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Opinion: Activision Blizzard lawsuits show we’ve had enough

From the moment my dad took me to an arcade when I was 2 years old, I’ve loved video games. Not just the games themselves, but the art forms, the music, differing genres and play styles.

I have traveled the gorgeous landscapes of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls, fought as a sniper in Bungie’s Destiny, raced Nintendo’s Rainbow Road and solved puzzles and found hidden objects in Big Fish’s Dark Parables. I have gamed for most of my life, and it has gotten me through some extremely tough times.

My brother and I played Capcom’s Mega Man X and Temco Koei’s Monster Rancher while I was stuck on bed rest. Marvel Heroes 2015, in all honestly, saved my life. Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight soundtrack soothes my cranky toddler.

Video games are a part of our history. The Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony is the most recent proof of that. And why shouldn’t it be? Gaming takes us on visual journeys through worlds we could only imagine. We connect to a worldwide community that understands the triumph from a flawless kill streak. We revel in the beauty of a well-crafted ending. There’s accomplishment in getting that rare trophy, you know, the one that only 1 percent of players have.

Video games are vehicles of imagination. Creatures like Pokémon and Chocobos fuel laughter and fun for children, bridging generational gaps and allowing parents to share something truly special. They have encouraged exercise and increased hand-eye coordination. Some are even (shock and gasp) educational! Of course too much of a good thing, like chocolate or a red wine with nice legs, can be detrimental. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

Not a gamer’s paradise

The unfortunate matter at hand, if you have been paying attention to most media outlets, is of a darker sort. Within the fun, flare and funk of gaming, the seedy underbelly grabs hold and takes root. Those roots bare the names of Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft Montreal, and to a lesser degree – EA. 

I suppose I forgot to mention at I am also a woman. And please don’t roll your eyes. I’m not here to burn my bra or something like that. I am here to write as a woman in gaming, who loves gaming and the rich community it CAN foster. I say can, because all too often, it does not.

It is interesting, when you are a gamer who also happens to be a woman (no, I will not refer to myself as a “gamer girl,” or “gamer chick”), there is an amount of disconnect we often feel. I am an excellent sniper. Allow me to set up in Call of Duty: Black Ops Ascension map and I can knock down zombies like nobody’s business while rocking out to Abracadavre. I used to look forward to matches and enjoyed trying to top my headcount. So, imagine my surprise when I decided to mic up for a match, and the guys on my server discovered I am female! After only a few days of the catcalls and outright vitriol I experienced, I hung up my headphones, and only soloed my rounds. 

And while that may have been the first time I got a good look at what it means to be a woman who games, it certainly wasn’t the last. As a single woman, video game store employees have asked what I wanted to “buy for my boyfriend,” as if I wasn’t buying for myself. They’d try dumbing down system mechanics, assuming I never held a controller before. Even after marrying, clerks have outright refused to talk to me when my husband was present, even though I was the one doing the purchasing. In fact, my husband has redirected the conversations to me, only for these “knowledgeable people” to persist in talking to him, over my head, like I’m just the moneybags. Sorry hun, I’ve been gaming since before you were alive.

On a side note, my local GameStop now knows better, and the manager and I have great conversations, often trading recommendations. The other stores? Loss of patronage and revenue.

Unfortunately, the way I have been treated isn’t uncommon, as recent articles have brought to light. Women in the industry are often overlooked. We’ve begun gaining a foothold in recent years, showing up on E3 stages as presenters, panelists and designers. We finally see more strong female protagonists. Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn showed us that girls can take down mechanical beasts just as good as the boys. Hellblade’s Senua gave us a rich and terrifying look into mental illness. And of course, legacy characters like Lara Croft and Samus Aran are still kicking butt. 

Activision Blizzard lawsuit and response

By all rights, women should be undergoing a golden age in gaming. However, the figurative bomb dropped last week. The explosive lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on July 20th against Activision Blizzard paints a picture of depravity and gross negligence on the company’s part in its actions towards women and other marginalized groups. The fact that there have been explicit content warnings ahead of tweets, articles, and newsfeeds surrounding the allegations have horrendous implications. The term “frat-boy workplace culture” does not garner thoughts of something pleasant. 

