*CW: This article discusses sexual harassment and suicide.
This week, two attorneys at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) agency left their roles in the midst of a lawsuit against the video game company Activision Blizzard. One lawyer was fired by Governor Gavin Newsom’s team, while the other left her position in protest. Both lawyers claim that Newsom’s office attempted to interfere in the case against Activision, while the Governor’s office denies the claims that they are working in the interest of Activision. The company, known for developing titles such as “World of Warcraft,” “Overwatch,” and “Call of Duty” has been involved in a sexual discrimination and misconduct lawsuit with the DFEH since the summer of 2021. Female employees reported several instances of inappropriate sexual conduct, unequal pay, and overall continuous workplace abuse. One female employee took her own life on a company trip, and her family cited sexual harassment as a large factor, filing their own lawsuit against the company.
While the working environment at Activision is an extreme example, it is not the only company that has dealt with discrimination suits. Riot Games, known for creating “League of Legends,” settled a similar discrimination lawsuit for $100 million in late 2021. At both Activision and Riot, female employees felt constantly questioned and undermined because their coworkers and supervisors did not believe they enjoyed or were passionate about gaming.
Ultimately, these women were treated as inherently less capable because of their perceived lack of skill and experience that was rooted in stereotypes. Extending beyond the corporate sphere of gaming, the culture of the video game community as a whole makes it difficult for women to enter. From 2014 to 2015, the social media movement “#Gamergate” targeted several women game developers and feminist critics within the field of gaming. While the movement began as a push against forced diversity in the video game industry, the women being targeted were soon overwhelmed by online harassment, including death threats and doxing. The hashtag itself has since been absorbed into the larger online alt-right movement, but the year-long harassment of women in the video game community has left a significant stain. Ultimately, the current state of the video game industry leads women to wonder what place they have in a technology-driven field.
A few days after the Wall Street Journal published their breakout article detailing the misconduct at Activision, Microsoft and Activision began talks of a possible acquisition. In January 2022, Microsoft officially acquired Activision Blizzard for $69 billion dollars, the largest acquisition in gaming by magnitude. This transition of ownership may improve working conditions, but inequality in the workspace remains. The industry at large is embroiled in “bro” and “frat” culture, with a notorious history of female objectification in their media. Extreme reformation of leadership and company practice must be considered to improve working conditions. Just as Activision states on their “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” page, “there is still work to do.”
Image courtesy of Dinosaur918 at Wikimedia Commons.