Opinion: The Titanic sinking of Activision Blizzard is like reliving history
I’ve been thinking about the Titanic lately. Perhaps it’s because we recently passed the anniversary of its discovery on September 01, 1985, and as a somber occasion, there are always plenty of reminders. However, it is probably more likely to be the play through of Titanic VR I watched from Jacksepticeye, last week.
The game is wonderfully done, but incredibly harrowing in how accurately it portrays both the exploration of the wreckage, and the eyewitnesses watching the actual sinking happen. From the visuals to the sounds… the groans of metal as the braces gave, the sudden silence when the lights darkened and the deafening, in the pit of your stomach, absolute terror of those final moment as the ship broke and sank beneath the ocean waters. The cries of the survivors are still fresh, and I will be the first to admit, it brought me to tears. (I’m choked up just writing about it.)
I’ve always been someone who enjoys history, even the dark, blood-stained pages that we would rather forget. I find it a study of futility, but also a blueprint of hope. We have experiences some truly terrible things in our lifetimes. Just in my lifetime, I’ve seen horrible wars, devastating natural disasters, 9/11, and survived a school shooting. Each event is burning into my memory, and I would never wish any of them upon anyone. Adding to our trauma is the over saturation by second-to second media vomit. We know what is happening as it happens.
And yet, there is something so final, hollow and chilling about the Titanic’s sinking; it’s just something I’m not sure we have anything to compare it to even today. Perhaps on an individual basis, such as soldiers who live through war, or those at ground zero on 9/11. But society as a whole we have not experienced the utter neglect and disregard of the very real warnings given prior to Titanic’s destruction, leading to its complete collapse and the demise of over 1,500 people.
Activision repeating history
However, we are witnessing the sinking of an empire, live and in living color. Much like the Titanic, Activision Blizzard is self imploding and going down at a rapid rate. True, it started several months ago, when California filed lawsuits against the gaming giant for sexual harassment, assault, discrimination and possible involvement in a employee’s suicide. Of course, the rapid response to redirect attention away from such a scandal was immediate, but ultimately ineffective. Telegraph received – Icebergs abound.
Then came the allegations of attempted bribery, threats of termination and evidence tampering. Shareholders woke up, much like the engineer of the Titanic, and tried to shift attention away from the huge blocks of ice floating in the cold media pool. Yes, they made some waves with their own lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, but that was quickly settled, with little course correction of the company. Still the treat remained, even if only in the distance.
We saw some firings, and promotions within the company. Especially noteworthy was the elevation of Jen O’Neal. As Blizzard’s first female leader, her promotion was an interesting, although not surprising move on the company’s part. After all, it can’t be all bad if we show some favor to a woman, right? See, we care…
Ignoring the warning signs
The Titanic kept moving, at a rather brisk pace. So did Activision Blizzard. Bobby Kotick made headlines by taking a huge pay cut, trying to show his solidarity with the victims of his company’s gross wrongdoing. Controversial characters were renamed – to smooth over hurt feelings. I’m not even going to touch the World of Warcraft BOWL OF FRUIT… Band-Aid actions meant to cool the righteous anger from both employees and players.
Some of us saw these moves as more attempts from Activision to shift blame and attention away from themselves. On Titanic, it has been speculated that the captain failed to see any icebergs even after receiving several warning from other ships in the vicinity. (We will get to those ships in a moment.) He instructed the co-captain to take over while he took a break. People danced, the band played on. The “unsinkable” Titanic kept moving. Life was good.
If you’ve watched the 1996 movie, most documentaries, or have played the VR game, you know what comes next. However, here’s the thing about icebergs – about 90% of an iceberg’s mass is below the water. And in the darkness of the open sea without the customary spotlight, there was no way to tell just how big, or how far away the icebergs were. Unseen by the naked eye on the surface, the crew of the Titanic was already in trouble by the time she struck the iceberg and tore a hole through 5 compartments. In an instant, everything changed.
The end was nigh. Passengers and crewmembers when they finally understood the dire situation they found themselves in, began to bail. Over the last several weeks, we have also seen a number of bails happening. Oneal, after only 3 months as part of the duo leadership, suddenly walked away, in November. At first, she claimed it was to further direct her attention to change and advocacy within the gaming industry. If you are a perceptive person, perhaps that felt false, and you’re not wrong.
It later came out that O’Neal, Amy Dunham, Technical Director at Blizzard, and Julia Humpherys, Production Director had all left the company. In a now deleted tweet, Dunham stated: “Before you make commitments to recruit more woman (usually at entry level, where people have less choice to turn down opportunities), figure out and fix why all of your senior women choose to leave.”
Sage advice. Much like the infamously ignored telegrams, Blizzard could have showed they took the allegations seriously. I know, they said they condoned the heinous actions brought to light in the lawsuits. Kotick said he had worked against the fostering of “frat bro culture,” and that he abhorred it.
Oh Bobby… The captain of Titanic tried to calm the panicking masses as well. He too, sowed false hopefulness, in an attempt to divert attention away from the massive gaping hole sinking the ship. And it worked to a degree. There were those who truly believed it would all be resolved in a few moment, and they would be back in their dining rooms, cabins and parties before the end of the night.
