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Game

New report details sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Nintendo of America

Nintendo is famous for having a family—friendly image and game that people of all ages can enjoy. But a report by Kotaku paints the picture of a company that’s not so different from other gaming giants that had previously been accused of fostering a “frat boy” workplace culture. The publication talked to several female game testers who recounted how they were harassed by colleagues and how they were paid less than their male counterparts.

One of Kotaku’s main sources is a former game tester called Hannah, who was allegedly told to be less outspoken after she reported the inappropriate behavior of a full-time Nintendo employee in a workplace group chat. The employee reportedly posted a copy of a Reddit post detailing why Vaporeon was the best Pokémon to have sex with and justified why it was OK to be sexually attracted to Paimon, a Genshin Impact NPC with a child-like appearance. 

Hannah, who was a contractor, also found that she was being paid $3 less than a junior male tester and struggled to get her contracting agency to agree to a pay increase. As a queer worker, she was subjected to inappropriate comments by male colleagues whose advances she’d rejected, as well. “Oh, you’re a lesbian. That’s kind of sad,” a significantly older colleague told her shortly after starting to work at the company. 

Hannah’s experiences are similar to what many of the other female testers Kotaku had interviewed went through. Some of them talked about how Melvin Forrest, a product testing lead at Nintendo of America, “went after all the associate girls” and frequently commented on their weight and appearance. They said Forrest was in charge of deciding on contractors’ schedules and on who gets to return after a project, so female testers were forced to get along with him. Another contractor was stalked by a more senior tester for months, but the well-connected perpetrator threatened to get her fired if she reports him. 

One common complaint between the sources was the lack of advancement opportunities. “Your chance [of being converted to full time] was probably worse as a girl. It’s usually guys [who get promoted]. They’re usually all friends. They watch the Super Bowl together,” one product tester who worked on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild said.

As Kotaku notes, one of the main reasons why these problems persist is that women are underrepresented in the company. Sources believe that the percentage of female contractors testing games for Nintendo is only around 10 percent, and it’s not often that they’re transitioned into full-time employees. The company’s data also shows that female employees only make up around 37 percent of all full-time workers at Nintendo of America.

While the gaming giant didn’t respond to Kotaku’s questions, company chief Doug Bowser previously addressed reports about Activision Blizzard’s sexist “frat boy” culture in an internal memo. “Along with all of you, I’ve been following the latest developments with Activision Blizzard and the ongoing reports of sexual harassment and toxicity at the company. I find these accounts distressing and disturbing. They run counter to my values as well as Nintendo’s beliefs, values and policies,” he said. 

The testers who talked to the publication for this particular report are just some of contractors who’ve recently decided to speak out against the company. Two former workers even filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Nintendo of America of retaliation, surveillance and coercion. We’ve reached out to the company for a statement, and we’ll update this story if we hear back.

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AI

Google is releasing an open source harassment filter for journalists

Google’s Jigsaw unit is releasing the code for an open source anti-harassment tool called Harassment Manager. The tool, intended for journalists and other public figures, employs Jigsaw’s Perspective API to let users sort through potentially abusive comments on social media platforms starting with Twitter. It’s debuting as source code for developers to build on, then being launched as a functional application for Thomson Reuters Foundation journalists in June.

Harassment Manager can currently work with Twitter’s API to combine moderation options — like hiding tweet replies and muting or blocking accounts — with a bulk filtering and reporting system. Perspective checks messages’ language for levels of “toxicity” based on elements like threats, insults, and profanity. It sorts messages into queues on a dashboard, where users can address them in batches rather than individually through Twitter’s default moderation tools. They can choose to blur the text of the messages while they’re doing it, so they don’t need to read each one, and they can search for keywords in addition to using the automatically generated queues.

A picture of the Harassment Manager dashboard as described in the post

Google

Harassment Manager also lets users download a standalone report containing abusive messages; this creates a paper trail for their employer or, in the case of illegal content like direct threats, law enforcement. For now, however, there’s not a standalone application that users can download. Instead, developers can freely build apps that incorporate its functionality and services using it will be launched by partners like the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Jigsaw announced Harassment Manager on International Women’s Day, and it framed the tool as particularly relevant to female journalists who face gender-based abuse, highlighting input from “journalists and activists with large Twitter presences” as well as nonprofits like the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Committee To Protect Journalists. In a Medium post, the team says it’s hoping developers can tailor it for other at-risk social media users. “Our hope is that this technology provides a resource for people who are facing harassment online, especially female journalists, activists, politicians and other public figures, who deal with disproportionately high toxicity online,” the post reads.

