Nov 30, 2023 - Technology

Gaza conflict embroils Game Awards

Photo of people on stage with a logo for The Game Awards in the background

The Game Awards show in 2021. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

More than 70 recipients of The Game Awards' Future Class are calling for a statement to be read at next week's The Game Awards, on their behalf, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Why it matters: The letter is pressing an industry that has become more vocal about political and social issues in recent years to weigh in on a topic it's mostly avoided.

Details: "The genocide that is being acted on the Palestinian people is abhorrent," the letter states, citing a statement from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres that says, in part, that "Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children."

  • The letter, which was posted online on Nov. 24, also criticizes the game industry for "systematically" producing "works that dehumanize and vilify Muslims, Arabs" and people of color living in Southwest Asia and Northern Africa.
  • The signatories, which include numerous game developers as well, ask that a statement be read at the awards on their behalf, calling on the industry to work to counter those negative depictions, "express support for the protection of Palestinian human rights" and call for a long-term ceasefire.
  • The awards were created by Geoff Keighley, who works with a team to host the popular annual show from downtown Los Angeles. Neither Keighley nor reps for the awards have replied to the letter nor to requests for comment from Axios.

Between the lines: The Game Awards are the industry's most prominent annual awards show, a livestreamed event held every December to honor the year's best games.

  • In the last three years, the awards have also named 150 people to its Future Class, a program the show's organizers state is intended to highlight a diverse, young group of people "whose voices elevate, diversify and further our art form."

What they're saying: "The whole idea of the open letter was we didn't want The Game Awards to be able to get back to us internally that we can't make a statement and no one would know about it," said the letter's author, developer Younès Rabii, who was selected for the Future Class in 2021.

  • "We want their silence to be noticed."
  • Rabii said they were motivated to write the letter after narrative designer Meghna Jayanth said she was barred from making a statement about Palestinians during another gaming awards show, the Golden Joysticks, in which she was meant to be a presenter. (Organizers did not respond to a request for comment.)
  • "I want to use this letter to hopefully tilt the balance a little more toward, these are actual human beings with full lives that are being slaughtered in front of our eyes and we should do something," Rabii said.

The letter has been criticized by some Future Class members, in part because it does not mention Hamas' Oct. 7 attack.

  • Developer Amiad Fredman posted on X this week (and later expanded on it) that he does not support the letter because it "perpetuates misinformation, one-sidedness, and an irresponsible conflation of the war in Israel/Gaza with xenophobia and misrepresentation of muslims, arabs, and brown people in videogames."
  • "Just as I can, and have, expressed that innocent lives lost in Palestine is a tragedy, it is painful to see that my colleagues can't do this for the significant loss of life in Israel, and the terror at the hands of Hamas that Israel is enduring," Amiad told Axios, saying he has received notes of support from some Future Class members.
  • Of the charge the letter is one-sided, Rabii said: "There was a strong idea that advocating for Palestinian human rights immediately meant supporting the taking of hostages in Israel, the civilian lives being lost in Israel. That's not the case, of course."

The big picture: The Game Awards has not been a forum for many political statements in the past, though Keighley did open 2021's show with a statement against harassment and abuse in the industry, after a year of misconduct scandals had embroiled Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft and others.

What's next: The Game Awards will be held on Thursday, Dec. 7.

  • Rabii says they will be there, probably wearing a keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.
  • "I will wear grief that day," they said.

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