May 20, 2022 - Technology

Video game studios are speaking out on abortion

Illustration of Halo hero Master Chief standing in front of a field

Halo Infinite, one of several games worked on by Certain Affinity. Image: Microsoft

Some top American game studios are taking stands on abortion, trans rights and the industry’s own responsibility regarding racism and extremism.

Why it matters: It’s a notable shift in a controversy-averse industry, and one that is shocking some players not used to the makers of the games they play taking a position on volatile political and social topics.

Details: Two studios went public this week, with a third reportedly taking a quieter route.

  • On Tuesday, Washington-based Destiny 2 maker Bungie Studios and its Black at Bungie worker group posted a reaction to the weekend’s racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. The studio had recently weighed in on the Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • Bungie acknowledged that people “far too often” are radicalized via online platforms and called for game-makers, themselves included, to do more to “examine their own platforms and invest in practices to combat bigotry in all its manifestations.”
  • On Wednesday, Texas-headquartered studio Certain Affinity posted a letter to employees from CEO Max Hoberman condemning “intrusions on the rights and dignity of transgender youth” and the “attack” on abortion rights from the potential ruling on Roe v. Wade.
  • This all followed a Monday report in the Washington Post that California-based Insomniac, makers of hit Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank games, had quietly and successfully pressed its owners at Sony to match a $50,000 donation to a group that helps economically disadvantaged women get abortions.

What they’re saying: “The overall response has been incredibly positive,” Hoberman tells Axios, citing hundreds of supportive replies after he posted his letter publicly.

  • A half-dozen people told him that businesses should stay out of politics, he says.
  • “The fact of the matter is that some politicians aren't staying out of our business,” Hoberman says. “They are creating a hostile environment in states that we know and love and live in. This in turn is affecting the mental health and well-being of large swathes of our staff, and is outright hurting our business in tangible ways, such as employees leaving the states and difficulties recruiting to these states.”
  • Certain Affinity has about 175 employees in Texas. It says it will pay for "reasonable" relocation expenses for employees who want to move out of state due to abortion regulations. But the studio is not joining other companies that now promise financial assistance to workers who need to travel to get an abortion. Hoberman says doing so could run afoul of local law.

Yes, but: Most game companies are still keeping quiet these days.

  • In 2020 even the biggest ones like Nintendo and PlayStation expressed support for Black Lives Matter.
  • But taking a stand against racism is less controversial than taking one about abortion.
  • The Post says Insomniac and Sony won’t make their pledges public. That follows a Bloomberg report from last week that cited PlayStation boss Jim Ryan urging his workers to “respect differences of opinion” on abortion.

The bottom line: A common thread through all of this is the will of the workers, which in these studios seems to largely be liberal.

  • Many employees expect companies they work for to express their values and to put policies and money behind them.

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