Almost as quickly as it came together, Donald Trump’s video game summit seems to be falling apart.
Last week, in the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida that killed 17, Trump held a meeting on school safety at the White House where he said, “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, and we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. And also video games.”
At an official briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the president planned to meet next week with leaders from the video game industry “to see what they can do on that front.”
This came as news to many of the biggest companies in the video game industry, which not only had no plans to attend the summit, but were unaware it was taking place. Representatives of several major game companies reached by The Verge were caught off-guard by the announcement, and we were unable to locate anyone in the industry who had been contacted or said they would be willing to attend. The Entertainment Software Association, an industry group that represents companies including Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Capcom, Square Enix, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, responded with a statement that both denied knowledge of the meeting and pushed back against its premise.
“ESA and our member companies have not received an invitation to meet with President Trump,” the group said in a statement. “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.”
It’s still unclear what the White House has planned for the meeting, and it’s entirely possible new guests may still come out of the woodwork — but it doesn’t seem likely. For video game companies, this is a no-win situation. The legal case for games as free speech is even stronger than it was after Columbine, but with political outcry growing against any and all organizations seen as enabling gun violence, it feels like the wrong time to play hardball.
But even showing up for the meeting carries significant political risks. CEOs who joined in the president’s Advisory Council at the beginning of his term saw immediate blowback, and most of the councils were disbanded in the wake of later controversies. There’s also no strong case for a link between violent video games and mass shootings, and buckling to Trump’s demands could spark an enormous backlash from gamers who are hypersensitive to even a hint of censorship. There’s no upside for game companies in any of this, and countless ways to hurt themselves.
The best outcome would be if everyone involved simply forgot it ever happened. Because this is Trump, it’s a real possibility. Sanders was vague about the timing of the meeting, saying simply “next week,” but that’s still remarkably soon. If the next week passes without anyone at the White House remembering this announcement, there will be plenty of executives breathing sighs of relief.