A two-year investigation went into the treatment of women working for Activision, concluding that the studio fosters a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Details include allegations of sexual assault and harassment, attempted coercion, and jokes about rape. The report implicates the behaviors of male co-workers, leading one woman to commit suicide.

I have read the complaint, and frankly, it makes me physically ill. Add to the allegations of sexual misconduct are the claims of wide pay gaps, stifling progressive opportunities and unjust hiring/firing practices. The entire ordeal is a monstrous mess to begin with. It should never happen in a post-#MeToo era. However, I believe there are two sides to every story, and so I have waited over the past few days to see how Activision would respond.

Oh. Boy. The response by the executives of Activision have only made matters worse. On Friday, July 23, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote in a memo, that has now been made public by various outlets, that “the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling.” He even wrote that he “distain[s] ‘bro culture,’ and have spent my career fighting against it.” Former co-founder of Blizzard, Mike Morhaime, tweeted “I tried very hard to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for people of all genders and backgrounds. I knew that it was not perfect, but clearly we were far from that goal.”

However, there are different tunes being played in an every revolving jukebox. In a statement to Game Informer, a spokesperson for the company touted their own cookie cutter “diversity and inclusivity” before shifting blame and doubt upon the survivors. “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” they stated. “We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family.”

Activision Blizzard also claims that the lawsuit paints a picture that “is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” Keep in mind that several of the reports are from current employees.

A firestorm has erupted as a result of the callous manner in which the response was delivered. It has left CEO Bobby Kotick attempting to put out the fires as gamers and employees come together to fanthe flames of justice. He sent out a letter to employees and investors on Tuesday, July 27, calling the initial responses as “tone deaf.” He also stated “We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind. We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.”

Talk, however expensive it is, is still cheap, and actions, especially in this case, speak louder than words. It’s been reported that over 2,000 current and former employees have signed an open letter denouncing the company’s reaction. Axios and The Washington Post are now reporting that employees of Activision Blizzard are planning a walk-out on July 28th in support of the victims. Many streamers have pledged to continue lift their voices in protest.

World of Warcraft players have held sit-in protests in social spaces as a show of solidarity. Just hours ago, the WoW team posted a message to their community, saying in part: “As we heed the brave women who have come forward to share their experiences, we stand committed to taking the actions necessary to ensure we are providing an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment both for our team and for our players in Azeroth.”

Activision isn’t the only one in hot water. On July 13, Ubisoft Paris put out a call seeking testimonies from their employees in the matter of allegations leveled at Ubisoft Montreal. “We call on people who are victims or witness of discriminatory harassment (moral, sexual or racist) which would have taken place specifically within the Ubisoft Montreal studio in the last two years to contact [Relais Expert Conseils],” the studio said in a flyer that has now gone viral.

A Reckoning

As much as I would like to say I’m surprised at the actions and environment fostered by the gaming giants, I am not. Appalled? Absolutely, but not surprised. It is the unfortunate fact that women face this kind of treatment within and out of the gaming community. 

So what now?

We are on the edge of a cliff. This is the type of situation that makes or breaks an industry. It should give us time to pause, not only as women and men, but as parents, artists, journalists and gamers. We have the opportunity to change how we move forward. To recognize the value of each individual, regardless of gender, race or orientation. To keep making amazing worlds, full of color, music and technological advances.

Or we can watch it all burn.

It is up to us right now to say that we, as a community, have had Enough! Be angry! Be furious! Get involved! I am. I’m sick and tired of having conversations like this. Seriously? This is 2021. Tell idiots like these “frat boys” that they have no place in our community. Quit ruining it for the rest of us. Get over yourselves and grow up. Women are not toys. We deserve respect. And if you think we won’t walk, watch us. Without us, the industry will fall. This is a Reckoning. Heed it.

Alicia Graves

A bit nerdy, a bit punk rock princess, and a whole lot of mom, I'm constantly in motion. I have an enthusiasm for gaming and the cultural complexities of entertainment, both past and present. I don’t believe in limiting myself to one kind of genre in books, comics, manga, anime, music or movies. I prefer to seek out hidden gems in panned pieces, uniqueness in the mundane and new outlooks on nuances.
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