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Opinion: Rising above the Activision Blizzard storm, who pays the price?

Who has two thumbs, two ears, and a whole lot of patience? Me.

Who has rolled her eyes so far back at the absolute mess that is the lawsuits against gaming giant Activision Blizzard are now? Also, me.

Seriously, I’m considering sending a bill for all my purple hair color to someone. I just cannot figure out who for the life of me.  

My dear readers, it appears we are in the middle of (pardon my French) the fuck up of the year. And goodness, there’s been a lot in 2021. Everything from political (which we won’t talk about), to technological (which Twitch definitely doesn’t want us talking about), it has been a roller coaster. It seemed like we were starting to see light at the end of the tunnel finally, after the numerous lawsuits filed against Activision Blizzard for, in the simple terms, being beyond abhorrent.

Whelp, that was earlier in the month. Funny how things can change. We’re facing one hell of a storm and this time, I’m just not sure we have a big enough umbrella. Remember those old “you had one job!” memes?

Yeah, that’s where we are. So, pull on your hoodie, pop open your umbrella, or hold that magazine over your head (so as long as it’s not our rebooted issue #1!) It’s about to get messy. 

Remember when?

As things are changing literally day by day, let’s recap: in July of this year, Activision Blizzard faced allegations brought forth by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for years of discriminatory, disgusting, and frankly despicable behavior towards women and other minorities. The transcripts are detailed, sordid and stomach turning – among the allegations are “cube crawls”, where their male coworkers binged excessive amounts of alcohol and “crawled” their way through the office cubicles while inappropriately harassing women. There were neigh-countless sexual harassment and assault claims, women having to jump through the preverbal “flaming hoops” for promotions, the “Cosby suite”, and those are just the highlights.

Cue the moronic responses from leadership, rinse and repeat. Activision Blizzard would claim they’re trying to fix the things that they “didn’t do” while actively attempting to destroy evidence of those very things they claimed they didn’t do! If their attempts at shifting focus was a currency, we’d all be rich.  

After the evidence came to light, a large number of employees raised their voices in anger. We began to see some action – on both sides of the field. Compare it to that atrocious Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Seahawks. Remember Deflategate? Hold that image in your mind because it’s important.

After years of anti-consumer business practices, it really felt like the gaming world had finally had enough. From staff staging walkouts, World of Warcraft protests online, to streamers quitting Blizzard’s games in support. Women everywhere within the community who had suffered in silence for years, not just at big companies like Activision or Riot or Ubisoft, but even on a smaller, individual scale. You heard us and it was a welcome change. PlayStation showed us numerous female protagonists in their showcase. Female developers and designers took front and center stage. It wasn’t everything we wanted, but it was a start.

Even the investors and shareholders started taking notice. Granted, that’s because they saw the flames of DOOOOOM headed their way, and money talks loudly… or screams, depending. The potential for monetary losses incurred by the lawsuits numbered into the hundreds of millions. The point is, this wasn’t some small issue that was just going to go away.  

A “disgusting” settlement reached

And yet, somehow, that’s exactly what may happen, if Activision gets its way. The $18 million settlement between the company and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes several destructive appeasements. Activision Blizzard employees described it as “disgusting”, partly due to the sheer number of years they suffered abuse. It amounts to reparations for only about 60 employees, according to The Communications Workers of America, who filed their own objections, to the settlement. Keep in mind that Activision Blizzard employed over 9,500 people in 2020.  

It doesn’t take a math major to figure out the way the scales are tipping here. But that’s not even the worse of it: the settlement contains several points of contention, 31 in total, like how none of the employees involved in the lawsuits were consulted before the agreement. In addition to the meager price tag, there is a clause that gives provision for the remaining funds to be put back into company for the creation of diversity and inclusion initiatives. That means any monies not spent “after exhausting the efforts to locate the eligible claimants” would be distributed, in part, back into Blizzard!   

