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Bungie to improve its games' online safety after Buffalo, NY terror attack

Bungie is committing to improve the safety of its online games to prevent online extremism, and is urging other companies to do the same.

Destiny 2 developer Bungie has issued a statement condemning the recent terror attack in Buffalo, NY, where 18-year old Payton Gendron allegedly opened fire in a Tops grocery store, killing 10 people and injuring more. In the statement, the company declared it is committing to improving online safety in its communities in order to better combat online extremism.

In the days since the shooting, authorities have revealed that Gendron allegedly planned his attacks months in advance, and deliberately targeted Buffalo's Black community. The attacks were allegedly planned on social chat platform Discord (which is still popular with the video game community despite a branding shift away from video games), and streamed briefly on Twitch.

Though there are no indications that Gendron planned or discussed the attack while playing Destiny 2, Bungie is still taking action with assistance from employee working group Black at Bungie. First, it's donating proceeds of sales from the "Be Heard" pin for the next year to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that works to monitor right-wing extremism in the United States.

Second (and this is a far more unusual announcement), Bungie is saying that it will be working with its player support and community teams to "see what part [the studio] can play in preventing these tragedies."

"We hope our colleagues in game development and gaming communities continue to examine their own platforms and invest in practices to combat bigotry in all its manifestations," the studio added. "We believe games and their communities should be a force for good and we are committed to that."

Bungie was previously forced to confront online extremism when it discovered a contract artist had created an in-game skin themed after a white supremacist

This appears to be the first time that any game company has directly acknowledged efforts by far-right extremists to recruit new members of their ideology through the video game community. Examples of this unfortunately date back deep into the history of online multiplayer games, though recent activity has caught the attention of news outlets like NPR and Axios

Few game companies have ever acknowledged that their online player communities might be hotbeds for harassment, let alone far-right extremism. We have had recent instances of companies describing efforts to combat "toxicity" but targeted harassment against women, LGTBQ players, and players of color has rarely been directly addressed. 

Meanwhile organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have tracked a growing increase in online harassment on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality.

Bungie's own comments highlight the fact that this isn't a problem one company can solve on its own. Though players may spread bigotry while playing a game like Destiny 2, many of them gather in other online forums. In olden times, it was on online forums. Now it's Discord servers.

Discord itself has said it's removed the server Gendron allegedly used to end its attack, though it has not provided any explanation for why it took little or no proactive action.

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