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Opinion: Trump's alleged video game summit? It's a trap!

Opinion: Trump's alleged video game summit? It's a trap!

March 2, 2018 | By Katherine Cross

March 2, 2018 | By Katherine Cross
More: Business/Marketing

The ongoing spasm of reactive posturing continues at the Trump White House, with the sudden announcement from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders that Trump was scheduled to meet with "members of the video game industry" next week to see what they can do about American mass shootings.

Except no one informed the video game industry about this.

The ESA issued a statement in response to the flood of press inquiries it suddenly received:

"ESA and our member companies have not received an invitation to meet with President Trump."

"The same video games played in the US are played worldwide; however, the level of gun violence is exponentially higher in the US than in other countries. Numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found there is no link between media content and real-life violence."

"The US video game industry has a long history of partnering with parents and more than 20 years of rating video games through the Entertainment Software Rating Board. We take great steps to provide tools to help players and parents make informed entertainment decisions." -- Entertainment Software Association -- March 1, 2018

It's not partisan to suggest that this is a White House in chaos; the mess has peaked in the days since the Parkland mass shooting, underscored by the shock resignation of communications director Hope Hicks. But on the shooting itself Trump's response has been confused and reactive, which is doubtlessly the source of this proposed "meeting." Invitations may, in fact, be going out as I write this, but the fact that such a meeting would be thrown together at the last minute and planned after it was announced to the nation's media is a characteristically slapdash Trump operation.

"The fact that such a meeting would be thrown together at the last minute and planned after it was announced to the nation's media is a characteristically slapdash Trump operation."

And it’s one game developers and executives should want no part of.

Partaking in this circus will not help the industry, if only because of Trump's mercurial nature where he's best persuaded by the last person to speak to him. He might nod along to a panel of devs who soberly explain why video games aren't to blame for mass murder, and then suddenly have his mind changed in the hallway by Attorney General Jeff Sessions or some other senior Republican eager to keep deflecting blame away from guns and their manufacturers.

It's a losing proposition to engage an administration that is not only hostile to expertise, but led by a man who is nothing more than a jumble of impulses.

It would also lend credence to the omnishambles of the Trump Administration's confused response to Parkland -- one minute he's the NRA’s best friend, the next he calls for taking guns away before "due process" kicks in, "whether they had the right to or not." Only now an NRA lobbyist claims the opposite. You cannot engage with this administration because its indefinability makes any terms of rational engagement impossible, and at any rate it would only legitimize the extremism that Trump's diffident leadership has allowed to flourish around him and his party. (If nothing else, consider the wisdom of running towards an administration its own appointees are trying to flee.)

The ESA, by not openly accepting Trump’s bizarre implied invitation, is at least taking a step in the right direction by not playing the mug's game on offer. For all the anxiety thrown up by Trump and the GOP attacking video games, theirs is a losing argument if polls and the nascent student movement against guns are any guide. The video game industry is in the stronger position here, by far and would do better to engage directly with the public and lawmakers who adopt a more progressive view on video games.

It's regrettable that we still need to have this discussion at all, of course -- and it's extraordinarily damaging at a time when the industry requires constructive engagement with governments around the world as loot boxes and microtransactions cause (justified) concern.

There was a ray of hope when sensible legislation was proposed by State Representative Chris Lee of Hawaii, which would prevent the sale of games with lootboxes to minors. Lee is no censorious extremist; he's a Reddit-savvy gamer himself, who even worked a dorky Star Wars reference into his maiden speech on the issue.

It all suggested a bright future where legislators were both engaged with the medium, and willing to work thoughtfully to rein in its more troubling aspects. In a way, Lee is a model for politicians who want to treat the medium in an adult manner. Without undue genuflection, but with enormous respect.

Now we're back to this nonsense. But as I said, despite the sudden flurry of comment, we're in no danger. Most Americans aren't really buying the Trumpian line on video games.

I think the industry would, as a whole, be better served by engaging with this new generation of local legislators than putting in even a token appearance at a Trumpian PR stunt. With those young lawmakers lies the real future of discourse and political action on video games, not in a chaotic administration that's trying to drag us back to 80's culture wars.

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