Insomniac Games sexual harassment case the latest in a surge of new allegations

Based on the outpouring of women’s stories this week, it’s clear the gaming industry has a deep rooted problem with sexism and harassment. Change is desperately needed.

Insomniac Games is the latest games developer to face new sexual assault and harassment allegations this week.

Former employee Sol Brennan tweeted that he left last year due to the company’s mistreatment of women. He states that Edgar Vargas, a human resource co-ordinator who no longer works at Insomniac Games, repeatedly harassed female employees and made inappropriate comments toward them. Sol also says that Edgar was eventually fired for dating a younger female intern.

Over 70 women have come forward with other stories of misconduct, inappropriate behaviour, sexual assault, and rape in the last week or so, publicly outing numerous individuals that are clearly part of a widespread cultural issue within the industry.

Other men who’ve been outed and subsequently sacked include games writer Chris Avellone, Cards Against Humanity co-founder Max Temkin, and Watch Dogs brand marketer Andrien Gbinigie. There are too many to mention by name in this article, but if you do want to know exactly who has said what throughout the past few weeks, then it’s worth looking through this spreadsheet of every allegation and story that’s been posted on Twitter.

Inevitable sackings, internal employee shifts, and Twitter apologies have followed, with Insomniac Games assuring fans that ‘necessary steps’ have been taken to address these new allegations. Unfortunately this is all feels like too little too late. As each new streamer or developer suddenly decides to acknowledge that they were ‘in the wrong’ for harassing colleagues now that it’s all out in the open, the seriousness of misogyny and sexism in gaming becomes increasingly clearer.

A wider cultural issue throughout the gaming industry

This is disheartening news for obvious reasons. Thanks to continued interest in gaming well into adulthood from millennials and Gen Z, the industry is no longer male centric, yet it seems its approach to women and gender balance is still backwards. Female gamer and online personality Alanah Pearce has routinely called out sexist behaviour and exposed viewers for re-using her images on porn sites, an occurrence that happens daily.

Undercurrents of sexism also run rampant through every aspect of gaming, whether it be the way female characters are represented within games, the glorification of impossible body standards of characters, or the blatant focus on female sexuality in cosplaying. It’s a big reason why I sometimes cringe at the idea of being referred to as a ‘gamer’, or someone who enjoys video gaming as a medium – the culture around it is not inclusive enough and is still rooted in being a ‘male’ hobby.

Despite young women now statistically making up the largest demographic in the industry, representation in meaningful ways continues to be pretty dire. Even when developers do include LGBTQ+ characters or female protagonists, there’s always a portion of the community that takes issue and calls it ‘SJW brainwashing’. These things are being more widely accepted on the whole today, which is good, but the bigoted backlash still very much exists, even in 2020.

It’s obvious that there’s been a cultural issue with consumers and representation for a long time, but to now have confirmation that sexism and assault is also happening within companies, streaming communities, and industry leading studios on a large scale is disappointing and anger-inducing. Much more needs to be done to eradicate a culture of silence and intimidation, as many of these women have expressed fear at potentially being blacklisted should they come forward.


How things could positively change moving forward

There are signs that we should be hopeful about the future. The backlash and subsequent public response has been far more progressive this time around compared to similar events in 2014, which were met with fierce opposition from male misogynists.

Disciplinary action is actually being taken six years on, and employees and CEOs are stepping down with immediate effect. Hopefully this will allow for new changes within studios that clear out internal issues of sexism, though it obviously isn’t as simple as that.

We need to publically speak out more on rape and sexual assault when it happens, and ensure that a culture of silence is never tolerated, regardless of the circumstances. Women being fearful of coming forward and truly being believed is still a reality, and blacklisting continues to be a more likely outcome than any man being forcefully removed from a powerful position.

We also need to look at ways in which games can offer uniquely female experiences and expression. Thankfully more big titles such as Hellblade, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Of Us 2 are including female protagonists that aren’t just tokenistic, and the conversation does feel like it’s beginning to become more inclusive – though backlash is still inevitable from some fans.

Hopefully more people coming forward with stories of sexual assault will contribute to normalising this issue and eradicating the abuse that’s clearly rampant in higher up circles of big developer studios. Major cultural shifts need to happen that allow women to no longer fear coming forward for the sake of their careers.

Streamers on Twitter have urged for Twitch to participate in a blackout to recognise the problem – this type of social media activism would never have happened even just five years ago. We need to build on this momentum as a community moving forward – it’s not enough for companies to apologise and move on. Accountability is needed and change is paramount to reflect the gender balance that exists in modern gaming today. It’s been left way too late.

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