[T/W: Parts of this article include explicit descriptions of rape, sexual harassment, and suicide, so do proceed with caution.]
To say that Activision Blizzard is in hot waters is an understatement, as pressure continues to mount on the World of Warcraft maker following a lawsuit filed last week by the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.
First reported by Bloomberg Law, the lawsuit alleged that multiple women were subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay, and in one instance, suicide, which has prompted legal action from the state. In response, an Activision Blizzard spokesman called the allegations false and distorted, with a subsequent email from company executive Frances Townsend describing the claims as “factually incorrect, old, and out of context”.
The lack of sincerity, empathy, and acknowledgement of the situation – despite the gathered evidence that says otherwise – has naturally incited furore from its staff, many of whom have stepped up to make their dissent known. As of date, more than 2,000 current and former employees have signed a petition condemning the company’s response.
According to the petition, the statements are described to be “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.” It added, “To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.”
Along with the call for “official statements that recognise the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault,” the petition also mentioned that the executive leadership team should work with staff on “new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees – as well as our community – have a safe space to speak out and come forward.” The full content of the document may be viewed over at Bloomberg, who first reported on the matter.
Dozens of current and former staff, particularly at the California-based Blizzard Entertainment subsidiary, have detailed their experiences at the company on social media in light of the lawsuit. A two-year investigation by the state agency has found traces of a toxic, misogynistic environment that perpetuates a “frat boy” culture, including “cube crawls,” where male employees “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behaviour toward female employees.”
The document also lists other problematic conduct, such as discriminatory promotion practices, making rape jokes, and the engagement of demeaning behaviour. One particularly horrifying incident has resulted in the suicide of an employee while on a company trip with her male supervisor. “The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party,” the complaint says.
It’s worth noting that Activision Blizzard has entered a social media blackout since news of the lawsuit surfaced, with none of its accounts posting any updates or announcements regarding their respective projects and titles.
The whole thing is pretty horrifying and vile, and has shed light on the sheer amount of ignored, unhandled atrocities that have been going on behind the scenes of the video games industry. Just one day after Activision Blizzard’s labour lawsuit, Ubisoft and its Singapore branch were also exposed for its toxic workplace culture that breeds bad pay, sexual harassment, and toxic misogyny.
These issues have long been part of the landscape, and while they were brushed off or swept under the rug by many companies in the past, more individuals are now stepping up to share their encounters in hopes of inciting some form of action against the big players. It has certainly worked in this case, with Activision Blizzard doing an extremely poor job at tackling the matter as it scrambles to offer non-apologies and excuses.
While we do hope that the company will eventually decide to do and be better, its track record definitely suggests otherwise. Back in 2019, the industry giant found itself under fire for its poor handling of the Blitzchung debacle, which was promptly covered up with a rushed, seemingly out-of-nowhere announcement of Overwatch 2 at BlizzCon, where president Allen J. Brack gave a generic, hardly-sincere apology statement in typical Blizzard fashion.
Guess the time has come for the big boys to take responsibility for their actions.