It’s hard to believe Kotick wouldn’t know what was going on under his own nose. Unless he was blind or just plain oblivious? LOL! As it turns out, because this is a very poorly written B-grade movie script, he did know. (Try not to throw up.) Reported originally by the Wall Street Journal, not only did he know, but he failed in his duty to tell the board of directors about the rape allegations within Blizzard. Over the past 25 years, there have been numerous allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct towards female employees. And Kotick either minimized or outright hide them. He has also been accused of intervening when disciplinary measures have been handed down. The results- nothing happened.
Blown wide open
However, you cannot simply close a huge hole in your starboard bow. Eventually, choices must be made. This is a fact of life, one Activision is trying, come hell or high water, to avoid. Kotick immediately said he would step down if the the board asked him to. They did not, and so he remains captain of a doomed ship.
To make matters worse, it is suspected that Titanic’s captain told the band to play louder, to mask the noise of the ship beginning to break apart. Activision has attempted the same. Just yesterday, another female employee reportedly told her story during a press conference. In her statements, she related she was subjected to many of the allegations facing the company. When she brought up her experiences to her supervisors, she was told that the men were “just joking” and to “get over it.” She was silenced, told to not go to HR and faced retaliation if she did.
Truly think about that. Would you tell your daughter, wife, sister or mother to just “get over it?” How about being told “they did nothing wrong in the eyes of the law?” Would you want them to be silenced?
Like “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” thankfully, she refuses to go down with the ship and is calling for $100 million victim fund. I hope others will follow.
Activision and that sinking feeling
Rapidly sinking, Activision has become the pariahs of the gaming industry. We are drawing closer to the set court date to hear the original lawsuit. And lines are drawn.
Earlier this week, workers at Activision Blizzard staged a walkout following Raven Software, the studio behind Call of Duty: Warzone, announced it was firing over a dozen quality assurance contractors. Although not directly related to the sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, the growing trend among some bigger corporations, like Raven Software and Better.com, who laid off over 900 employees over a Zoom call, has raised the ire of employees everywhere. The fact that companies are profiting off the backs of employees they view as dispensable is despicable.
The wealthy class did the same thing as Titanic began to sink. They were the first to claim spots in the lifeboats, and had hardly any human compassion for their fellow passengers, children included, facing certain death. Yet, irony exists. For some of those wealthy passengers, they froze to death before help arrived. And history does have a funny way of playing its songs on repeat/shuffle.
“Lower classes” take a stand
It should be noted that of the 710 survivors, 224 of the “lower class” passengers managed to make it onto the lifeboats. Comparable, actions are being taken on a smaller scale to send a message of condemnation to Activision. One such example will be tonight’s The Game Awards. Chatter has been rippling throughout the past week, wondering what action the Awards would take, if any. A special note of concern is The Game Awards still allowing Rob Kostich to remain on the advisory board…Baby steps, right?
What we got was exactly what we need to see more of. Host Geoff Keighley confirmed that Activision Blizzard would not be featured at the show. In a tweet, Keighley said “There is no place for abuse, harassment or predatory practices in any company or any community.” While he previously faced criticism for saying “We have to think very carefully about how to proceed here,” due to wanting to support the women coming forward, the ultimate decision sends the right message- Get off our stage! I can confidently support the Awards show tonight, knowing our voices are being heard. Now about your board of directors…
Coca-Cola also has a choice to make. Union-led SOC Investment Group has repeatedly asked for Kotick’s resignation from his position on the board of directors. The pressure is mounting, but as of yet, there has been no definitive word on his removal.
Heeding the warnings
On the cold night of April 14, 1912, Titanic was not the only ship in those dark and dangerous waters. There were at least three others. Unfortunately the California did not take action due to the previous misuse of flares and telegraphs by Titanic’s wealthy passengers. The others weren’t close enough to save the majority of the passengers. However, there is a lesson to be learned then, and now. Those ships were also alerted to the presence of icebergs in the waters that night. They paid attention and successfully avoided the same fate as Titanic.
This past week, we saw two separate instances of swift and decisive action when wrongdoing is exposed. CNN discovered that Chris Cuomo, one of their own media personalities, knew about and tried to help cover up his brother’s gross misuse of power and sexual harassment. CNN promptly fired him. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Gone.
Sony PlayStation broke headlines yesterday with news that Vice President, George Cacioppo was exposed during a pedophile sting. Our very own Bobby Mills reported on the sting, which is disturbing and stomach turning in its implications. (Seriously if you are a parent, or care about the little ones at all… how are you not furious?) PlayStation’s response- termination. Again, no waffleing. You are DONE.
Activision, are you listening? You have no place in our world if you continue to harbor such behavior. Like the Titanic, you’re sinking, those lights are going out, and soon lost into the cold ocean of disgrace.
If you are still backing Activision, if you still have some excuse for how they treat people, if you are so sick that you will turn a blind eye in ignorance, whether you are a player, fan or fucken celebrity (Yeah… I’m calling out Simu Liu. What the fuck, man?) Get off our stage. Or go down with the ship. Your choice.