highlights anti-video game articles that align with its conservative values, including praising a 60 Minutes report on the Grand Theft Auto series from 2005 and condemning the Indiegogo campaign for Choice: Texas, an interactive fiction game that aims to shine a light on issues with the lack of abortion access in Texas. The Media Research Center counts conservative pundits Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity among its most ardent champions in a fight against “media bias.”
The Daily Beast’s report says that members of the game industry have called the meeting with the Trump administration “pointless,” and have referred to it as a “stunt” and a “dog and pony show.”
The ESA, for its part, told Polygon that it intends to push back against the Trump administration when it comes to video games’ role in gun violence.
“Video games are enjoyed around the world and numerous authorities and reputable scientific studies have found no connection between games and real-life violence,” said the ESA. “Like all Americans, we are deeply concerned about the level of gun violence in the United States. 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.”
Update: Florida senator Marco Rubio, who had been rumored to participate in tomorrow’s meeting, will not be in attendance, his office confirmed to Polygon. The Parkland shooting took place in his home state, and the legislator has been front and center in the ongoing debate over gun control. Last week, Rubio even took part in a CNN town hall meeting with a spokesperson from the National Rifle Association.
Update 2: However, on Thursday morning, the White House released its full list of invitees, and Rubio is one of three members of Congress listed. The list also misidentifies Patricia Vance, the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.