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The Game Awards’ Future Class members demand awards show recognize Gaza crisis

The Future Class program recognizes ‘the bright, bold and inclusive future’ of video games

An illustration of the award trophy from The Game Awards 2019 Image: The Game Awards
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Dozens of members of The Game Awards’ Future Class — a program that honors the “bright, bold, and inclusive future” of the video game industry, according to The Game Awards’ website — have signed an open letter to host Geoff Keighley and TGA Future Class director Emily Bouchoc asking for recognition of the Gaza humanitarian crisis during December’s live event.

“In the past years, you’ve selected us to represent the future of the game industry,” wrote the group, which includes 59 members of Future Class at the time of writing, in the open letter. (So far, there are 150 members in the Future Class — 50 for each year since the program began in 2020.) “You didn’t choose us as symbols of what the game industry currently is, but of what it could be: a diverse, inclusive and caring workplace. A positive force in the world that can influence billions of people. We want to sincerely thank you for the trust you extended when nominating us. Today, we’d like to honor that trust. You gave us the role of ambassadors of a better future — as such, our duty towards you and all the players world-wide compels us to speak up.”

The group is urging the Game Awards staff to use the award show platform to support Palestinian human rights, call for a cease-fire, and to ask the industry to invest resources to end the “systemic dehumanization of people from South-West Asia and Northern Africa.” The open letter calls out that the video game industry is complacent in the dehumanization and vilification of “Muslims, Arabs, and the many brown and black people living in the regions of South-West Asia and Northern Africa”; it’s common for military shooters and other genres to portray Arabs — or people in traditional Arab clothing — as villains or terrorists.

“The video game industry, as the most influential and lucrative creative industry of our times, is especially guilty of this,” game developer Younès Rabii, who organized the open letter, told Polygon. “I’d like to challenge anyone reading this to count the number of times they pressed a button to take the life of an Arab character, and compare it to the number of times a game invited you to sit down and eat with one instead. That ratio should scare you.”

More than 2,000 other people, largely game developers, have also signed the letter in support of the members of the Future Class. The letter comes just after Thirsty Suitors narrative designer Meghna Jayanth stepped down from presenting the Best Storytelling award at the Golden Joystick Awards event, put on by PC Gamer owner Future on Nov. 10, after the organizers “would not permit political statements,” Jayanth wrote on X (formerly Twitter). Jayanth had intended to call for a cease-fire and support for Palestinians. The Golden Joysticks replaced Jayanth with video game performer Troy Baker.

On Oct. 7, Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched a coordinated and devastating attack that killed around 1,200 people in Israel, the majority of whom were civilians. In response to the deaths and a reported 240 hostages taken by the group, Israel declared war on Hamas. Israel’s military response in Gaza has killed at least 14,800 Palestinians, reported to be mostly women and children, concurrent with the destruction of hospitals and entire neighborhoods, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. In early November, United Nations secretary general António Guterres said that “no one is safe” in Gaza, despite Israel’s claim that it is targeting Hamas fighters. Over the past few days, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a temporary cease-fire, in which both have released hostages and prisoners.

Several awards shows in other industries have come and gone since the start of the crisis, including a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) ceremony in Scotland and the National Book Awards in New York. The BBC was accused last week of editing out several mentions of a cease-fire in Gaza in its coverage of the BAFTA Scotland Awards, according to Al Jazeera, while several National Book Awards nominees issued a statement, read by Temple Folk author Aaliyah Bilal, calling for a cease-fire and for the world to “address the urgent humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians.”

The Future Class members who wrote the open letter are looking for The Game Awards to use its platform in a similar way. Rabii told Polygon that The Game Awards’ massive viewership is powerful, and that the show “plays a role in which games the audience will buy, and how it will engage with them.”

“With the current state of the game industry, silence is a message,” the group wrote. “Silence is tacit support. Silence is dehumanization of Palestinian lives.” It’s a sentiment shared by other efforts outside of the mainstream gaming companies: In October, a group of indie developers launched the Games for Gaza bundle, which raised $365,520 over two weeks and benefited the United Kingdom-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.

“So I’m left with this question: will The Game Awards be the voice of the ones that are running the industry, or are they just using us for show?” Rabii said. “Letting us speak at The Game Awards would not only be the most moral thing to do, but it would also send a strong, empowering message to all the game workers out there.”

The Game Awards are scheduled for Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. EST/4:30 p.m. PST, hosted live in Los Angeles and broadcast online. Keighley has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Update: This story has been updated to include comments from open letter organizer and game developer Younès Rabii.

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