On July 20 of this year, the California State Department of Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against successful game development company Activision-Blizzard for a sexist work environment.
The charges brought by the trial and subsequent reports are devastating to read. Women were paid less for the same work and were denied managerial positions and regularly sexually harassed at work and in work-related social functions, with HR departments unwilling to resolve any of these. problems.
The misogyny and cruelty experienced by Blizzard employees is deeply depressing and casts a shadow over the studio’s many beloved properties.
However, it’s still heartwarming to see the outpouring of support and just fury from Blizzard fans and workers. A walkout by employees to protest the situation sparked widespread participation on July 28, along with messages of solidarity from the gaming and tech spheres. Even livestreamers who primarily play Blizzard games like “Overwatch” for a living pivoted to other things that day.
The boiling point of Blizzard’s long history of internal toxicity continues to make industry headlines a month and a half later and will likely continue to do so in the months to come. Just two weeks ago, Blizzard announced that it would rename the “Overwatch” character “McCree,” after its namesake, a former employee, was implicated in the scandal.
At the same time, I feel like we’d be remiss to let the backlash start and end with Blizzard alone as if they were the only offenders. When I see people in the gaming world talking about the situation online, it seems their condemnation is only on Blizzard because they are giving other developers and the industry a pass.
In my opinion, this is a strategic and moral misstep.
The California lawsuit against Blizzard sums up the company’s dire social climate as a “frat-boy” culture. Reading the reports of employee bachelor parties and cheeky sexual advances on female employees, this certainly rings true.
But we shouldn’t assume that this is an isolated issue in Blizzard alone. “Blizzard management has set the tone by hiring mostly men, stroking their egos and often neglecting or ignoring bad behavior,” says journalist Jason Schreier for Bloomberg, based on employee testimonials. These factors – a skewed gender balance, lack of victim support, and the notoriety given to triple-A game designers – are expected to be fairly common. Are they causing the same problems in other studios?
If Riot Games, one of Blizzard’s main competitors in the multiplayer title arena, is any indication, the answer is an unfortunate yes. The environment for Riot employees looks terribly similar – an epidemic of “brotherhood culture” akin to “working in a giant fraternity,” according to a former employee quoted in Kotaku in 2018.
Riot has actually been under scrutiny for these matters for years, ever since Kotaku’s article went public. A class action lawsuit against the company soon followed, settled in 2019 for $ 10 million paid to former and current Riot employees.
The State Department has also since targeted Riot, opening a lawsuit against them in February for the aforementioned gender discrimination. This only escalated in June, when California’s DFEH found language in Riot’s internal documents that falsely informed employees that they could not speak with the government about the problems they were having.
It would be nice if there was a simple fix to the internal rot at Riot, Blizzard, and presumably many other game development companies, but there isn’t. Not only is it imperative to support victims of harassment and unfair treatment, but the culture within gaming companies needs to be completely rethought.
Internal hierarchy, dramatic gender disparities, intense parties, and cultural enablers – in Blizzard’s case, the rockstar treatment of developers, in Riot’s insistence on hiring “core gamers” – must be corrected. If a game studio doesn’t already have a Blizzard or Riot-wide problem, they should make sure they don’t sow the seeds. Additionally, we need to challenge power and hierarchy dynamics outside of the gaming industry as much as possible, otherwise the workplace will continue to reflect the injustice of the capitalist world.
In other words, the burden of fixing these problems is on all of us.