We Need to Discuss the Activision/Blizzard Issue, And What Can Be Done

| Jul 27, 2021
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As of July 22, 2021, a lawsuit that has been filed against Activision/Blizzard, accusing the company of covering up horrific behaviour toward women began circulating on Twitter. The lawsuit contains the details of an ongoing two-year investigation featuring multiple accusations. This includes Blizzard being accused of “pervasive frat boy workplace culture that continues to thrive. In the office, women are subjected to ‘cube crawls’ in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.” 

The lawsuit also claims that female employees are denied equal pay, passed over for promotions despite clear accomplishments, and assigned to lower levels. In addition, “Women of color were particularly vulnerable targets of [Activision Blizzard’s] discriminatory practices,” It also alleged that employees were “discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers.” And these are just a few of many toxic details that have been released.  The details are widespread and covered here.

We Need To Discuss The Activision/Blizzard Issue, And What Can Be Done

Numerous women have taken to social media to share their experiences in solidarity with the lawsuit. Women such as Cher Scarlett who stated: “as someone who was harassed, violated, retaliated against, had a false report filed AGAINST me that was ACTED ON BY MY ONE OF MY HARASSERS, & watched one of my best friends be traumatized over and over again by the men in power at this company, I can’t express the relief I feel.” And Shay Stein who says “I’ve been openly discussing the discrimination I received during my employment at Blizzard for a few years now. Even in coming out about the harassment (that was met with HR leads telling me “it was a privilege to work here”) I, we – never had a voice”. Another woman, Anne Armstrong created a Twitlonger to explain her experiences.  These are just a handful of the countless stories and insights that the women who have worked at Activision Blizzard when this lawsuit broke. Women often had the feeling of blaming themselves or misinterpreting things as Jennifer Klasing explains. 

These and many other stories align with the details of the lawsuit against Activision/Blizzard which includes:

“In the office, women are subjected to ‘cube crawls’ in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees. Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.”. Note: the contents of the signed statement were first reported by Bloomberg

Naturally Activision Blizzard has responded in a statement provided to Polygon. Activision Blizzard denied allegations of a sexist culture, calling the report “distorted, and in many cases false.” You can read the company’s full statement here. An internal email from Activision president Rob Kostich stating the DFEH allegations “deeply disturbing,” claiming that the “behaviors described are not reflective of our Activision company values.” Employees have spoken out once again as over 1000 of them have signed an open letter condensing the company’s response to this situation. Employees have taken a huge impactful statement with a walkout scheduled for July 28, with employees protesting against conditions and focusing on themselves. In a statement to Kotaku, an employee rep stated, “We are encouraging employees to take whatever time off they feel safe to do. Most of us plan to take the full day off (without pay), but we understand some people like contractors and associates, and those who are paid less than they deserve, might not have the ability to do so.” 

Current And Former Activision Blizzard Employees Speak Out Against Company, Wednesday Walkout Planned To Protest Working Conditions

Walkout organizers have also included a message for non-Activision/Blizzard members of the gaming community to share support by posting on social media with the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag and the blue heart emoji. 

Sadly, this is a problem that we have seen time and time again among studios including Ubisoft and Riot Games. While stating that change needs to happen, an action plan needs to be put into place for all studios in order to allow employees to feel safe at their place of work. These changes could be anyone who has been named so far being suspended until the investigation is complete, or each individual has been cleared by name. This can relieve the extreme amount of tension that is undoubtedly occurring within the office space. Giving the ability to those who can work from home to do so would also help alleviate pressure, as some might not know how to act around the accused or what to say, and fear repercussions. 

There needs to be a priority on the health and wellbeing of current staff. Many companies have leveraged bringing in a third party team on an ongoing basis for employees to talk to and to follow up with all members of the staff, with that time frame able to expand to 2 or 3 months as the situation is resolved. This will create a safe space for all employees to voice how they are feeling in regard to this situation and address any issues right away instead of letting them build up. It might seem like common practise, but once the lawsuit has been resolved, those found guilty need to be immediately removed from the company completely. Oftentimes, we see those who have committed these types of behaviour, continuing working at the workplace. However, there needs to be a move towards having real consequences for the men involved and no longer giving passes to them. Victims should be given options on how they wish to proceed: whether they want to continue at the company, switch departments, or maintain their position etc. as well as receive compensation and free mental health care.

Lastly, Activision/Blizzard’ hiring practices and standards of training and expectations need to be updated, revised, and followed to the letter with all staff held to the same level of accountability. A complete restructuring of HR policies with a diverse team of HR representatives.

Resources

If you or anyone you know have experienced any type of toxic behaviour or harassment in the workplace there are numerous resources for you that I would like to highlight. 

It is important to remember that any abuse that you might have experienced – is not your fault

Safe In Our World – worldwide hub for information, news, features, videos, and support related to all facets of mental health in the video game industry, including hero stories of key figures who have fought their own personal battles with mental illness

Women in Games International (WIGI) – Women in Games International (WIGI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate resources to advance economic equality and diversity in the global games industry. 

the*gameHERs – The*gameHERs is a women-led community dedicated to amplifying and centering the voices of women, femme-identifying gamers and non-binary gamers who are comfortable in spaces that center women. 

Games and Online Harassment Hotline – A free, text message-based, confidential emotional support hotline created specifically for the gaming community

Queer Women of Esports – Advocacy, opportunities and education to marginalized individuals who have been overlooked and undersupported

Futures Without Violence – FUTURES has been providing groundbreaking programs, policies, and campaigns that empower individuals and organizations working to end violence against women and children around the world.

Unfortunately, this has become a story that we hear all too often in the game industry, but it needs to be discussed each time it occurs. Not only a discussion about what happened, but a discussion on what needs to be done so that this is not the norm. Women should not have to live in fear of being targeted at a workplace, and men should not have to feel pressured to conform to this “frat boy culture”. The issue is extremely complex and cannot be solved immediately, but definitive solutions and actions need to be put into place at all studios that protect women and other marginalized groups. 

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