The Games Industry Vs Trump

Credit: ABC News
Credit: ABC News

Even now, a full week after President Donald Trump‘s anti-Immigration Executive Order, games companies are still coming out of the woodwork to tell us all about how they disagree with the order, ranging from moral grounds to abject interference with their employees lives.

One of the latest companies to join the trend is Harmonix, who released a statement today on their official twitter account reflecting on the company’s own origins – being cofounded by an immigrant from the Middle East.

Harmonix is only the latest to join the ranks of companies that have gone public with their sentiments, including iNK Stories, Insomniac Games, Microsoft, the GDC, the ESA (the people who organize the Electronics Entertainment Expo – E3), Dots, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Blizzard, and the attendees of PAX South, among others. This is all a rather atypical reaction given the games industry’s tendency to avoid jumping into political frays (beyond the occasional spat around violence in gaming debate), particularly in the last decade. Once the censorship debates of the 90’s were over, it’s been hard to get the diverse group of humans who make up the gaming industry to collectively agree about anything. The number of heads buried in the sand during 2015’s #gamergate would have been astounding, had it not been so predictable. So to see so many companies joining the fight against the immigration ban is heartwarming, if nothing else.

In a quick reaction, iNK Stories has announced that the proceeds of their game 1979 Revolution will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is launching several lawsuits against the United States Government.

Insomniac released a video on Monday illustrating their frustration and disgust at the order, which is a reaction many of us share.

Microsoft released a statement on Sunday and held an employee Q&A on Monday which were combined went live on their blog yesterday reading, in part, “We believe the executive order is misguided and a fundamental step backwards. There are more effective ways to protect public safety without creating so much collateral damage to the country’s reputation and values.” While its nice to see Microsoft step up about the immigration ban, it isn’t exactly something to celebrate.

Bethesda chimed in with the following, “We are a global company with employees of every race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. As such, we will always support diversity and acceptance over division and exclusion.”

EA has not released an official statement, but a spokesperson released a statement to Mashable, who also collected statements from Ubisoft, Mike Mohraime of Blizzard, and Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau, all of which boiled down to the same basic statement Expressed by Bethesda above

The Game Developer’s Conference official twitter released the following statement about their upcoming convention:

Devolver Digital has decided to showcase games that wouldn’t make it to the GDC show due to the ban. Nice to see games companies working together no? Our very own Patrick Dane had more to say about that decision earlier today.

PAX South attendees walked in protest this weekend regarding the bans from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center to Senator Cornyn’s office in an impromtu campaing they were calling the Nerdwalk.  The focus of the walk was to protest the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known derogatorily as “Obamacare,” and the Anti-immigration executive order.

Rami Ismail, a proud muslim game developer, wrote an Op-Ed for the Guardian about his worries for the future of gaming in America. Ismail’s piece is full of short anecdotes about working as a muslim in the United States, but the most poignant story comes at the end, “When I started travelling on my own back in 2010, my mother would frequently check in to see whether I was safe. After many years of travel, she stopped doing that unless I visited countries the Dutch government had a negative travel advisory for, often countries that are unstable, at war, or at risk of terrorist attacks. For the first time in years, she messaged me last week to check in whether I was safe, because I was in the US.” I would note that the call mentioned came before the immigration ban, highlighting the amount of vehement islamophobia peddled by the current administration.

While much of the more blatant statements have been made by private individuals and smaller, indie games companies, the recent releases by Insomnia, Harmonix, Bethesda, Ubisoft, and Microsoft show that the trend has grown into the main stream. The games industry is a $90B a year industry with a strong foundation in the States, and it should come as no surprise that many in the industry have opinions, however, many of the strongest voices have been quiet, reserved, and though they decry the immigration ban, they do not take any sort of stance other than to say “yes this is bad and we don’t like it.” Which is ultimately incredibly unhelpful.

Given Trump’s ‘tentative’ plans to eventually remove the H-1B “high skilled workers” Visa, it will absolutely destroy much of the tech industry which requires high skilled workers from all over and drags them all into silicon valley. Quite a few reports of the effect this could have on the technology sector have already made their way to various news feeds because the loss of PMs and engineers would have a devastating effect – but do remember, video games are inherently part of the tech sector – and all of tech is going to be hurting with the removal of the H-1B Visa.

Games, like all art, are a product of the environment they are created in, and are ultimately political entities. Video games have been used as excuses for violent behavior since the Columbine shootings and not once has the industry taken a stand, because “that’s not what games are about.” But ignoring making a stand in many ways is exactly like making stand. Not calling out prejudice and inequality is a form of enabling and normalizing such behavior. For years now the games industry has had reason to make a stand- from the early censorship debates, the cultural scapegoating of violent games as reason for increased violence in American youth to allowing same-sex relationships in open-world titles like Mass Effect and the mainstream silence around the entire spectacle that was #gamergate – games have had a lot of political things to deal with. And we’ve never really come together on any of those issues, which was a massive failing. We may have started to rally against the current immigration troubles and that’s good. I don’t mean to disparage any of the companies who have come out against the Muslim Ban. Ultimately, this is a good start, but we can do better.

About Madeline Ricchiuto

Madeline Ricchiuto is a gamer, comics enthusiast, bad horror movie connoisseur, writer and generally sarcastic human. She also really likes cats and is now Head Games Writer at Bleeding Cool.

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