Interview: ESA Reps Talk Start Democracy

After posting our recent analysis of Start Democracy – an online effort to register gamers to vote coordinated by the Video Game Voters Network (VGVN) – APGNation reached out to two representatives of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), Reed Albers (left) and Rich Taylor (right). We asked them about the origins, objectives and successes of Start Democracy, which you can read below.


APGN: You and Mr. Taylor are representatives of the ESA. What are your roles within the ESA, and what is the ESA’s connection to the VGVN, the sponsor of the Start Democracy initiative?

Taylor: I serve as senior vice president of communications and industry affairs for the ESA. I advocate for a diverse and innovative group of companies that publish computer and video games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet. ESA owns and operates the Video Game Voters Network.

Albers: I’m the ESA’s digital media manager. I coordinate our social and digital news feeds, produce video content for our web properties, manage the Video Game Voters Network’s daily operations and am always looking for new ways to engage the video game community and celebrate it in positive and proactive ways.

APGN: When was the VGVN founded and how long did it take to reach its one millionth member?

Taylor: VGVN was founded on March 13, 2006 to give gamers a voice and provide a mechanism for legislators to hear directly from gamers. VGVN is strictly non-partisan and we’ve spoken out on a variety of issues affecting video game players. We’ve had steady growth in the past nine years and recently reaching the one million member mark serves as a statement-making milestone. Gamers are politically active and eager to speak out when they feel their interests are threatened.

APGN: The VGVN’s website primarily describes the organization as a means of responding to public or legal targeting of video games. What prompted the VGVN to create the Start Democracy program – a program which has less to do with pushing back against the targeting of games and more with calling voting gamers to action?

Albers: Start Democracy is a product of watching the game community grow and mature since ESA’s Supreme Court victory. That case granted First Amendment protections to video games — the same as books, movies and music. Further, ESA data shows us that the average gamer is 35 years old. But we still see the same accusations and fallacies pushed by the media and it influences your lawmakers.

Gamers have already shown how impactful they can be by defeating attempts to introduce legislation infringing on games’ First Amendment rights. Why can’t they also be catered and listened to like voting groups rallied around a common interest? So that’s what we want to do; show Washington that gamers are voters and could be the difference in winning an election or delivering a concession speech.

APGN: The ESA’s research into the demographics and voting habits of gamers are based on studies conducted by Ipsos MediaCT. Among their findings are the claims that there are 155 million gamers in the United States and that approximately 80% of voting-age gamers intend to vote in the upcoming election. Are there other studies out there which corroborate the findings of the Ipsos studies?

Taylor: Other institutions, such as Pew, occasionally do some research on games and gamers, but ESA is the only one to do it consistently, year after year, so we have the best track record and, in our opinion, the best numbers. Our sample sizes for the Essential Facts and the Political survey were both over 4,000 respondents.  To a very large extent, we’re the only ones doing this kind of research on this scale, and making it public.

I am not aware of other studies that have looked at gamer political orientation, for example, and if they’re out there, they aren’t sampling 4,000 people. So I think there aren’t any corroborating studies out there because we’re the only ones with the funding and interest in doing them.

APGN: What do you consider most surprising about results of Ipsos’ latest study which deals with the political engagement of gamers?

Taylor: I think it’s the stat you pointed out earlier – 80% of voting-aged gamers intend to vote. We also saw that 79% of gamers voted in the 2012 election and this number outpaced the national average of 69% for the general public. That should be an eye-opening stat for any politician seeking office

Albers: Seeing the breakdown of which parties and what side of the political spectrum gamers lean toward was the most interesting stat for me. When the survey went public, I saw a lot of people surprised at these numbers – gamers who were on one side of the spectrum assumed that’s where all gamers side. The near 50/50 split makes a lot of sense – there are a lot of gamers in the United States from all walks of life, economic backgrounds and locales. This data is also particularly useful to a politician who maybe in the past vilified gamers and video games, but now might realize he’s been attacking people who may have voted for him or her.

