This is a post about games, guns, and politics

The vice president of the United States is not interested in video games, or what video game industry leaders have to say. He’s interested in politics, and appearances. And he’s interested in using both to further manipulate a frightened constituency into placated acquiescence.

Vice President Joe Biden didn’t meet with industry leaders across a wide spectrum of businesses and interest groups because he’s interested in cooperation and enlightenment that will lead to less gun violence, he held these meetings to give the appearance of cooperation and enlightenment. That doesn’t entirely preclude anything useful from happening, but to comment on the situation without an understanding of the underlying motivations of the White House is to reveal a startling naivete about Washington politics.

Whatever issues about violence and media are crying out to be discussed, and whatever arguments to be made about how, where and with whom we should be discussing them – when commenting on whether or not game industry leaders should have met with Joe Biden, you have to first understand the context of politics inside the Beltway.

When you take a meeting with the Vice President (or anyone in Washington, D.C.) and someone takes a picture, you’ve made a statement. When you shake hands, smile, sit down, and have your picture taken – you’ve made an endorsement of that person, their agenda, and formed an alliance. It’s as a good as a treaty, because it becomes political leverage for them, and if you’re taking the meeting and allowing the photo-op you’re assumed to be gaining political leverage yourself.

The content of your private discussion (after the media leaves the room) doesn’t matter. There is no publicly available record of that and no matter how stark the differences are between conflicting reports of how the meeting went, the only thing concrete is that a meeting took place, and that assumes cooperation. Publicly, all you’ve done is cooperate, whatever contention or difference in opinion that arose privately doesn’t matter.

Once you take that meeting, all the brilliance of whatever grand arguments you can make in favor of games as art or whatever doesn’t matter – the final public record is Biden smiling while putting his hand on the shoulder of EA’s CEO John Riccitiello and whatever the White House wants to say about it for all-time afterward.

By taking the meeting you reduce the industry to just another compliant group of elites that are willing to support whatever the government “solution” is. You can scream at the top of your lungs that isn’t the case after the fact, but one has to raise a lot of hell to erase the political billboard sign one just plastered by having their picture taken at a table with Joe Biden.

As baffling as it is for a normal person (or a video game person) to consider, taking the meeting doesn’t place focus on the issues, it places focus on the meeting, and on the implied alliance between the participants. “Getting things done” in Washington is about who supports you, and so you have to have meetings and take pictures to have proof of who supports you. That’s all these meetings are.

The content of the meetings doesn’t matter because the point of the meeting is fulfilled before the press leave the room and the actual discussion takes place.

I want you to watch at least part of the video from the meeting that took place between industry leaders and Biden recently. It’s twelve minutes long, and boring. But at least watch a little bit between the two minute and eight minute mark. And then watch the ending.

Especially if you watch between two minutes and eight minutes, you can see the whole point of the meeting. This is a public display in which the Vice President spouts off the list of influential groups that support the White House. What any of those groups said during their meetings with Joe Biden doesn’t matter – all that matters is they are now on a list, and Biden now cites them as proof of him getting things done.

He’s reading this for the public, but also for the game industry leaders around him. It’s proof for them, too. It’s meant to remind them they are in good company, but it’s also a subtle reminder that they are last to be met with, after everyone else. We wouldn’t want this burgeoning entertainment industry to forget their place at the foot of the table as the newcomers.

And then lastly, the video ends by Biden telling all the press to get out. They’ve recorded proof of Biden attaining cooperation from the video game industry and that’s all. When someone tries to ask how the meeting with the NRA went, Biden spits out a bland, PR line about a “productive” meeting and then stiffs the reporter with a ‘no comment’ about what the NRA said about the meeting.

And the gaming industry leaders go quietly into the dark with Biden, to have all their insight and suggestions reduced just the same way. One day soon someone may ask Biden about his meeting with the gaming industry and he’ll reply similarly about how it was a “productive meeting” and whatever real discussion may have been had will be largely irrelevant to the public discourse.

The leaders who met with Biden cannot have been ignorant of this. People of their stature and business acumen don’t make mistakes like that. Everything is calculated and since these particular gaming industry leaders took the meeting, they have to have found it did as much for them politically as it did for the White House.

They’re wrong, mostly. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t do anything for them to show up.

Being included among the vast array of industries and groups invited to the White House is as important for the video game industry as still being invited is for the NRA. The invitation represents an acceptance among society’s elite that the game industry is trying to attain, and the NRA is trying to maintain.

And while some would contend that the gaming industry should not have shown up – they got what they paid for. Being in that meeting with Biden, having John Riccitiello – a known face and name among the industry – sitting next to the VP, it does grant the video game industry a certain kind of validity. It’s a validity useless for anything except political posturing and hobnobbing with other rich white men, but it was worth it for those in attendance, otherwise they wouldn’t have been there.

It achieves everything both sides wanted. The White House looks like it’s doing something to solve major social issues of escalating gun violence, and the gaming industry looks like one of the big boys helping Uncle Sam give the ol’ one-two punch to all of society’s woes. It’s jejune, self aggrandizing, bullshit and it will do nothing to help understand ways of reducing violence.

I don’t mean to impugn the character of every attendee at the meeting. I can’t know the motivations of every attendee, but I think it’s likely at least some came with earnest intentions. I think it’s also likely at some point each of them thought to themselves what an honor it is to be invited to the White House with the Vice President. But their motivations are also not what matters here.

The game industry was used for minor political leverage and they were happy enough to comply based on the idealistic assumption that they were going to tell the government how great games are and that would absolve them from the imaginary blame being concocted by critics or endear them to the administration or both. It doesn’t make the industry representatives in attendance purely selfish, it makes them mildly selfish and deluded. Well meaning, perhaps, but still deluded.

The message that should have been sent is that the industry is not contributing to the problem of escalating violence, and that if productive discussions are to be held about reducing violence that then should be held away from Washington, D.C.. Government rarely has the sense to listen to experts, but loves to parade them out in front of everyone for the credit of saying they listened.

That’s not the type of thing you participate in if you really care about the issue at hand. You tell Joe Biden you’re not attending his meetings. If the administration really cared about having the gaming industry’s input, they would offer to take steps necessary to get the gaming industry to the table under acceptable terms. Since the gaming industry put forth no terms, they became just another float in Joe Biden’s parade.

The gaming industry has much to say about the use of the medium and its effect on all of us, both positive and negative. There’s a place for that discussion to be had and the people who lead the industry should be there, leading that discussion. But that place is not Washington, and that discussion did not take place recently with Joe Biden.

Another thing took place – pomp, and posturing, and useless showmanship that alleviates the restlessness and eases the concerns of the mourning constituency. It tells people that something meaningful is being done, in place of doing something meaningful.

One response to “This is a post about games, guns, and politics”

  1. M. Joshua says:

    This was a fun read. And a poignant criticism!

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