As someone who grew up on video games and now has the good fortune of working to showcase the many positive benefits it can have on physical and mental health, it was one of my greatest professional honors to have been selected last year to be part of the Game Awards Future Class. One of the primary reasons was that it offered me a diverse community of creators who could support one another, learn from one another, and use our expertise for good within a digital space that can at times feel like only the most extreme voices are amplified.
The Open Letter’s One-Sided Narrative
Unfortunately, this week I witnessed that very reality within our own Game Awards community. On November 28th, an “Open Letter to The Game Awards” was circulated to our Discord server and the broader online gaming community, requesting The Game Awards publicly express support for “the protection of Palestinian human rights,” and “call for a long term ceasefire” in Israel/Gaza. I too value the human rights of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and remain concerned about innocent loss of life. Yet, as a Jew, and someone with family and friends experiencing loss in Israel, I was shocked to see that missing from the letter was any acknowledgement of the barbaric violence perpetrated against innocent Israeli children, women, and men in the aftermath of October 7th. In fact, along with no mention of Israeli loss of life there was no denunciation of Hamas, the U.S. designated terror organization, that murdered 1200 Israeli civilians, took over 240 innocent hostages, and that has a long abused and terrorized citizens in Israel, indeed calling for its destruction, and has long deprived the civilians of Gaza of their basic needs. Equally troubling, the open-letter, purports to be written on behalf of the entire Game Awards Future Class despite many having no knowledge of the note. Its content is one-sided, and irresponsibly conflates the war in Israel/Gaza with being a driver of xenophobia and misrepresentation of muslims, arabs, brown, and black people in video games.
A statement by The Game Awards in support of this message, without acknowledgement of the State of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism would be a gross misuse of influence that would ignore the real-life context around the war.
Addressing Allegations of “Genocide”
Firstly, the letter refers to a “genocide” on the Palestinian people, which is a dangerous and innacurate claim . The word genocide refers to the conscious and systematic destruction of an entire ethnic or cultural group that has been targeted on the basis of its identity in an effort to destroy a group’s population. We’ve seen horrific examples of this perpetuated by Nazi Germany, where the size of a particular group- in that case Jews - are systematically murdered and their population shrinks considerably. What we’re seeing in Gaza, despite the growing number of casualties often exacerbated by Hamas putting its citizens in Gaza in harm’s way by fighting from densely populated civilian areas, is not that. Indeed, the population of Gaza has continued to grow. Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the population has grown to reach over two million. In this past year alone the population has grown by 22,104 in the last year, or a 2.92% growth.
The Role of Hamas
The letter makes no mention of Hamas or the brutal murders, rape, and kidnapping that occurred on Oct 7th and were the sole factor for Israel’s war and response. It is Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas in the face of such brutal attacks. Instead, the letter quotes and links to an article from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, someone who has in the past attempted to justify the October 7 terror attack on Israel by Hamas by saying that it “did not happen in a vacuum”. As if the systematic targeting, murder, raping, and kidnapping of innocent men, women, elderly, children, and infants is justifyable by any cause. Here in the United States, President Biden, and his administration, have called out the United Nations for unfair bias against Israel, failing to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself or to acknowledge the well-documented and widespread use of sexual violence by Hamas against Israeli women. None of this important context was included in the open letter.
The Importance of Acknowledging Suffering & Calling Out Terror
The letter quotes UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks regarding innocent loss of life in Gaza, without mentioning any of the innocent loss of life or atrocities that Hamas brought upon Israel. Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way, establishing their places of weaponry, artillery fire, and operations in civilian areas such as hospitals and mosques. The loss of civilian life is always deeply tragic, on both sides. That is something that I, and all people of good conscience, should be able to acknowledge. By ignoring the well-documented loss of Israeli life and the abuse, including documented sexual crimes, torture, and mutilation, by Hamas on Israeli civilians, in their letter, my counterparts in the Future Class seem unwilling share this sentiment that we need to acknowledge horrific suffering on both sides, and call out terrorism.
The Video Game Industry’s Responsibility
Why does this matter? The video game industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that touches millions of people each day. The Game Awards is leading the way and its voice carries a great deal of weight. Commenting on world events should be lauded, but it must be done in a factual and inclusive manner. This would go a long way to ending the loud silence that the industry has so far held in response to the war in Israel/Gaza.
Misrepresentation of Minorities in Video Games
But, the open letter suggests another link to the video games world - that misrepresentation of minorities in video games is interlinked with the current war in the Middle East. While representation in video games is a just cause that many in the Future Class should speak about, especially given lived experiences, in this case the link that they are trying to make ignores the very lived experience and diversity of Israelis and many Jews.
The Future Class’s Lack of Consultation
While the letter was written “as members of the Game Awards Future Class”, the Future Class as a whole was never consulted or warned about this letter. I, of course, do not agree with the content or context of the letter. Several other Future Class members have reached out to me privately expressing similar sentiments and concern, and concern of speaking out. There is a growing feeling of being devalued and stripped of their voices. My outspokenness has already led to harassment, and I fear it will continue to do so.
Antisemitism and the Future Class’s Promise
Lastly, I started with the promise of the Game Awards Future Class. That promise being a space of inclusion for creators. However, since I expressed my discomfort with the open letter I- a Jew, and someone with friends and family directly affected in Israel- have been faced with blatant antisemitism and threats online by fellow users. When I decided to share my concern with my Future Class colleagues on our Discord channel, I was called out and threatened. Even before hitting submit on my message, the author of the open letter wrote in the public thread, “I’m seeing you writing, @Amiad Fredman. I hope you have smarter things to say here than your insults on Twitter.” On X (formerly known as Twitter), a member and Destiny player, expressed her disgust for the entire Future Class program after “a zionist made it on the list.” The user was referencing me. They also welcomed others to attack me directly online, which I’ve endured. My apparent wrongdoing? Being Jewish and supporting Israel. That at a time of skyrocketing rates of antisemitism worldwide those in our gaming community are inviting others to attack me for my Jewish identity and support of Israel, despite my equal acknowledgment of innocent Palestinian suffering in Gaza, points to a major flaw in our community culture.
And so no, I, as a proud Jew and member of the Future Class do not endorse this so-called Future Class “Open Letter to The Game Awards”. Instead, I call on the Game Awards, and our broader gaming community, to do better.
Amiad Fredman, MD
The Game Awards Future Class 2021