There is also an allowance that Activision Blizzard will be permitted to “remove any allegations of sexual harassment from the personnel files of settlement claimants,” detrimentally affecting the DFEH’s December trial.  Obviously, there was some quick stepping to keep the settlement from going through, but still…. just wow!

Whew! We dodged that one, we did. Didn’t we? Well… no. It seems law degrees aren’t what they used to be, as just days after all of this, another shell-shocker hit. The EEOC, upset like a jilted lover, decided they would not go quietly. They, almost immediately, began caterwauling about ethics violations committed by the DFEH.  They filed an a request for a pause in the DFEH investigation, accusing them if ethics violations.

The accusations state that “two DFEH attorney–who play leadership roles within the organization–previously served [in the EEOC] and helped to direct the EEOC’s investigation […] against Activision Blizzard, Inc. These same attorneys then proceeded to represent DFEH in connection with these intervention proceedings, which seek to oppose the consent decree that arose out of the very investigation they helped to direct while at the EEOC.” 

If this is true… it could possibly be the beginning of the end, and definitely not a happy ever after. Legally, it’s not a crime, but rather a horrible violation of ethics – one that could lead to the dismissal of the case. And for those who are on the “oops!” side of things… get bent. My husband is a paralegal student, and believe me, he was beyond dismayed when he read about it. Why? Because you all know better! 

Thankfully, the courts have a bit more common sense. On October 24, Activision Blizzard’s request was denied. It is a small victory, unfortunately overshadowed by the denial of DFEH’s request to also pause the aforementioned settlement. Right now, we are looking at a legal showdown, with the EEOC having the most power between the three forces. If it’s a preview of things to come, we could very well be screwed.

Of course, as a way to once again shift attention, Blizzard showed it’s totally, like, “seriously, sorry.” Reports of the firings of at least 20 employees should be a great Band-Aid, right? No? Well! How about this one? Announcing last week that it was changing the name of Overwatch character McCree, originally named after disgraced game designer Jesse McCree, to Cody Cassidy which should definitely appease the playerbase. I mean, we will totally forgive and forget, again. Just ignore the sound of the shredder in the corner.  

Not a woman’s world

Look, I am not at all advocating for the destruction of the company as a whole. Goodness knows, I want to support them again. I want to make memories with my son, playing their games. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think that it may never happen.  To see the chance at some sort of retribution possibly slip away, that there will never be any form of healing for the survivors? The idea that this kind of behavior could continue unchecked? It leaves me speechless.  

And yet, why would I be? Speechless? Shocked? Surprised? We are remarkably calloused and cold about the abuse towards women. Not just in the gaming industry, but in everyday life. Two weeks ago, a woman was horrifically raped on public transportation in the Philadelphia area. Authorities say that the other passengers could have stepped in at any time while this happened over the course of 27 stops. They were apparently more interested in filming it. These claims are disputed by the DA’s office, saying it was “only a few” who filmed it, but whether is was a few or several, the horror still stands.

How about Atlanta? A group of people chose to film the murder of another woman by her boyfriend, just last week. More information ended up on social media than was given to dispatchers by the people who finally called 911. At the time of this writing, neither group will face any sort of legal consequences.  

Rise and Shine On

The sad truth is we are the problem. We continue to send the message that women are disposable. Asshole comments like “she’s probably some ugly secretary/librarian/nerd with her panties in a twist ’cause a man opened the door for her,” are even expected. And if we expect it, why should we change it? In reverse, if we cannot keep ourselves from feeling that way, how can we expect the very foundations of our justice system to hold accountable those who are at fault for such erroneous behavior?

Here’s another truth- I don’t have the answers. I’m sitting here, blurry eyes, tired at 2 AM with my playlist telling me there is a hope we can hold on to. That my rage upon these pages, the feelings of anger, hurt and frustration of the countless women, minorities, and those who truly support us are not in vain. We have the opportunity, still, in us all to RISE. Make it no accident. Have no doubts. Stand up. “Shine on” with the desperate hope that we will “take our time and make a change,” creating a better world, a better industry where our daughters and sons can work, play, and imagine, together.

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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