Mike Gallagher's Entertainment Software Association represents 35 gaming publishers in an industry that reported $22 billion in sales last year.
Gallagher speaking at an ESA press conference outside the US Supreme Court.
Star Wars action figures from Gallagher's office are physical tokens of virtual worlds.
Computer chips have become keepsakes of his time as an assistant secretary in the US Department of Commerce.
by roland flamini | July 3, 2013 | People
Inside an office in downtown Washington, employees spend part of their day playing video games. Their boss, Michael “Mike” Gallagher, alternates between his Nintendo 3DS (his go-to game is Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure), his PlayStation 3 (currently running the latest version of Tomb Raider), and his Xbox 360 (sporting BioShock Infinite). And they are all actually working.
That is because Gallagher is president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the main lobbying arm of the $60 billion video game industry, and his staff needs to keep up with the products. The ESA office is modern and largely minimalist, except for the large screens and game consoles featured prominently within the space. And it is well lit—a sharp contrast to the dark family basement in which the stereotypical gamer, a nerdy male teenager, supposedly spends hours in isolation.
That basement image is no longer the norm, if it ever was, Gallagher says. Yes, 99 percent of American boys 14 and under play video games, according to a recent Pew Research Center study; but so do 94 percent of girls in the same age bracket. Plus, “the reality is that the average gamer in the United States today is [age] 30-plus and has been playing an average of 12 years,” he adds. And 42 percent of those players are female.
At 49, Gallagher himself reflects gamer demographics. A former assistant secretary for communications and information at the U.S. Department of Commerce (where he worked on cyber security and Internet issues), he has headed the ESA since 2007. Video game production has since emerged as a fully grown sector of the entertainment business. It’s more than twice the size of the recorded-music industry and about three-fifths the size of the movie industry (both cinema and DVDs). Notably, the ESA’s membership of 35 game publishers includes the publishing arms of top companies in entertainment, such as Microsoft, Disney, and Warner Bros.
High up in Gallagher’s job description is defending the industry against long-standing concerns by some parents, politicians, commentators, and behaviorists who contend that playing violent games, like those from the Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, or Doom franchises (the latter featuring a heavily armed first-person player on a demon-killing spree), blur the lines between reality and fiction. ESA’s policy is supported by scores of scientific studies and research to date, which assert that there is no causal connection between video games and real-life violence.
This running debate became trench warfare (as it has in past instances) in December, following the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting. When investigators discovered that gunman Adam Lanza—who killed 20 students and seven adults, including his mother, before committing suicide—possessed violent video games, pressure mounted for stricter oversight of the gaming industry. “Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement days after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. “They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on Congress to take a more aggressive role.”
And so Gallagher was called on to participate in Vice President Joe Biden’s new federal task force on gun violence in the wake of the tragedy. “The thrust of the meeting with the vice president was the potential connection between these crimes and video games,” Gallagher recalls. In January, Gallagher told the task force that the video gaming industry is already well regulated through ratings (prominently marked on games) that label some games for “mature” players aged 17 and up, and that the wide market choice means “[consumers] don’t need to choose games [featuring] elements that might be problematic,” he says.
The vast array of games available on the market also means that entertainment software can appeal to a large swath of consumers—even those eager to exercise or learn something new.
“It’s still entertainment for the most part, but there are multiple offshoots: Health and fitness are a growing part of the video game industry,” Gallagher explains. “It’s embraced by schools around the country. Children are learning through video games, as creators [of their own educational experiences] and as consumers.” For example, older adults living in retirement homes are using the Nintendo Wii to exercise. And active games such as Dance Dance Revolution can motivate children to expend energy, according to a recent study from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
And despite the ongoing debate, American families like Gallagher’s own are still bonding over those ubiquitous consoles. “My father played Atari games—Space Invaders, Donkey Kong—and I played with him,” he says. “Today I play with my children.”
photography by greg powers
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