2020 has been a year to remember. For the world at large, sure, but also for the worldwide gaming community. Though it feels strange summarizing this year’s events to briskly move past a global pandemic, I want to avoid repeating the facts that have already been established and sentiments that have already been expressed. Instead, let’s just pin the obvious to the top of this board: COVID-19 has been devastating to almost every citizen and every economy in almost every country in the world.
The gaming world hasn’t been exempt either, though it has largely been immune to the standstill suffered by other industries. But there have been major delays for game releases, altered schedules and increased costs for devs, and the cancellation of every expo or conference scheduled after March 2020. It’s left many professionals feeling the effects of the pandemic without a jolting interruption of their daily lives. Things just feel…different.
As soon as the economic panic started to match the public health panic, the world at large started to push forward; Back to work, back to play, back to business as usual. And for a public equally as exhausted from quarantine as they are from the devastation, it’s been a transition that many have celebrated while others have been forced to cautiously accept.
That means the gaming community can get back into gear, trying their best to recover from an already marred 2020 calendar. For devs, it means mostly business as usual, except some remote work possibly turning back into office commutes. For most media, that means the execution and coverage of virtual conferences that have been in planning since the major expos announced their cancellations. For gamers, it means they can let their excitement build and turn their attention back to the coverage that will get their minds and wallets tingling the way they should during a next-generation console launch year.
Time for the PS5 Reveal?
For PlayStation, that meant it was finally time to break their awkward silence and return fire at Xbox, who had begun a media assault before the calendar had even turned from 2019. The path of the next-gen battle has already been charted thoroughly, and it has without a doubt been a very strange year for Sony.
While Xbox’s information blitz has netted plenty of mindshare, it’s been taken with a grain of salt from more discerning onlookers. And with good reason: the biggest guns haven’t shown up to the party yet. So in late May, as rumors started to build of an official PlayStation 5 reveal event, the excitement started to build as well. There was a lot that hadn’t yet been said, and the usual E3 coverage window was approaching. Would it happen? Would we finally see Goliath step inside the ring and ring the bell in earnest for the start of the next-generation console battle?
We would. On May 29th, Sony confirmed the event that had been whispered about for weeks. The PS5 reveal was going to happen on June 4th. Calendars were marked, appointments were made, reaction podcasts were scheduled, and PlayStation fans everywhere could finally look forward to meaningful news about the PlayStation 5.
Little did any of us know, that wouldn’t be the only major event happening in the next week. Actually, a major event had already occurred. Four days earlier, on May 25th, a Black man named George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on the street. He had not committed a crime. He did not resist. He was beaten in their police car. As three officers pinned him down with one of them kneeling on the back of his neck for more than eight minutes, George did not insult or berate him. He used his voice to tell the officers repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. He called out for his dead mother. Then he died.
What happened to George Floyd was not an isolated incident. It happens quite often. Black Americans and other minorities who possess no weapons and are committing no crimes are targeted, identified as criminals without cause, treated as hostile, and lose their lives in police custody. The list of victims’ names have been piling high in the last few years as the visibility of police brutality has risen to an all-time high. And while that visibility has resulted in more attention to the victims and the circumstances of their deaths, very little has been done to cease the practice of police brutality against Blacks and other American minorities. Not enough people care. They’ve got their sports teams to root for, school to attend, jobs to work, and games to play. People are busy with lives and need all their time to focus on it. A truly horrific story will break through to major news outlets if it’s sensational enough to warrant clicks and views, but there is rarely any real interest in change. Just observation and spectacle.
For Black people, there’s collectively very little hope that change is possible. It’s a cycle we’ve come to expect in America: We hear another Black person is brutalized or murdered by the police. We get outraged. We go over the footage with disgust and talk about it amongst ourselves on social media or in our day to day lives. We lament that things are the way they are. We rally around each other and donate to the causes or families affected by the lost life. Then we pick ourselves up and begrudgingly move on with our everyday lives. Because we’ve got to go back to work, back to play, back to business as usual.
How COVID Incited This Moment
But funny things happen when there are no sports to spill our attention and passion into. When campuses empty and academics come to a halt at the end of the spring, an entire generation’s attention bandwidth is freed up. The summer movie season gets canceled and there are no superhero flicks to capture our imaginations. The usual volume of console launch year news we would have received in years past is nowhere to be found, so neither is the joy, speculation, forecasting, and bickering that comes along with it. Almost twenty percent of American workers lose their jobs, half of those people lose their health insurance, and tens of millions are in dire financial straits.
And COVID-19 is yet another phantom, killing Black Americans at a rate much higher than the rest of the population. The Black American community that was overwhelmed and exhausted with racism in America is now out of work, out of money, and out of options with little-to-nothing to fill the void. And for the first time in quite a while, letting that void turn a collective despair and rage into action doesn’t seem so outrageous, because for many there is now nothing to lose.
The protests that have taken place in the days following George Floyd’s murder have not been a surprise to me. For the first time maybe ever, there has not been anything to pull oxygen away from this incident. There has not been any good news. Many of the things we usually run to for safety are still on hiatus. So it’s no surprise to me that the reaction is outrage, upheaval, and rioting. And it is also no surprise that this is the moment that has pulled the nation and the world’s attention to a singular point. We are living through moments that will be written in bold letters in history books 20 years from now.
