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EA Sports NHL gamers detail racist experiences online, call for more efforts

Fans of a prominent hockey video game series are calling for more action to be taken against players who use the platform to engage in racist behaviour. An exterior view of Electronic Arts Inc. headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. is shown Feb. 25, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Paul Sakuma
June 10, 2020 - 9:53 AM

MONTREAL - Fans of a prominent hockey video game series are calling for more action to be taken against players who use the platform to engage in racist behaviour.

EA Sports NHL, the team behind the popular series developed in Burnaby, B.C., released a statement Friday denouncing any "hatred, bigotry or racism" on their games, and announced they are taking steps to address the problem including harsher penalties for offensive content and strengthening profanity filters.

They are among the many video game companies, including parent company Electronic Arts, who spent the last week releasing statements in light of protests that have begun around the world in support of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Daniel Zakrzewski, a digital content producer for TSN's BarDown vertical, said it's "about time" that EA Sports NHL addresses this issue.

"I'm happy that they're finally doing it," said Zakrzewski, who is Black. "It took a little bit of time but I am happy that they made that statement and they are now committed to now changing it."

But some gamers have remarked that, despite the statement from EA Sports NHL, they continue to see players use racist and offensive names online.

Gamer Oz Salam called the statement "lip service."

"If they were going to do something, they would've been doing it already," Salam said. "They wouldn't have had to put out a statement because of protests and the backlash against the murder of George Floyd. You'd hope that they would want to do it because it's the right thing to do."

"When people say racism is systemic, this is what they mean," added gamer Babak Maghs. "It's everyday stuff. It's every part of the system that has negligence. And this is negligence in my opinion."

Recent games in the series have included the "EA Sports Hockey League" mode, where players can create avatars and compete against others online. Some gamers have complained of seeing avatars with dark skin tones and names that feature racial slurs and epithets.

"A lot of racist things towards Muslims, which I also am," Salam said. "I've seen (a team) called The Toronto Terrorists. I've (seen) a character named Allahu Akbar."

Justin Wong has played in the EASHL online since 2016. He said he has had opponents notice his character is Asian, like himself, only to respond with "half-assed" Asian accents. But Wong said what he has seen is nothing compared to what has been targeted to Black players, including gamers who yell out the N-word while playing.

"You see a lot of these players, they have really messed up names. They'll always take the darkest skin tone. They use names (like) the N-word with a hard 'r,'" Wong said.

Zakrzewski said some gamers "like to turn everything into a joke."

"Unfortunately, I'm sure, recently, a lot of it has to do with what's currently happening in our world," Zakrzewski said.

"We get a lot of immature people online that kind of go for whatever they think will inflict the most damage from trolling."

Salam and Maghs said that the game does not have a sufficient way of reporting players who engage in racist and offensive behaviour. It leads to gamers tweeting out screenshots of their experiences and tagging EA Sports NHL on Twitter.

A representative from EA Sports declined comment, but said in an email to The Canadian Press the company will have more to share "in the coming weeks."

Jeff Veillette, a blogger for "The Faceoff Circle" who has played alongside Salam and Maghs, wrote a post about his friends' experiences with racism while playing the game and has tweeted screenshot with examples of racist names he has come across.

"Our team is very diverse. Our team has mostly players of colour and it affects them in a lot of different ways," Veillette said.

"These can be justified by people as though they're just a joke, or whatever, but when you're on the receiving end it's an entirely different ball game."

Maghs believes a solution could be found amongst the game's community, by having a designated person moderate names or to build an artificial intelligence system that can filter out certain words.

"The community is good, and they don't want this as part of the game. No one wants this to be a part of the game," Maghs said.

Zakzrewski adds that game developers must have a zero tolerance policy for anyone who wishes to engage in racist activity online.

"I don't think you're going to change their mind on being reprehensible human beings through that. I think these people are still going to think these things and do these things perhaps," Zakzrewski said.

"But why should they be allowed in a community that clearly does not hold the same opinion as they do? Why should they be allowed to play there and, on top of that, offer this hateful rhetoric?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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