Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney this afternoon sought to clarify controversial statements he made about the role of video games in today’s divisive political climate.
Delivering the DICE summit keynote in Las Vegas this morning, Sweeney said that games were a valid medium for making political statements. He referenced Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird as a work of art that contained messages that “makes people think about things.”
But he went on to say that ”we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics.” According to a report on Gamasutra, he added: “We have to create a very clear separation between church and state,” and, “there’s no reason to drag divisive topics...into gaming at all.” He also said that game companies “should get the marketing departments out of politics,” according to a report on IGN.
This created significant push-back and confusion on Twitter. Was Sweeney arguing that games companies can make games with political messages, but should not talk about them in any way that recognizes their political content?
Seeking to clear up the confusion, Sweeney posted: “If a game tackles politics, as To Kill a Mockingbird did as a novel, it should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalize on division.”
This seems like a fair statement, although it doesn’t really address his earlier “church and state” argument. If games companies insist on an apolitical policy, how exactly do “creatives” make political games? Nor does it clarify how a marketing department should address political content, in a world where games companies are “divorced from politics.”
In an additional tweet, he addressed political controversies and differing opinions: “When a company operates an ecosystem where users and creators can express themselves, they [the company] should … be a neutral moderator. Else the potential for undue influence from within or without is far too high.”
Again, this seems fair enough, except that companies are rarely if ever “neutral moderators” about issues that they care about, or that they interpret as being damaging to their own reputations and fortunes. There are many examples of opinions that one might express in a games company forum, that would elicit a forceful response, or a ban.
Replying to individual Twitter responses, Sweeney addressed situations in which corporations attach themselves to political viewpoints, such as fast food chain Chik-fil-A’s well-known history of supporting anti-LGBT organizations. “I think a company like that shouldn’t take a position on an issue like this, because it’s out of the scope of their mission. If one’s mission is to make great food, and 1000’s of employees have come together to support that, why drag them into an issue many disagree on?”
In another reply, he stated: “I just don’t feel it’s appropriate for one person, like a company CEO, to draw their company and its employees into their personal politics outside of the company’s mission.”
It’s not clear how this squares with Sweeney’s own admirable history of charitable donations. In 2016, he reportedly donated $15 million worth of land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although the donation was made by him individually, it was done publicly, and he is identified in associated press reports as the founder of Epic Games.