What Black Lives Matter Means for Gaming
For the gaming world at large, there wasn’t much at stake. Diversity in gaming spaces has long been discussed, but there are usually enough allies and enough thoughtfulness to find a place to exist as a Black person in gaming culture. A place to thrive? Not yet. But progress was being made. So I never stopped to think about what the moment would mean for Black people as it relates to gaming. It did bring some attention to the diversity in gaming media, which has been an interesting conversation to see unfold in real-time on social media. For many, it spurred action to begin dialogue about diversifying their staffs. In some cases, major publications have opened their doors specifically to Black American writers and content creators in an effort to make that aforementioned progress a little more tangible and help speed it along.
The rest of the world made their stand, giving full voice to the movement by actually using a “Black Lives Matter” moniker that would have been too risqué for them to broadcast just a few short months ago. Businesses from every industry stepped out with PR statements of support—although to be clear, that isn’t quite the same as admonishing overt police force and brutality toward Blacks and other American minorities—and there wasn’t much to be risked by doing so. Everybody had borne witness to the murder that became an eventful night, and then became a movement. There was no longer any denying that the statement needed to be said, understood, repeated until actual change takes place.
For Sony, this wasn’t quite as simple an interaction. Their core business is PlayStation, as it is a major driver for the entire company. In a console launch year where they had been beaten to the punch by Xbox with console unveiling and backward compatibility, they had already had to alter their marketing plans a few times over to adjust for a global pandemic, a first-party studio leak, and the resulting squeeze from having two major releases stuck together as PlayStation tried to push them out the door to market at the same time. Another delay could be devastating. Besides, this type of reveal is the kind of thing that would help calm the sort of upheaval going on right now, right? People would welcome the distraction of some solid PS5 features and console reveal.
All of that may have been true. As a Black gamer, I would have watched the PS5 reveal just as intently as I have watched coverage of the protests. I have been anticipating and predicting the details and features of the PS5 for years now, and there wouldn’t have been anybody more ready to digest that information than me. But that’s not what was needed.
What was needed was for this moment in time to be allowed to breathe and burn and work its way into the crevices and corners of the places where people do business, choose employees, and make content. What was needed was a steady stream of attention from onlookers with no stakes in the Black Lives Matter movement to bear witness to the names, stories, and incidents of the Black people brutalized and murdered by police leading up to this moment. What was needed was for the usual distractions to stay absent and not burn up the oxygen in the room.
And as Sony surveyed the landscape, armed with long-awaited PlayStation 5 news that was sure to set the gaming world on fire, they saw that the world was already burning. So they took stock and took a step back, announcing on June 1st that they would abandon their June 4th reveal to let the voices speaking out be heard. Sony again delayed the masses the gratification of knowing what to look forward to with the PS5 and instead chose not to knock this movement off of the platform. And while I’m certain that this could be viewed as a shrewd PR move by Sony, it was also the right thing to do. Following that announcement, the PlayStation Twitter account also stayed silent for a full week, making good on the company’s promise to let others be heard.
What it Meant to Delay the PS5 Reveal
It cannot be overstated just how much of the market share PlayStation captured with the PS4. The numbers tell most of the story, but not all of it. The console sales alone don’t explain how the digital store sales exploded this console cycle or how free-to-play games became the casual gamer’s new bedrock. Console sales alone don’t explain how the PS4 became such a staple of Black culture that twitter is littered with NSFW jokes about what guys would be willing to do both to and for their girlfriends to land a PS5. Charts and graphs presented in stockholder meetings don’t capture how much of the zeitgeist PlayStation has secured in a console generation where social media became cultural standard instead of just an option.
Sony’s statement and decision to delay their PS5 reveal may have been expected, common sense, or even covertly self-serving. But unlike many, Sony had something to lose by delaying this reveal. The budget, time, and logistics put into preparing events like this means that even a week’s delay is going to cost the company a lot of extra effort and money. Ads had to be changed. Partners had to be notified. Everything that comes along with new game announcements—preorders, merch, a new marketing push from those third-party studios, etc.—had to be pushed. It’s a logistical nightmare.
But more than that, from this Black gamer and writer’s perspective, it was a risk. Denouncing police violence against Black Americans is a step further than simply saying that Black Lives Matter. The dismissive and even outright racist comments beneath the delay announcement have the odd effect of justifying the movement—and in turn, Sony’s message delay. Not everyone will agree with the movement. So not everyone will agree with their favorite companies’ public stance on the moment we are all witnessing, such as Infinity Ward adding Black Lives Matter loading screen to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And as they continue to detract and complain, let their voices continue to serve as evidence of why the movement was and is still very necessary.
As a Black person witnessing this moment, I am incredibly thankful. I’m glad the distractions have been minimal so that this moment can be seen and heard and given the attention it deserves. I’m thankful that the attention has turned a once-taboo statement into a corporate norm. I’m thankful that for the first time that I can remember, there is genuine hope for change on the issue of police brutality against Blacks and other American minorities. As a gamer, I’m thankful that the PS5 reveal was only delayed a week. As a writer, I’m thankful that I was given the platform to express these thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
And as a human being, I’m hoping that we can soon get back to work; back to play—but maybe have business be a little better going forward.