Video game companies speak out in support of #BlackLivesMatter

Image by Colin Behrens/Pixabay

The mass protests erupting in the United States in response to the police killing of George Floyd have led to support from some unlikely allies. Several gaming companies have released statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and Black communities.

Sony, known for producing the PlayStation video game consoles expressed its support for Black Lives Matter and the protests in this tweet on June 1: “Being silent about the violence and racism black people experience is being complicit”. The company subsequently cancelled an online reveal of an upcoming console out of respect for the protests.

Activision Blizzard, which is well-known for producing the popular Call of Duty and Warcraft franchises also expressed its support for the protest movement in a series of tweets.

Microsoft also expressed support for the movement. CEO Satya Nadella tweeted: “There is no place for hate and racism in our society. Empathy and shared understanding are a start, but we must do more ... ” and used the opportunity to amplify the voices of the corporation’s African American employees, which have featured on the official company Twitter page for the past week.

By comparison, Nintendo, another major video game company has been silent, while one of their major properties Pokemon tweeted out a “tone-deaf” image of two characters performing a “fist bump” to promote unity and racial harmony.

Predictability, these companies have also faced a backlash for taking a political stance publicly with right-wing talking points such as “All Lives Matter” and “It’s not the place for video game companies to speak up about politics”. This is unsurprising, considering the link between gaming culture and the alt-right.

On the other hand, many commentators have responded by pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of some of these corporations giving at best only tokenistic support to the cause and their consistent record of exploitation and profit at any cost.

The likes of Microsoft are well-known for their anti-competitive practices and exploitative use of labour alongside their track record of outright corporate tax avoidance. While they have made attempts to diversify their workplaces and are publicly quite forward about it, questions are still raised about the inequality of their processes.

At the same time Activision Blizzard has a poor track record of supporting unpopular social movements when it directly impacts their bottom line. The company banned a player known as Ng Wai Chung from one of its video games, Hearthstone, for speaking out in support of the Hong Kong protest movement. Chung was banned from participating in competitions and had to forfeit any prize money he earned. Activision Blizzard are also known for a terrible work culture and have a have a track record of laying off employees, even as their profits soared.

A subsidiary of Sony - video game developer Naughty Dog - also expressed support for the Black Lives Matter protests. However, this developer is also known for the labour practice - common in the industry - known as crunch, where workers are forced to work overtime to meet deadlines. In Naughty Dog’s case, this resulted in the hospitalisation of one of their workers.

For many of these companies, speaking out on social issues is often a calculated decision, especially where they have a interest in aligning their values with what they suspect their customer base supports, in order to build brand loyalty and deeper personal connection.

If anything, the fact that a number of these major gaming companies have spoken out is a testament to the strength of the mass movement developing in response to police brutality in the US, rather than to any inherent goodness of the companies themselves.

These companies are not our friends in the struggle, and only exist to produce profit -- off the backs of their workers and consumers.

If there was no mass movement, these companies would either be silent or actively complicit.

On the positive side, Game Workers Unite, an international grassroots organisation of game workers organising in trade unions has spoken out in support of the movement and - in certain branches – are actively attempting to mobilise their members behind it.

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