Christina González is a TAB bicultural Latina. Growing up as a poor gamer with a disabled mother, she naturally gravitates toward social justice and culture topics, as well as community-related issues. She may be found over at christinagonzalez.net or join the conversation on Twitter at @c_gonzalez
Sony kicked off the year of the new console generation (arguably, as the Wii U came out in the fall) with its splashy press presentation last month for the PlayStation 4’s unveiling. While there is much in common between the PS4 and my current PC, I’m still interested enough in the games and promised features to give Sony my attention this year. However, there were some questions raised in the presentation that don’t seem to have clear answers just yet, even weeks after the fact. With the emphasis on integration of our real information and social networks, onboard immediate sharing, and related experiences, there’s potential cause for concern too.
The PS4’s controller comes with a touchpad and a new button labeled “Share”. This will enable gamers to prepare and immediately send and upload short video clips from the games they are currently playing without having to leave the game or make any effort beyond enabling the function. Other features will let others be able to tune in and watch your gameplay or even step in and take over playing for you. Sony praises all of this and the other social features as being what gamers want as well as connecting people more closely, including the ability to help your friends out when they get stuck somewhere. While this is true and could work well among close friends, this and other features named during the presentation make me wonder if they also serve to open vulnerable groups of people up to harassment.
Whether or not you have been harassed in the past, this new emphasis on openness, connectedness, and abundant sharing all bring up privacy concerns at the very least, and danger at worst. Sony also mentioned the use of real names and photos on profiles, drawn from existing social networks (though likely including PS accounts too). I don’t always want to draw attention to my gender when playing. In some spaces it’s easier than others to encounter those who want to make the game (and what little time I have to play) an unpleasant experience. I think about other people who might not want to use real names and photos. Some of my LGBT friends come to mind, as well as fellow minorities. If you’ve ever been asked “What are you?” or taunted with gendered language, you will understand why I might just want to exist as “GamerX” sometimes rather than “Christina Gonzalez” online. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with myself; I’m not. I am strong in my identity, but sometimes you don’t want to be ‘on’ and wish to be taken as a username and never use voice chat.
On occasion, privacy and anonymity becomes a need more than a want. To a more urgent end, this applies to people that need protection from having their real names visible. Someone being bullied at school. Someone that just got away from an abusive partner. Someone who has escaped abuse or violence shouldn’t have to worry about relaxing on the PlayStation with some games and potentially being found and terrorized again.
I’ve searched and paid special attention when reading about the PS4 to see if the privacy options for the console were detailed, but haven’t really found anything that addresses them. Although some are raising questions about how far the reach of streaming will go and whether it’s only to your friends or to the whole internet. I hope that similar privacy options that exist for sites like Facebook will carry over when accessed via the PS4. I know that I keep my Facebook profile pretty locked down for those I haven’t added. This isn’t because I post top secret information (in fact, you’re more likely to find a few corny jokes and pictures of vanity license plates). I have, however, been online before, hacked, and harassed. Thus I choose to be selective and only add people that I know in some capacity.
It’s a good idea for Sony to get in on social functionality. Brilliant, in fact, since that’s where a lot of gamers are going, especially younger ones who are open to a life lived less privately. The ability to easily connect with others online has been invaluable for many gamers in connecting with others who they may have never met otherwise. Hell, I met my boyfriend via online gaming. These services are part of many of our lives now, but that doesn’t mean caution isn’t needed. However, while it makes sense and is lucrative to market both consoles and information in this way, it is important that Sony’s considerations also include strong privacy options for those vulnerable to harassment, and frankly anyone who wishes to turn all of this off for whatever reason.