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Opinion – Blizzard’s lawsuit is part of a wider cultural issue

Activision and Blizzard have faced massive lawsuits and sexual harassment accusations from a tidal wave of female employees. It is horrific – but not an isolated incident.

Employees at Blizzard have staged a walk out and social media strike over recent allegations of sexual harassment and a ‘frat boy’ culture that heavily discriminates toward female staff members.

According to a two-year investigation, the company was found to be severely mismanaging and mistreating female employees. Male staff members would routinely participate in ‘cube crawls’, which involved drinking heavy amounts of alcohol and groping women in the office.

Female employees were denied promotions over male counterparts and were more likely to be fired. One colleague committed suicide while on a business trip and it is understood that her male supervisor had sexually harassed her prior to her death.

Over three thousand present and past workers have come forward in support of the investigation’s findings.

For those unaware, Blizzard is a games developer best known for creating popular franchises such as World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch. It is primarily focused on PC experiences, though since its acquisition by Activision it has begun leaning towards other platforms, particularly mobile.

Even before the recent news, however, a large chunk of fans had fallen out with Blizzard.

It has shown on multiple occasions that it operates on a strictly profit-based agenda with little regard for the community or product quality. We wrote about its shoddy fining of a professional tournament player for advocating the liberation of Hong Kong a few years ago, for example.

Its announcement of Diablo: Immortal for mobile also saw heavy backlash from hardcore fans at Blizzcon 2018, and a remastered version of World of Warcraft was missing a ton of features and chunks of content that were present in the original version.

In short, Blizzard’s reputation has fallen significantly over the last fifteen years. But the new lawsuit filed by the California department of fair employment and housing (DFEH) has positioned the company as worse than just a shoddy gaming brand.

It is alleged to be a toxic, sexist, and grossly mismanaged company that will be facing huge financial reckoning and managerial changes in the coming months and years.

The president, J. Allen, has just announced he’s stepping down.

This news is unfortunately not an isolated case. There is a wider cultural problem within the gaming industry and the working world as a whole.

More needs to be done to support victims of harassment – and greater care and stricter rules need to be in place to stop situations like this from spiralling out of control.

This goes for both workers and consumers, including players who interact with Blizzard products. The video below shows the types of verbal abuse a female gamer has to deal with regularly and none of what you hear should be surprising.


How is sexual harassment an issue outside of Blizzard?

Though the news about Blizzard is shocking and upsetting, it has not been a secret.

There are clips from years ago that demonstrate the patronising and male-dominated culture that exists at the company, even in public settings at conventions.

One fan asked if we would see more diverse female characters that ‘weren’t from a Victoria Secret magazine’ in the future – the response from the company’s higher ups was a dismissive ‘which other magazine should they be from?’ It makes for rough viewing.

Another employee shared a very personal and unsettling hand-written letter that was given to a young female staff member at Blizzard by a male superior. It is demanding, obsessive, and beyond inappropriate, especially given he was over a decade older.

Blizzard isn’t the only company that has faced accusations like this, either. Just recently, Riot Games was sued for harassment and gender discrimination, with its CEO being accused of creating a toxic workplace culture.

A year-long investigation concluded that gender discrimination was prevalent in the company and that any women speaking out were immediately fired. Riot Games has since said it has made changes – but continued complaints suggest otherwise.

Elsewhere, Ubisoft has faced similar accusations of sexual harassment in the last year, with three senior heads resigning in July 2020.

Claims were made online and anonymously, with a focus on Ubisoft’s Canadian studios in particular. Vice-president Maxime Beland faced allegations of misconduct and promptly quit, with the company announcing it was undergoing a ‘complete overhaul of the way in which the creative teams collaborate.’

If all that wasn’t enough, Nintendo dealt with multiple allegations of abuse within its Super Smash Bros community around the same time last year. These include inappropriate sexual messages, relationships with minors, and accusations of rape.

Nintendo released a statement at the time that said, ‘we condemn all acts of violence, harassment, and exploitation against anyone.’

EVO Online – the largest fighting game tournament of last summer – did not go ahead due to wider concerns of abuse, and three major brands pulled out as a result. The co-founder was accused of sexual misconduct and swiftly left the company.

As you can see, examples of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour seem to exist within nearly every corner of the industry.

Higher ups at so many large publishers and developers are nearly exclusively male, and it would appear that unacceptable behaviour inevitably seeps into company culture, normalising misogynistic disregard for the safety and space of female workers.


What will be done moving forward?

It is difficult to pinpoint a singular, concrete action that can radically change the systematic discrimination that is bubbling under the surface at so many studios.

Some are calling for Blizzard developers – those not accused of sexual harassment, of course – to unionise, demanding more transparency on salary differences between genders and a reshuffling of higher management.

Blizzard’s own president has stepped down and we’re likely to see major changes in leadership, if the company survives this legal battle at all.

Many Reddit users and customers have removed their information from Blizzard’s servers and vowed they will no longer be purchasing any service under the company’s name.

It will have a significant ripple effect on stock value and overall brand relevancy – which could serve as a warning for other companies that allow sexism and turn a blind eye to obvious abuse.

Ultimately it’s up to each individual publisher to hold themselves accountable, which is tricky when most won’t make changes until the situation is either public or affecting profits.

Perhaps a good place to start is to simply balance the gender ratios within the workplace. At Blizzard only 20% of employees are female, which means that any concerns raised by these works are from a significant minority, even when they’re valid and important.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a largely male workspace. It does not automatically mean that a company will be toxic or unhealthy, but it certainly can create the conditions for sexism to easily thrive compared to a more diverse and balanced workforce.

https://youtu.be/qbX161KTNfw

Research does suggest that more women are entering traditionally male-dominated industries, becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own businesses more frequently in recent decades.

This has yet to fully translate into gaming though, and it may be a while yet before we stamp out shady CEOs and company executives for good.

For now, it’s best that people push for unions, call out sexual harassment, launch investigations wherever possible and, most importantly, hold friends and colleagues accountable when you see or hear of unacceptable practices.

Blizzard has to serve as an example. It cannot be allowed to thrive and enjoy success when it has proven countless times it does not respect its community or its own employees.

 

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