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Sony preps abortion rights donation after backlash to Jim Ryan email

Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price has reportedly told employees that Sony Interactive Entertainment is dead set against making any public statement in support of abortion rights.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

May 16, 2022

5 Min Read
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Sony Interactive Entertainment and Insomniac Games are reportedly planning to make a major donation to an abortion rights nonprofit after SIE CEO Jim Ryan's poorly-received email last week, according to emails reviewed by The Washington Post. But as part of that donation, the company behind PlayStation apparently plans to keep quiet publicly about the ongoing battle over abortion rights in the United States.

Ryan's email from last week (which asked employees to "respect differences of opinion" on abortion, before proceeding to discuss his cat's birthdays and the joys of dog ownership) apparently not only triggered backlash from employees, it drove subsidiary Insomniac Games to prepare a $50,000 donation to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP). 

Sony has apparently agreed to match Insomniac Games' donation, as well as any donations made by employees through the company's PlayStation Cares program. It is also apparently drafting policies to provide employees with financial assistance should they need to travel to different states to receive reproductive care.

This revelation from The Washington Post seems to be a frustrating mixed bag for Sony and Insomniac Games employees. On the one hand, Sony's commitment to supporting abortion rights organizations and employees in need of reproductive care is welcome, especially after Ryan's befuddling comments downplaying the issue last week.

On the other hand, Sony is apparently taking a draconian approach to its messaging on the topic. Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price reportedly told employees that its parent company has demanded silence from the game developer, and that "there would be material repercussions for us as a wholly owned subsidiary" if it were to ignore that directive.

"Among other things, any progress that we might make in helping change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] approach would be stopped dead in its tracks," he apparently added. "We’d also probably be severely restricted from doing important public-facing work in the future."

Price apparently also acknowledge that for the first time since the studio was acquired by PlayStation in 2020, it has had its ability to speak publicly and independently severely curtailed. You might recall that Insomniac Games was one of the first companies to jump into the fray and decry the "Muslim ban" imposed by President Donald Trump in 2016.

Sony's decision to speak with donations, not statements, will likely not satisfy employee unrest on the topic. Advocates for reproductive health and abortion rights are also equally likely to be unimpressed. Lily Bolourian, executive director of Pro Choice Maryland, expressed frustration over Sony's hesitancy to speak publicly. 

"I think that companies who are too afraid to say the word 'abortion,' and take a stance on something that is wildly popular across the country show that they are gutless, and that they are not interested in social change that they like to trot out every so often."

For context, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that over 61 percent of American adults are in favor of abortion access. Even a chunk of adults surveyed who generally oppose abortion believe it should be accessible under some conditions.

Sony has also made public statements in support of Women's History Month and annual Pride Month celebrations, yet is choosing silence in a moment where women, nonbinary individuals, and transgender individuals stand to suffer from changes in abortion access. (Sony's also publicized the fact that the number of women who own PlayStation devices has dramatically increased in the modern console era).

Bolourian pointed out Sony is in a position where its public stances might have more impact than quiet donations. "They need to realize that they have plenty of people who have abortions, and who provide abortions, that play on their systems all day every day," she pointed out. "The government is directly attacking their customers, and they should be responding with that in mind."

Developers looking to learn from Sony's stumbles should also pay attention to what kinds of organizations are receiving funding from Sony and other game developers. Bolourian encouraged developers to pay close attention to where their money is going, and suggested that prioritizing local abortion networks over larger national nonprofits is more likely to help people who need reproductive care in areas where such care will be restricted.

"Abortion fund networks provide logistical and financial support to individuals seeking an abortion," she explained. Networks are structured state-by-state by organizations that work in collaboration to secure funds and travel for those in need of abortion. If one state's coffers are low, they're able to work with other states to ensure people's procedures don't go unfunded.

Ours was one of the first calls Bolourian has taken about how video game companies are responding to the looming likelihood that abortion rights will be severely restricted in the United States. Bolourian herself plays video games in her spare time, and expressed frustration that the video game industry is not broadly choosing to respond to this moment. "In a lot of ways, we've backslided," she noted. "Gamergate took us back to hell, so gaming has been difficult for women since then."

"To add a layer of that with organizations that won't speak up about abortion rights...that tells me that they don't value their [female], nonbinary, and transgender customers. That's hurtful as someone who has used games to escape from reality my whole life."

"They can conceive of all these games, but they can't even conceive of saying the word 'abortion,'" she concluded.

We've reached out to Sony for comment on this story, and will update it when the company responds.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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