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After Roe v. Wade cat email gaffe, Sony and Insomniac plan donations

(Washington Post illustration; Sony Interactive Entertainment; Insomniac Games; iStock)
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Last week, PlayStation President Jim Ryan sent employees an email asking them to “respect differences of opinion” around abortion rights in light of the leaked Supreme Court opinion surrounding Roe v. Wade, stressing that “we owe it to each other and to PlayStation’s millions of users to respect differences of opinion among everyone in our internal and external communities,” and concluding the missive with several paragraphs about Ryan’s cats’ birthdays. Employees were not pleased with the lighthearted response, according to a Bloomberg report about the email.

Following that gaffe, Insomniac, the Sony subsidiary behind “Ratchet and Clank” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” plans to donate $50,000 to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), according to an internal email sent May 13 from Insomniac CEO Ted Price viewed by The Washington Post. Sony will match the donation, along with donations from individual Insomniac employees if they make them via the company’s PlayStation Cares program. In addition, Sony now plans to formulate an initiative to provide financial assistance to employees who might have to travel to different states to receive reproductive care. Insomniac will aid in formulating that policy.

Neither company plans to tweet about their donations, and Insomniac employees have been forbidden from explicitly mentioning Insomniac or Sony should they decide to retweet any announcements the WRRAP might make, according to the email.

Sony and Insomniac had not returned requests for comment at the time of publication.

As Roe v. Wade repeal looms, oft-outspoken video game industry opts for silence

A portion of the email is structured as a Q&A addressing questions from employees. In it, Price explains his rationale for the social media silence. He begins by noting the studio sent a “near-60 page” document to PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst filled with messages from employees urging leadership — Ryan, in particular — to “do better by employees who are directly affected.” For the time being, however, Insomniac is not allowed to make a statement about reproductive rights or its donation — nor does Price think it would be a good idea for the studio to go over Sony’s head and try.

“There would be material repercussions for us as a wholly owned subsidiary,” Price wrote in response to a question about what would happen if Insomniac tweeted about the donation. “Among other things, any progress that we might make in helping change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] approach would be stopped dead in its tracks. We’d also probably be severely restricted from doing important public-facing work in the future.”

This comes after Insomniac employees made repeated requests to get management to make a statement not unlike those issued by a few other large video game companies, including “Destiny 2” developer Bungie and “Psychonauts 2″ creator Double Fine. In the Q&A, Price writes that Sony shut that approach down: “[Sony Interactive Entertainment] will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights. We fought hard for this and we did not win.”

One employee asked Price if he thought Sony’s acquisition of Insomniac for $229 million in 2020 is “now impacting our freedom of speech and our values.”

“As far as our freedom of speech goes, while we do have a LOT of autonomy that often gets taken for granted, there are times where we need to acknowledge we’re part of a larger organization,” Price wrote in the email. “For the most part, our ability to tweet has been unfettered. However, there are rare times when we’re in opposition (like this week) and SIE will have the final say.”

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