By Harvey Joyce
The video game industry has grown immensely in the past decade with its total revenue rivalling movies and other entertainment industries at almost $180 billion. This mainstream success makes it difficult to understand how there is so much neglect and sexism faced by women in some of the industry’s largest companies. Beyond single companies, it seems there is an entire culture revolving around misogyny, gatekeeping, and abuse.
Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest companies in the gaming industry publishing many successful franchises such as Call of Duty, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and Overwatch. Last month, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) started taking legal action against the company, accusing them of unequal pay, misrepresentation, discrimination, and widespread sexual harassment.
Female employees claim that the workplace culture was akin to a ‘frat house’ where they were subject to many inappropriate behaviours. Many male employees would arrive intoxicated at work or drink on-site, joke about rape and discrimination, sexually harass female staff and even invade female cubicles and breast-feeding rooms.
Many of these complaints were apparently ignored by managers and higher-ups. This created a ‘breeding ground’ of harassment and discrimination with no accountability. Due to the complaints, female employees apparently suffered retaliation in the form of being excluded on work projects, unwillingly being transferred to different units and selected for layoffs in the company.
The DFEH alleges that the workplace culture even resulted in the suicide of a female employee. Whilst on a company trip, male co-workers passed around intimate photos of her at a party, an accusation Activision Blizzard fiercely deny.
Activision Blizzard has vehemently denied these claims and has even filed a complaint about inaccuracy to the DFEH, stating this claim distorts and creates false assertions of the company. The company is now facing a lot of public outcry and consumer boycotting, employees have staged walkouts to express their dissatisfaction with how the company is dealing with the claims and for not issuing a thorough investigation into their workplace culture.
Sadly this lawsuit is only one facet of a larger issue. The distressing and protracted #MeToo movement highlighted the abhorrent treatment of women in the gaming industry with many speaking out about the predatory and abusive behaviour they’ve had to put up with.
Other big video game companies such as Ubisoft and Riot Games, faced sexual abuse allegations. In addition, the fighting game and e-sports communities also received waves of allegations towards well-known figures due to their inappropriate behaviour toward minors. One of the biggest gaming tournaments EVO had their president fired for abuse allegations, as well as their tournament cancelled for that year.
The start of this prolonged and public harassment was in 2014 when a hate campaign known as the Gamergate “movement” spent months hounding female games journalists, critics and developers, both online and in person. While some argue that Gamergate was focused on ethics, progressivism and corruption in games journalism; it is completely asinine to believe it was just a coincidence that almost all of its targets were women, in an industry that’s barely 20% female.
There are also significant structural and economic problems in the games industry. The workforce is by and large driven by enthusiasm and passion, and that can be easily exploited. Jobs and contracts can also be unstable and include low pay for workers. The industry’s instability gives abusers immense power over their targets, allowing them to control the victim’s finances and career aspirations. One way these issues could be corrected is by unionisation, there is already strong demand for many industries, and this can be fundamental to protect employee welfare and to prevent abusive behaviour.
The issue of sexism and abuse in the game industry isn’t just brought on by companies. There are still many cultural micro-aggressions faced by female gamers, with the attitude that “video games are only for boys”. In reality, over 46% of gamers are female so this belief is not accurate.
There is also the lack of representation and over-sexualisation of female characters in video games fuelling this stigma against women in the industry. Not even to mention a lack of representation for people of colour or the LGBTQ+ community. It is clear that the gaming industry is a microcosm of our wider society.
The underlying issues of the gaming industry can’t be ignored. We must start to remove the stigma around reporting abuse and workplace harassment as well as the prejudices against female gamers. The severity of this legal action may finally be the watershed moment to bring about widespread change in work culture but it is our job to foster an inclusive, supportive community for everyone.
Image: Sean Do via Unsplash