We now know who will be attending President Donald Trump’s White House meeting with game industry representatives. A story in the Washington Post yesterday released the names, most of which have yet to be officially confirmed by the White House.
Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda), will attend. Trump’s brother Robert Trump serves on the board of ZeniMax, but is not expected to attend. Strauss Zelnick, chief executive of Take-Two, is also invited. Take-Two is best known for publishing the Grand Theft Auto series, which has attracted much media attention and political heat over the years. As already confirmed, Entertainment Software Association head Michael Gallagher will also be there.
But the meeting will also feature fierce critics of video games, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and Brent Bozell, founder of the Parents Television Council.
Bozell is also the head of the Media Research Center, which describes itself as a nonprofit media watchdog organization. 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.
Hartzler describes herself as an ardent opponent of gun control. In the immediate aftermath of the killings in Florida, she posted the following statement. “Heartbroken over the violence and loss of life in Florida. My prayers go out to all those impacted. We must find better ways to protect our children at schools.”
“Banning guns isn’t the answer to preventing violence any more than banning cars would be the answer to preventing people from being killed in car accidents,” Hartzler wrote in an opinion piece in 2013 after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 dead. “The cause, not the tool, should be the focus. We must have a meaningful conversation about mental health issues and other possible cultural and societal contributors to violent behavior, such as violence in video games.”
Trump called the meeting after making comments about the purported effects of violent video games. He was commenting on the murder of 17 people at a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, three weeks ago. On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz had a history of behavioral problems. He made hateful social media comments about minorities. He was also a keen video game player.
“We have to look at the Internet, because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds, and their minds are being formed,” said Trump during a meeting in the days after the shooting. “And we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see a movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”
The National Rifle Association and its supporters have a long history of blaming video games for mass shootings. Researchers have spent years looking for links between violent games and violent behavior, with none yet found.
There is precedent for the meeting, including the appearance of Altman and Gallagher. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, game industry officials were invited to the White House to speak with then-Vice President Joe Biden. That meeting featured a wide array of game executives including ESRB head Patricia Vance, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, then-Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello and Epic Games board member and former president Mike Capps, as well as Altman and Gallagher.
Biden said: “I come to this meeting with no judgment. You all know the judgment other people have made.” The meeting was later described as “cordial” and “reasonable.”
Last week, the White House announced a meeting with the game industry to discuss gun violence. That caught the team at the ESA completely by surprise; the organization wasn’t formally invited until the following Monday. The meeting has now officially been scheduled for 2 p.m. ET today, though no official list of attendees has yet been posted. It’s not known yet whether live cameras will be at the meeting.
In yesterday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Trump “wants to continue the conversation on every different area that we can to help promote school safety.” Asked whether the president thinks video games are too violent, Sanders responded, “It’s certainly something that should be looked at and something that we want to have the conversation about.”
Yesterday 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.”
The Daily Beast also reported 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.”
We’ll have more on the meeting as events unfold during the day.
Correction: The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting claimed the lives of 14 students and three staff members, not 16 students and one teacher. We’ve edited the article to reflect this.
Update: On Thursday morning the White House published its list of invitees.