Bungie, Microsoft, and Others React to Repeal of Roe v. wade

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Following a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion essentially confirming that the days of Roe v. Wade are counted, most of the biggest companies in the video game industry have remained remarkably quiet – but not all.

Shortly after Politico first reported on the Supreme Court leaked project on May 2, Sony-bought ‘Destiny 2’ studio Bungie released a statement in support of reproductive rights, calling the disappearance of Roe c. Wade’s “blow to freedom in America” ​​and “a direct attack on human rights,” and urging fans to donate to organizations focused on reproductive rights. In the following days, indie developers and a handful of other studios like “Psychonauts 2” creator Double Fine and “Guild Wars” developer ArenaNet have released brief statements of their own.

A handful of workers also told the Post they would take part in a week-long Mother’s Day strike aimed at protesting the potential overthrow of Roe v. Wade, courtesy of their companies to stop work this week.

But the majority of the game‘s heaviest hitters seem to have kept their mouths and wallets shut. This silence is particularly visible after the industry’s near uniliteral support for causes like Black Lives Matter in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and anti-Asian hatred in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. In both of these cases, many large companies released statements, donated to charitable causes, updated their internal policies, and added in-game features to allow players to express their support.

Black Game Developers: Diversity Push Gets Much Talk, Little Progress

The Washington Post contacted 20 major video game companies to find out if they planned to issue a statement regarding the potential repeal of Roe or provide financial assistance to employees in places where abortions would no longer be available. Only Microsoft and Activision Blizzard responded with statements.

“Microsoft will continue to do everything we can under the law to protect the rights of our employees and help employees and their enrolled dependents access essential health care – which already includes services like abortion and gender-affirming care – regardless of where they live across the US,” reads a statement to the Post. “This support is expanded to include assistance with travel costs for these medical services and others where access to care is limited in availability in an employee’s home geographic region.”

Other tech giants like Amazon, Tesla, Lyft and Uber have also pledged monetary relief and, in some cases, legal protection to employees in states that will no longer offer abortions.

Since 1973, Roe v. Wade protected Americans’ right to abortion. Once it’s overturned, the decision on how to handle abortion — up to and including potential criminalization — will shift to the state level. Already, a number of red states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas have indicated they will functionally ban abortion, while blue states like California and Vermont are moving to codify the abortion as a constitutional right. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 28% of those polled supported the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Independent studio Certain Affinity, which has worked on major games like “Halo Infinite,” is based in Texas, a state that has already severely restricted access to abortion. Still, Max Hoberman, CEO of the company, said the news of Roe v. Wade had taken him by surprise.

“We will absolutely take a strong stance on this and consider how best to support our staff who may be affected, but we haven’t had a chance to stand before a message or strategy yet; it kind of caught us off guard,” Hoberman told the Post. “We are still an independent company with limited resources.”

The response to Bungie’s post might give a clue as to why some companies are staying mum on the matter. Gamers tend to bristle at issues surrounding women both in and out of gaming, as evidenced by the regular online outbursts against prominent women in the industry sparked by the 2014 “GamerGate” movement, and a series of recent scandals surrounding sexism and corporations. culture within companies like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, as well as on live streaming platforms like Twitch. Bungie’s history is not free of such controversy, with IGN releasing a report last year in which current and former employees alleged a boys’ club culture. That culture, say employees who spoke to The Post, has since improved, but truly pervasive solutions take time.

On Twitter, thousands of people responded to Bungie’s reproductive rights statement, with some angrily berating the studio for being too political. As a result, companies tend to scrutinize responses in cases like these, when responding at all.

Bungie, for its part, stood firm: “We picked our side and it wasn’t difficult,” Bungie said. responded to an angry tweet. “Our company values ​​exist beyond our games.”

What if Roe v. Wade was canceled

Within the company, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “Super awesome that we’re leading the way in the industry space with a tough stance,” said a current Bungie employee who, like others who spoke with The Post, did so under the guise of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the subject. publicly. “It’s weird to me that more people aren’t coming out and standing up for basic human rights.”

