This week was supposed to be a celebration of gaming, but now is not the time.
As the summer of gaming was supposed to kick off in full force this week, with Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 5, and EA’s unveiling of “Madden NFL 21,” a virus has infected the United States and festered until it was forced into the light with the power and fury of an entire race of people and their allies that are rightfully fed up, demanding justice and change —settling for nothing less.
George Floyd is a name few, if any, video game fans knew before last week. Today, it’s a name everyone knows for all of the wrong reasons. Killed at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Floyd ‘s name lives on on the tips of every tongue of every demonstrator and protester demanding change and justice. Across the country, and here in Southwest Oklahoma, that demand for change continues to spread. Its power —its perseverance — can be felt in every walk of life.
“Black Lives Matter” has been a rallying cry for years, but one often overlooked or simply dismissed by many. The ongoing battle for justice for innocent black men and women unceremoniously killed has reached a fever point this last week that has forced everyone — be they common individuals lost in the crowd to the largest corporations of the nation — to take notice, and to make their voices heard. Contrary to the beliefs of the angry mob that floods social media accounts of Sony, Microsoft, Naughty Dog and so many others, this is a good thing. Our hobby that we love so much, and to which we have dedicated much of our lives, is not so important to take precedence over what we are seeing in America today.
EA was supposed to fully announce and unveil “Madden NFL 21” Monday, showcasing the first real gameplay footage of the perennial sports game. The NFL title sells more than 10 million a year and generates billions in revenue for EA. Its marketing campaign —from formal unveiling to release —is carefully crafted in order to maximize hype and revenue. EA put the entire campaign on ice this week. In an official statement, EA said it can find another time to talk about football, but this movement is bigger than any game or sports.
“We stand with our African-American/black community of friends, players, colleagues and partners,” the statement reads. “Our immediate attention is on actions we can take to drive change against the unjust treatment and systemic bias that is plaguing the nation and our world.”
Sony, originally planning to formally unveil the PS5 with a showcase of hardware and games Thursday, followed suit Monday by indefinitely postponing its presentation. The original schedule fell on the same date as an official memorial service for Floyd. The timing could not have been worse. Thankfully, Sony opted to postpone.
“While we understand gamers are excited to see PS5 games, we do not feel that right now is a time for celebration and for now, we want to stand back and allow more important voices to be heard,” the official statement read.
The reaction, as one would expect from the depths of the unfiltered Internet and anonymous social media, has been disappointing, to say the least. So many have called Sony racist, cowardly and many other, worse, insults. Others have accused Sony, and EA, of “virtue signalling,” in an effort to capitalize on the present circumstance. For the record, every division of Sony will match all of its employee donations to any social justice foundation.
The reaction from gaming fans —much of it toxic — has been disappointing, but unsurprising. This is the fandom that spawned Gamergate, after all, and tried to ruin the lives of so many female developers and video game journalists. But it’s still disheartening to see so many prioritize a hobby over such a lightning rod cause. “Madden NFL 21” will still be unveiled and released in August. The PS5 will still be revealed and released this holiday season. That companies are pulling their glorified commercials out of respect for a cause that has inspired thousands to rise up and protest in the streets shows how important this really is. Instead, many cannot see past their technological distractions to understand what’s happening in the real world.
Admittedly, we all need some positivity in our lives as 2020 continues to find new ways to make us miserable. But we should also have the common sense and understanding to know when it’s time to take a step back, open our eyes and ears and listen when someone says something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. We can put down our plastic controllers, turn off our game systems and see that the world needs to change. That is the very least we can do.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.