Dismantling the boy’s club

Gender-based discrimination and sexual harrassment are not limited to a particular industry, but their existence to this date must be enough to call for concrete action.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article mentions instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Readers are advised to proceed with caution.

I used to be a big fan of Overwatch—of its diverse hero roster, frenetic gameplay, vibrant art direction, and even its esports league. For all its flaws, there really isn’t another game quite like it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was scrambling to find a new hobby, I defaulted to playing Overwatch. It was my comfort game of sorts. As weeks turned into months, however, it became apparent that the game was starting to stagnate, and I eventually stopped playing. 

Fast forward to July 2021. It had been over a year since the pandemic started. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw the headlines as the news broke: Activision Blizzard Sued By California Over Widespread Harassment Of Women, Activision Blizzard Sued Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment, Activision Blizzard Sued By California For Allegedly Allowing ‘Frat Boy’ Workplace Culture.

Media outlets were in a frenzy to report on the lawsuit. As I read through the articles, it clicked: Overwatch, the game I once loved, was developed by Blizzard. My appreciation for the game, while undiminished, was tainted by the possibility that its developers had either been complicit or participated in the discrimination and sexual misconduct alleged in the lawsuit.

Of course, it makes little sense to maintain a summary judgment of all Activision Blizzard (AB) employees due to the actions of a few. However, in reviewing the allegations affirmed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, it is clear that the problems at AB are not the product of individual offenders.

In fact, the suit outlines how AB’s staff, management, and executives ignored and even encouraged sexual harassment at the company, especially if it was committed by someone with a high position who received no more than a slap on the wrist.

The suit also highlights the kind of discrimination female employees faced at AB—from being offered less lucrative starting positions, being compensated less, being snubbed or made to work harder for promotions, and even being forced out of lactation rooms for a meeting. All of this was in addition to male employees openly making derogatory remarks about rape and female bodies without facing any consequences.

In addition, the suit calls attention to drinking at AB—particularly “cube crawls”, during which drunk and hungover employees would crawl through AB offices and harass their female coworkers. Knowing all of this, it’s no wonder that the suit refers to AB having a “frat boy” culture.

While it may be disturbing to many to hear of the extent of gender-based discrimination and sexual misconduct that was allowed to thrive at AB, it’s important to understand that it isn’t an isolated case. In fact, the entire gaming industry—including big players such as Electronic Arts, Riot Games, and Ubisoft—has faced and continues to face problems rooted in sexism and toxic “bro” culture.

This observation extends well past the gaming industry and is palpable in PC and console gaming circles where the main demographic is young, straight men. In truth, anyone who has had any involvement in gaming culture knows that video games are treated as a male pastime. Female gamers are often shunned, othered, and not treated as “real gamers” by their male peers.

Harassment directed at women in multiplayer video games is incredibly common as well. I, for one, have witnessed my fair share of female teammates being harassed through text and voice chat in Overwatch and other popular multiplayer games such as Apex Legends and Titanfall 2. While I and many others readily come to the defense of female gamers in these situations, we are not the solution.

It is paramount that we demand action and justice on behalf of the women who were the victims of discrimination and sexual misconduct at AB—something that cannot happen as long as Bobby Kotick remains the CEO of the company. Progress won’t be possible as long as the leadership of AB remains exclusively male. Even then, female executives deserve equal pay and respect—two things that weren’t given to recently resigned Blizzard Executive Vice President of Development Jen Oneal.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with lip service and disingenuous corporate diversity programs; accountability must be wrought, especially for those at AB who enabled sexual assault and participated in the exclusionary culture of the company. We must also maintain this same attitude in our own lives and communities where progress remains important even if it’s out of the spotlight.

In order to move past this terrible status quo, we must recognize that gaming is for everyone. We must acknowledge the harm that “bro” culture does and actively correct ourselves and each other in instances where we slip up. Most importantly, we must not turn a blind eye when we witness sexual misconduct, even if it is to our own detriment. It’s time to dismantle the boy’s club attitude that has ingrained itself into gaming spaces and culture—to break down walls and build bridges where they once stood.

By Jasper Ryan Buan

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