Sexism and the video game industry

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This summer, Activision Blizzard made headlines not for a great new game, but because the video game giant has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination against women by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The list of allegations is long: sexist remarks and harassment in the workplace, jokes about rape, unequal pay between men and women and fewer opportunities for advancement for employees. It has been claimed that the company supports a culture of “frat boy”.

The California authority had been investigating the company for two years before filing a complaint on July 20, 2021. Since then, barely a week has passed without news of the US video game studio scandal. Activision Blizzard is the maker of games including World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch and is one of the most successful game companies in the world by revenue.

According to the Wall Street newspaper, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has reportedly been aware of the misogynistic corporate culture for years, but has done too little to improve the work environment. He is accused not only of covering up the systematic sexism of his company, but also of contributing to the harassment of women, of discriminating against them or of not taking them seriously. In a petition, more than 1,300 employees are now asking for the dismissal of their boss.

Industry faces “chronic problem”

“The detailed toxicity of this trial is just another example of a chronic problem we face as an industry,” said Renee Gittens, executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). DW in a written statement. The US-based nonprofit has championed workers in the video game industry since its founding in 1994. Their pain in silence. “Blizzard is an important case, but far from the only one. Sexual misconduct at Ubisoft, another major player in the industry, made headlines last year.

Macho culture at work

Recurring accusations raise the question of whether there are structural reasons that encourage such behavior. Many more men than women work in most game companies. In addition, a macho culture, sometimes referred to as “bro culture” or “frat boy culture”, has prevailed in the accused companies for years. Management tolerated the behavior, swept harassment cases under the rug while the staff in question never had to fear the consequences.

Most people think employees are harassed because of the sibling culture or because there are so many men, says Annelie Biernat, chief product manager at German game developer Wooga. “I work with a lot of men and I don’t think that’s true.” Biernat said DW that it depends on how the business is run, adding that it is about empowering people to express themselves, regardless of their gender. Transparency must be ensured and the consequences must follow, she argued.

The code of conduct explicitly prohibits all forms of harassment and discrimination, Biernat said, adding that employees are offered courses on unconscious discrimination because it is not immediately clear to everyone why someone is. feels disadvantaged in a certain situation. She said she appreciates the open culture of debate that has established itself in Wooga.

“A better place to work”

With around 300 employees, Berlin-based Wooga is one of the smaller gaming companies. He develops casual story-based games including “June’s Journey” and “Switchcraft”. The company has managed to diversify in five years. Just a few years ago, the male / female ratio was 80/20; today it’s about 60/40. “We believe that when we have a diverse workforce, it’s a better community, a better environment. It creates a better place to work,” said Wooga CEO Nai Chang. DW. Diverse teams “will create better products that resonate with our audience,” she added.

Everyone benefits from a diverse workforce, she argued – people who work in the games industry and people who play games. “You create empathy, you create perspective and it becomes a lot easier to know that people are different,” said the CEO, adding that game companies were changing “because you weren’t going to. not create the best products that meet the needs of different audiences. without in-depth knowledge and insight. ” The representation of women, homosexuals or people of color in games has become an important issue. It makes sense that those who need to be represented should be involved in creating games in order to tell believable and authentic stories.

“We need more women in our industry”

Such games could in turn encourage female and male gamers to pursue careers in the video game industry. “We need more women and minorities in our industry and we need to make sure our industry is safe for them to thrive,” said Renee Gittens. “A diverse and inclusive team will tackle issues more effectively and create content that appeals to a wider audience. Diversity of thought, creativity and experience makes teams more effective and creative.”

The Activision Blizzard scandal sheds light on the dark side of the games industry. The good news is that we seem to have reached a turning point. Employees demand a healthy company culture, harassment and discrimination are reported, problematic employees are fired, and game characters who bear their names are renowned.

“We are now reaching a point where those who have suffered feel empowered to come forward without having to sacrifice their careers,” said Gittens. The fact that we are now talking about harassment is a big step forward, she said. It remains to be seen whether the gaming industry has really been able to transform itself and create better working conditions. But for now, it’s gone.


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