As protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism have arced across the United States, the video game industry has been slow to show its solidarity with Black people in the community. When they do, some of these statements are shy of showing an actual commitment to the cause.
Video game development studios were behind the curve in terms of releasing a statement about the protests, which started to trickle in on Monday. Last week and into the weekend, corporations like Amazon and Peloton, which makes bougie exercise bikes, released their memos decrying racism. Joining them, EA released a statement both aligning with the protesters and postponing its Madden announcement stream, coinciding with a statement from the NFL. But the weekend passed, and with it escalating violence from the police, before many more large studios said anything.
Nobody was looking for The Brands to solve civil unrest with messages of healing and hope. Their statements are of course all empty and hypocritical gestures. Peloton gave $500,000 to the NAACP’s legal defense fund, which is a drop in the bucket for a company that sells exercise bikes for over $2,000. Amazon declared that it believes Black lives matter, only a few days after firing and then un-firing a woman of color who stayed home from work to protect her children from COVID-19 (the company also owns Ring, a disaster for civil rights and Black people in ways too long to list here.) The commissioner of the NFL said that he sees that “the protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel” and I had to laugh, knowing how Colin Kapernick has essentially been blacklisted from the game for his own silent protest.
Still, the gesture matters. It means that these companies know they need their Black audience to survive. It means they know that, in order to keep Black people buying their shit, they need to eat a little bit of crow in public. Based on the responses from game development studios that I have seen, it doesn’t seem like they believe that.
The statement from tabletop game company Wizards of the Coast exemplifies the issue.
Nowhere in this statement are Black people mentioned. The company talks about donating to Black centric charities, but it doesn’t say how much and it doesn’t say why. Neither does it mention police brutality or George Floyd’s name at all, which feels weird when the protest is being done in his name, after his unjust murder by police. It’s as vague as a statement could possibly be. If you were to read this without knowing the news, you’d think that Wizards of the Coast was just generally saying that racism is bad. A community manager for Wizards acknowledged that its statement was late, and also the difficulty of crafting such a statement for a collective of people. At the same time, I’m sorry it’s hard, but it’s literally the bare minimum.
Bungie’s statement from yesterday similarly names racism, but not anti-Black racism nor police brutality. It does provide links for people to educate themselves, including links to Black centric charities, and the company commits itself to supporting its own Black community, which is nice. But part of the reason for the protests is to honor the memory of George Floyd and other Black people killed by the cops. So many Black people have been killed by the police and then forgotten, either another statistic, or smeared as criminals after death. Not acknowledging the origin of this outcry is dodging the real reasons why these protests have been so explosive.
But even when companies name the issue, it still doesn’t hit right. I am glad that Ubisoft specifically named George Floyd and systemic racism, but one of the largest companies in the industry is giving less money to the NAACP than a fancy exercise bike company. And how can I trust anything they say about anything while they use their license of Tom Clancy’s work to make games about DEA agents shooting up drug cartels and American “sleeper cell” agents taking back the streets from looters and violent Rikers inmates?
What is missing from this statement is an admission of complacency, either through silence or through some really obvious actions. How can I trust that Activision Blizzard supports these protests when Blizzard suspended players for speaking out about the protests in Hong Kong last year, where protesters were also beaten by the cops? How am I supposed to believe EA is delaying its Madden announcement because it cares about Black lives, when it censored Kapernick’s name in a song in their last game? I am happy to see and hear the solidarity. But the games industry has to clean its own house too, and admit that it is part of the problem.