This week, employees at Activision Blizzard plan to walkout in protest over work conditions and leadership’s poor response to workplace treatment of women — particularly women of color, transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups, according to a Kotaku report. On July 20, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit alleging that the company cultivated a toxic and sexist, “frat boy” workplace environment, and since the bombshell news dropped, scores of former and current employees, reporters, and gaming leaders have voiced their concerns over the lack of accountability on the part of Activision Blizzard.
The allegations laid out in the complaint are horrifying and speak to the greater conversation to be had about video game culture from the top down. According to a report from legal reporter Maeve Allsup at Bloomberg Law, the agency alleges male employees play video games during the workday while delegating responsibilities to female employees, engage in sexual banter, and joke openly about rape, among other things. The news has quickly become the focal point of conversation, with social media pundits recalling countless accusations from women and members of other marginalized communities that have circulated the internet for years prior.
The lawsuit alleges the very damaging practices taken up by mostly male employees, including making sexual advances toward female employees, engaging in demeaning behavior, and other forms of sexual harassment. Black women were often singled-out and scolded for their body language and frequently “micromanaged” to the point that breaks and requesting time-off became an issue. Through these allegations, it’s clear that Activision Blizzard failed their employees and failed to address the root causes of a demeaning and sexist culture still propagated by other companies and video game communities.
This issue of workplace harassment targeting marginalized groups in the gaming industry speaks to the vestiges of a movement like Gamergate that still exist today. When DICE returned to the battlefield and introduced more women in Battlefield V, what followed was a gross campaign that targeted the game’s “historical inaccuracies” and was led by the hashtag #NotMyBattlefield. The argument was that DICE was relying too heavily on inaccurate representations of World War II with the inclusion of women, and that the move was to appease “SJWs” and other communities with liberal leaning tendencies. Historians were quick to point out the diversity of infantry units but even that wasn’t enough to quell the rage of a toxic subset of gamers whose voices still resonate today.
The work and actions of video game companies continues to be tested when promises of a safer gaming experience fail to measure up. Racist, homophobic, and xenophobic messages and epithets from players make the rounds in many video games and is not new, but questions remain whether developers and publishers are doing enough to address these forms of harassment. If the workplace environment isn’t held to the standard put forward by press releases and performative actions on the part of the video game industry when harassment rises, how can its player base? Last summer we saw an influx of supportive messages and acts of solidarity after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota Police Department. What followed was an equally virulent response from gamers who went on the offensive, verbally attacking developers, other gamers, and even public figures who applauded the efforts of the industry trying to grapple with its own ills.
The harrowing news coming out of Activision Blizzard only reminds us of the conversations still being had about the current state of the video game industry and the consumers who engage with its products. There aren’t enough systems in place to adequately address these issues of workplace harassment, online racism and sexism, and rampant bigotry. Video game communities are well aware of the kind of culture cultivated by their favorite developers and publishers. Companies need to do more than release statements promising to do better and invest in sustainable procedures that will root out problematic and damaging behaviors.