Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Day, Another Press Conference

This isn't even about the PlayStation 4 at all, actually.  My opinion on that is currently irrelevant: it seems like a PC circa 2011, only it can't also run productivity software.  It'll be six months before the details that matter are available for me to form a strong opinion.  We'll probably end up with one in the house in 2014.  That is neither here nor there.

This is about the press conference at which Sony announced the PlayStation 4.

Sony's big problem: diversity.  The vast majority of presenters on-stage were white men, a huge percentage of whom were even sporting the same haircut and glasses.  The exceptions were a small handful of Japanese businessmen.  Naturally, the circles I hang out in on Twitter took exception to this.  When Patricia Hernandez gave it a mention on Kotaku, the predictable troglodytes crawled out of the woodwork to leave nasty comments.

One jerk, though, nailed the actual problem without even realizing he had.  In trying to explain why everything Patricia wrote was an invalid complaint, he said: "The reason there were no women on-stage is because the presidents and developers who happened to develop the software being presented happened to be male. It is not part of some sexist agenda, it just so happens that the people behind the creation of the content being presented happened to be men."

DING DING DING DING DING.

This is, in fact, exactly the problem. There are no women in leadership at Sony and, if there are, SCE does not feel comfortable bringing them into presentations or the public eye.  In fact, I can't recall ever seeing a woman executive presenting for Sony, despite the fact that many of their best game franchises and studios have very high-ranking women making them. So why, in 2013, is Sony still so resistant to having women in its top echelons?  I refuse to believe that, worldwide and especially in the Americas, there are no competent female executives -- except for that the systems that generate executives continue to favor a very narrow spectrum of men.

I have no love for Microsoft or for the 360, but during their major press conferences at E3 and so on, they almost always have women on stage at some point, even if they are generally presenting non-gaming, non-"core," family-friendly tools and features.

I am sure that most of the men on stage were perfectly lovely fellows.  But the narrowness of that particular slice of humanity really hit home when one came on stage to introduce what was later revealed to be a new inFamous game.  "In 1999, I got tear gassed at a protest," he began his story, which went on to feed in to the current era of paranoia.  The cops, it turns out, aren't always 100% good.

Really.

You don't say.

I'm sure there is no population out there who could have told you that.  Every day.  For the last century.

The statement was not ill-intentioned; far from it.  It was naive, and came from a place of privilege, from one very specific outlook.  It was a statement from a guy born into a population that doesn't routinely have trouble with cops, TO a population that doesn't routinely have trouble with cops.

And that's the kind of statement that comes out of a really, really narrow outlook.  When everyone looks the same and shares the same life experiences, nobody's going to introduce a new perspective into a presentation.  So you get more of the same, designed for the same people, even as the audience gets continually more diverse in every way.

What happens next?  I guess that's up to Microsoft, and we find out at E3.

2 comments:

  1. "The cops, it turns out, aren't always 100% good."

    I don't interpret this statement as naive. I interpret it as a carefully-worded statement intended to avoid controversy. This was not a forum for progressive politics; it was a sales presentation. If anything, it may have been tinged with a little no-duh sarcasm, but I wasn't there, so I'm only speculating as to the possibility. I think it would be a little absurd to imagine that any presenter, regardless of gender or race, would have presented things differently, in this context. Whatever the opinion of the presenter, any presentation is going to be carefully vetted by dozens of marketing and management types before it makes it to the stage.

    This is not to say that your other points are invalid, but it is worth considering whether you could expect the content of the presentation to depend much (or at all) upon the identity of the presenter. It DOES say something, though, about the audience that the company is trying to reach.

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