Bungie has an internal diversity committee that a current employee called instrumental in creating internal and external statements about the impending repeal of Roe v. Wade. This employee described significant interest within the studio around the idea of ​​monetary support for employees in places like Texas — especially now that Bungie has adopted a “digital-first” remote work structure — and said Bungie was “reviewing” it. An email sent to Bungie employees specifically stated that “longer term, we are exploring ways to help affected employees preserve their right to essential health care both in Washington State and those who work remotely”. It remains to be seen, however, whether the leadership will translate this interest into a tangible initiative.

“Pete [Parsons, the CEO of Bungie,] and other leaders are usually quick to speak out, which is good, but any systemic change in the company takes a very, very long time to come out, and we don’t hear about it until they’re on the about to happen,” said a third current Bungie employee. “They usually give us corporate talk, ‘It’s really important to us and we’re thinking about it,’ which is always frustrating to hear.”

Activision Blizzard, a prominent game developer facing multiple lawsuits and investigations over its corporate culture and its CEO Bobby Kotick, released a brief abortion rights statement late Tuesday night. “We are committed to creating an inclusive environment that supports all of our employees,” said Rich George, spokesperson for Activision Blizzard. “As a company, providing fair and equitable healthcare is a top priority, and we will be closely monitoring developments in the weeks and months ahead.”

In a May 5 message to employees seen by The Post, Blizzard President Mike Ybarra wrote, “I realize we are running late and I’m sorry. It’s been incredibly stressful for Blizzard (and me personally) as we read the news. He said he met with executives to discuss how the company would handle the situation on May 4. ”

“Right now at Activision, a lot of employees are distracted and scared for the future,” said Emily Knief, senior graphic designer at Blizzard, who is trans. “Mr. Kotick is committed to improving the working conditions of the many lives that work under him and to making Activision the best company possible. And I can say without hesitation that right now he is letting us all down. .

Robert Anderberg, CEO and co-founder of independent game studio ControlZee, said: “Our position on abortion rights in [the] United States is that we support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion for any reason.

Anderberg said the company currently operates in five countries, including the United States. However, among these countries, the United States “is the only one where abortion is restricted and on the verge of becoming more so”. Her company allows employees to participate in the Mother’s Day strike.

The Supreme Court’s draft opinion on the reversal of Roe v. Wade, annotated

The Mother’s Day strike runs from May 8 to May 15 and is asking participants to stop working, shopping and eating out to protest the possibility that Roe v. Wade can be canceled.

“We’re still fighting for organization right now,” said Javiera Cordero, an indie developer who’s taking part in the Mother’s Day strike and compiling resources for organizational best practices. “As a trans person, this concerns me directly, because it is about depriving individuals of their bodily autonomy. This is where trans issues are directly linked to feminist issues like abortion rights.

“I don’t know how long I can continue to live in this country and feel like they care about us,” said an indie game developer in Chicago who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of the online harassment after what happened at Bungie. She participates in the Mother’s Day strike with the permission of her studio, which supported her. The studio declined to provide a statement.

Not all pro-abortion-rights game developers were able to take a week off to strike. A Blizzard employee told the Post that while she wanted to participate, she couldn’t afford it. “I understand the idea behind it, but I find it hard to think who can strike like that without it being disastrous in terms of one’s ability to live sensibly.”

Right now, game workers just want some semblance of stability with the potential repeal of Roe v. Wade threatening to topple their foundation. A commitment to reproductive health care from their employers, in their eyes, would at least be something.

“While bodily autonomy can be a burning issue, [companies like Activision Blizzard] don’t take into account the very real lives of the people involved,” said Blizzard graphic designer Knief. “The many women, trans men and non-binary people within the company who are forced to continue to meet the expectations of their role on a daily basis while being aware that their ability to regulate their own bodies may soon be criminalized. ”

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