APGN: This is a question for Mr. Albers specifically. It seems like VGVN is interested in getting gamers into politics but not necessarily politics in games. Can you explain that idea?

Albers: Sure. We’ve seen great amount of games come out in recent years that tackle complex and controversial political issues. Spec Ops: The Line, BioShock, This War of Mine, and Papers Please come to mind. There’s also games that use politics, history and civics to create unique gameplay experiences such as Civilization, Tropico or SimCity. The market for those games exists and they’ll continue to be made because the medium is an incredible vehicle for powerful storytelling.

When it comes to voter registration and getting out the vote, I see our campaign as a way to encourage gamers to get involved in the politics around them affecting their daily lives.

APGN: What are VGVN and Start Democracy’s ideal visions of society? To see politicians chase the gamer vote? Or just to make the world understand that games and gamers aren’t to be messed with?

Taylor: It’s getting candidates’ attention and showing them that this is an important community filled with diverse voices with a desire to find solutions to today’s problems. Gamers should be courted and gamers can show that by using one of the most powerful tools you have in this country – your vote.

Albers: When people ask why a “gamer vote” should be listened to, my answer is simple – gamers win. We love a challenge, we love to take on ridiculously hard problems and find solutions to them. We collaborate with each other, we build communities and we’re informed citizens who value action over words. If you’re a candidate who wants to take office this fall, come speak to a community that loves to win. I guarantee they’ll meet passionate advocates.

APGN: How long will Start Democracy remain an active project of the VGVN?

Taylor: It’s something we see ourselves doing every election and that’s not limited to the presidential race every four years. Gamers need to vote in local and mid-term elections. There are elections every year and gamers should participate in all of them, no matter how big or small the race is. Voting doesn’t start and stop with the presidency.

APGN: How does the VGVN involve its members in its activities beyond voter registration? Are there petitions or events that offer members additional opportunities for action? What about a debate or forum for members to debate policy positions?

Albers: We reach out to our community in a variety of ways. Social media is a big part of our advocacy and I’m constantly looking for new ways to engage with gamers, so if you’re not following us on Twitter (@VideoGameVoters) that’s one way to get involved.

You can join us online and we reach out to advocates whenever there’s a legislative threat to video games or a need to correct a misinformed opinion about video games. We offer opportunities for gamers to share their stories on why games are important to them and invite members to make YouTube videos speaking out about the issues they’re concerned about this election season.

Two recent examples of recent actions we took were speaking out against the United Nations’ study on cyber violence; which mentioned video games and used outdated and questionable sources. Another was letting Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a former presidential candidate, know that his comments about video game players were incorrect, inappropriate and insensitive.


Thanks to their recent accomplishment of one million members, the VGVN and Start Democracy show no signs of slowing down. And though the election for the highest office in the United States is just a year away, Start Democracy’s importance and usefulness to gamers as a tool to influence our representatives will endure even after it is over. As Albers and Taylor say, a network of informed and motivated gamers will be a formidable electorate for years to come – if we join together. If you haven’t yet registered to vote, consider using Start Democracy to start the process. If you are registered, then consider making your voice heard on Twitter, or seeking additional opportunities for action with VGVN’s Ambassadors program. The progress of any candidate or issue can benefit greatly from gamer power. It’s up to us to decide who enjoys that power.

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Barak Bullock
Written by
Hello, Nation! My name is Barak Bullock. I’m a 22-year-old average pro gamer from Austin, Texas, whose storied journey into gaming began as a young boy with the timeless Goldeneye 007 on N64. I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric & Writing from The University of Texas at Austin.After I got an Xbox, I started playing games like Halo: Combat Evolved, TimeSplitters 2, NBA Street Volume 2 and Kung Fu Chaos. Then Halo 2 came out, and life was never the same. Four or five Xbox 360s, 58,000 gamerscore, and hundreds of games later, I still consider myself a hardcore gamer.When I’m not gaming, I read deeply into US politics, listen to death metal, drink exotic coffees and hatch schemes to take over the world.

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