It’s been less than a week since PlayStation announced it won’t be attending PAX East in Boston due to “increasing concerns” over COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus. Now, the mayor of Boston has reached out to Sony to appeal to the company, urging them to make a decision based on “facts, not fear,” and urging PlayStation to not play into “harmful stereotypes” about Chinese people.
According to WCVB (via Eurogamer), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has sent a letter to PlayStation CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, saying to the gaming company president that the risk of individuals contracting the COVID-19 in Boston and Massachusetts remains extremely low. Walsh also stated in the letter that anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment and misinformation have played a role in the increasing fear of the COVID-19 in the United States.
“These fears reinforce harmful stereotypes that generations of Asians have worked hard to dismantle,” reads Walsh’s letter. “They trigger our worst impulses: to view entire groups of people with suspicion, to close ourselves off, and to miss out on the opportunities and connections our global city provides. Boston is united in our efforts to dispel these harmful and misguided fears.”
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Walsh specifically urged PlayStation to play a role in pushing back against these fears.
“As a large, international company, you have an opportunity to set a good example,” Walsh wrote. “As a leader in technology, you can show that you are motivated by facts, not fear. As a leader in gaming and culture, you can show that you believe in connection, not isolation.”
So far, only one Boston resident has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. That resident, a man in his 20s who attends the University of Massachusetts and returned from recent trip to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak, has since been kept in isolation in his home where he is currently recovering.
Since COVID-19 appeared in Boston, Walsh has started a social media campaign focused on easing the fears of the city’s Chinatown’s business.
PlayStation has yet to publicly respond to Walsh’s letter.
An increase in racist comments and attacks has been linked to increasing fear over COVID-19. A viral video recorded recently shows a man on an LA subway train ranting at an Asian woman, saying “every disease has ever came from China.” Similarly, another video recorded at a Super 8 in Plymouth, Indiana shows a man denying a room to two Hmong men over a similar fear. Other video footage shows a man attacking an Asian woman seemingly for wearing a face mask, a common accessory in Asian communities long before COVID-19 arose.
As of February 23, COVID-19 has killed approximately 2,442 people in China’s mainland, with a total of 76,936 reported infections, according to Aljazeera. According to CNN, United States health officials have confirmed 35 cases of COVID-19 in the country. The highest concentration of individuals with COVID-19 appears to be in California, with a confirmed eight cases.
PlayStation and Facebook (which owns the Oculus VR brand) similarly also pulled out of the 2020 Game Developers Conference, which is hosted in San Francisco’s downtown district from March 16 to March 20, citing the same concerns over the coronavirus.
“We have made the difficult decision to cancel our participation in Game Developers Conference due to increasing concerns related to COVID-19… We felt this was the best option as the situation related to the virus and global travel restrictions are changing daily,” Sony said in a statement. “We are disappointed to cancel our participation, but the health and safety of our global workforce is our highest concern. We look forward to participating in GDC in the future.”
PlayStation not attending PAX East also means that a previously planned demo of The Last of Us Part II will not be available for the public.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has interrupted other gaming events as well. The Overwatch development team has announced it will temporarily relocate its Chinese teams to South Korea, and Nintendo confirmed the outbreak will impact Animal Crossing: New Horizons shipments in Japan.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.