Today, Donald Trump is holding his White House meeting on video games, and in particular violence in them. Officially listed in the White House schedule as “THE PRESIDENT hosts a roundtable with members of Congress and video game industry leaders”, the meeting is set to take place at 2pm today in the Roosevelt Room.
While originally there was going to be a list provided yesterday on who would all be invited, that was delayed until this morning when they released the following list (credit to Jake Tapper)
The list can be effectively broken into three groups. The first is the congressional representatives: Senator Marco Rubio, and Representatives Vicky Hartzler and Martha Roby. The second group is video game industry people: Strauss Zelnick (CEO of Take-Two, not Rockstar as the list states above), Patricia Vance (President of the ESRB, misidentified by the white house as “Mr. Pat Vance”), Mike Gallagher (President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association), and Robert Altman (Chairman and CEO of Zenimax Media). The final group is ‘media commentators’ and makes up arguably the most contentious addition to the list of invites: Brent Bohzell (Media Research Group), Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Retired, Writer), and Melissa Henson (Parents Television Council).
We’ll briefly run through who these people are so that you know more about them before today’s meeting.
Members of Congress
Marco Rubio is the most known of the names here after his failed 2016 attempt at the Republican Leadership nomination. Rubio has a relatively long history in politics, as he was elected in 1999 for his first position in the Florida House of Representatives. Rubio doesn’t appear to have spoken much on video games, although in 2015 he commended Minecraft for teaching coding. However, his history with the NRA is extensive and over his career in politics he has received over $3.3 million, including over $90k in during the 2015-2016 election cycle and received the NRA’s top grade, A+, based on the fact that he had an excellent voting record on critical NRA issues and made “vigorous effort to defend the Second Amendment”. He does appear to have softened his position recently on guns, as he has said he supports raising the minimum ages on gun ownership and some other reforms.
Vicky Hartzler is the representative for Missouri’s fourth congressional district and began serving in that role in 2011. She has strongly spoken on second amendment rights and fought on gun control bills, always voting against them. Most notably regarding video games and violence, in 2013 she penned an op-ed on Politico which included the following (emphasis added):
Unproven and emotionally driven gun control legislation is a common and simplistic response to gun-related tragedies, but such lawmaking usually fails to address the underlying problem. 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. As Americans, we must commit ourselves to the difficult task of addressing the human factor behind gun violence, rather than simplistically and emotionally attacking the tool used by criminals.
The final member of Congress is Martha Roby who is the representative of Alabama’s second congressional district and began serving there in 2011. Ms. Roby doesn’t appear to have much to say on video games in the past, but has written extensively on the second amendment and was heavily supported by the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America. You can see some of the writing here.
Video Game Industry People
Strauss Zelnick is the CEO of Take Two, one of the biggest gaming companies out there and publishes titles like Grand Theft Auto V, NBA 2k18 and many more. Zelnick also previously served as one of the chairman of the ESRB which may be pertinent to this meeting. Also, while Take-Two owns Rockstar, Zelnick is not the CEO of Rockstar.
Robert Altman is the Chairman and CEO of Zenimax Media, which is the parent company of Bethesda Software and from them you get titles like Doom, The Elder Scrolls series and more. Interestingly, and this may be ignored at the meeting, Donald Trump’s brother Robert Trump also sits on Zenimax Media board of directors. There were a lot of rumors that Robert Trump would attend as well, but that does not appear to be the case.
Patricia Vance is the President of the ESRB, and was misidentified on the list as “Mr Pat Vance”. Ms Vance has worked with the ESRB since 2002 as President and has helped oversee many initiatives over that time including the rating of apps and the newer international age rating coalition (IARC).
Mike Gallagher is the President and CEO of the largest trade group for video game companies, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). This body oversees the ESRB and also does a lot of advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the industry.
Brent Bozell is from the Media Research Group who has been a longtime critic of the video game industry. After the Newtown shootings, Bozell wrote a scathing piece regarding video game violence and the Obama administration’s discussion of gun control but not media violence. The MRC itself states that they are committed to “neutralizing left-wing bias in the news media and popular culture has influenced how millions of Americans perceive “so-called” objective reporting”.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Retired), is an author who has written about violence based on his service in the US Military. However, his most famous work in relation to video games is the 2016 piece “Are Video Games Breeding an Assassination Generation” which is about Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression and the Psychology of Killing, a book he wrote on the topic wherein he says video games are making an entire generation of people into assassins. Here is a small excerpt from a piece he did with The Daily Beast:
The only common denominator in all these tragic massacres that have plagued our country has been exposure to violent video games. We have truly raised an assassination generation that has committed unthinkable crimes as children, and they will grow up and commit crimes as adults that we never dreamed of in our darkest nightmares
Melissa Henson is representing the Parents Television Council, a group that generally sounds off about anything that might be slightly objectionable in media. While few of their recent writings have been on video games, they have been condemning media that demonstrates violence, sexuality or other content heavily. In a statement from PTC President Tim Winter on their site about today’s meeting this was put up:
As the White House and other leaders work to confront societal gun violence, we hope that they will demand meaningful change from the entertainment industry, which presents dress rehearsals for gun violence on TV, in the movies, and in violent video games
You can see the PTC’s video game article archive here, which includes lobbying for the supreme court to support the California Violent Game Law back in 2010.
We’ll be watching to see what comes from today’s meeting, if anything at all does. We hope this has helped you know what’s going on there. The list of invitees does put the Daily Beast’s report that the meeting is set to blame video games for gun violence in a potentially prophetic light though.