A screenshot of the reporting option in Jigsaw’s Harassment Manager

Google has harnessed Perspective for automated moderation before. In 2019 it released a browser extension called Tune that let social media users avoid seeing messages with a high chance of being toxic, and it’s been used by many commenting platforms (including Vox Media’s Coral) to supplement human moderation. But as we noted around the release of Perspective and Tune, the language analysis model has historically been far from perfect. It sometimes misclassifies satirical content or fails to detect abusive messages, and Jigsaw-style AI can inadvertently associate terms like “blind” or “deaf” — which aren’t necessarily negative — with toxicity. Jigsaw itself has also been criticized for a toxic workplace culture, although Google has disputed the claims.

Unlike AI-powered moderation on services like Twitter and Instagram, however, Harassment Manager isn’t a platform-side moderation feature. It’s apparently a sorting tool for helping manage the sometimes overwhelming scale of social media feedback, something that could be relevant for people far outside the realm of journalism — even if they can’t use it for now.

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Game

Activision Blizzard shareholders approve plan for public report on sexual harassment

Activision Blizzard shareholders on Tuesday approved a plan for the company to release an annual, public report detailing its handling of sexual harassment and gender discrimination disputes, and how it’s working to prevent these incidences. The proposal was initially made in February by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Under the proposal, Activision Blizzard will have to publicly disclose the following information each year:

  • The number and total dollar amount of disputes settled by the studio relating to sexual harassment and abuse, and discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, service member status, gender identify, or sexual orientation — covering the last three years

  • What steps Activision Blizzard is taking to reduce the average length of time it takes to resolve these incidents internally and legally

  • The number of pending complaints facing the studio relating to sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, internally and in litigation

  • Data on pay and hours worked, as required by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

The DFEH sued Activision Blizzard in July 2020, alleging executives there fostered a culture of rampant sexual harassment and systemic gender discrimination. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also sued the studio over these allegations in 2020, and Activision Blizzard settled with the federal agency in March, agreeing to set up an $18 million fund for claimants. Activists, employees and the DFEH have argued that this settlement is too low, and former employee Jessica Gonzalez appealed the ruling in May. The DFEH estimates there are 2,500 injured employees deserving more than $930 million in compensation.

“For years, there have been alarming news reports that detail allegedly rampant sexual abuse, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation directed toward female employees,” a statement in support of the proposal to shareholders reads. As an investor-focused document, it outlines the ways in which systemic discrimination and sexual abuse can damage the studio’s revenue streams and its ability to retain employees, saying, “A report such as the one requested would assist shareholders in assessing whether the company is improving its workforce management, whether its actions align with the company’s public statements and whether it remains a sustainable investment.”

While Activision Blizzard is facing multiple lawsuits and investigations in regards to sexism, harassment and discrimination, some employees at the studio are attempting to unionize with the help of the Communications Workers of America. This would be the first union at a major video game studio and could signal a shift in the industry’s longstanding crunch-centric cycle. At Tuesday’s annual meeting, Activision Blizzard shareholders denied a proposal that would’ve added an employee representative to the board of directors, with just 5 percent voting in favor, according to The Washington Post.

At the same time, Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard in a deal worth nearly $69 billion. Microsoft has pledged to respect the rights of workers to unionize. And all the while, Activision Blizzard is still making games.

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Game

Claims process begins in $18 million Activision Blizzard harassment settlement

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has begun accepting claims related to Activision Blizzard’s $18 million settlement with the agency. Starting today, current and former US employees of the publisher who believe they experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination while working at its offices from September 1st, 2016 to March 29th, 2022 can file for an award. Those who decide to take part in the claims process can also make specific non-monetary requests of Activision Blizzard and the EEOC. For instance, they can ask that the publisher remove harmful documents such as disciplinary notices from their personnel file.

It will be interesting to see how many workers apply for an award. When the settlement was first approved by a federal judge in late March, many current and former Activision Blizzard employees criticized the EEOC for not going nearly far enough to hold the company accountable. The fact claimants won’t be able to take part in future litigation against Activision Blizzard, including the ongoing lawsuit from California’s fair employment agency, may also make some workers reluctant to file. Then there’s the amount itself. Former employee Jessica Gonzalez is appealing the settlement on the basis that $18 million is insufficient redress for everyone who may come forward with a claim against Activision Blizzard.

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Game

Blizzard employee says she was told to ‘get over it’ after reporting sexual harassment

In the midst of multiple lawsuits and investigations over allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard, an employee on Wednesday made a public statement about the abuse she says she’s experienced over her four-year career at the studio. Christine works for Blizzard, the group responsible for games including Overwatch and Diablo, and she stood outside the studio’s headquarters in Irvine, California, with her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, by her side. 

Through tears, Christine said she experienced years of sexual harassment at Blizzard, even though it had started out as her “dream job.”

“I was so excited to be a part of a community that seemed to care so much about their employees,” Christine said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to me. Since I’ve been employed at Blizzard, I’ve been subjected to rude comments about my body, unwanted sexual advances, inappropriately touched, subjected to alcohol-infused team events and cube crawls, invited to have casual sex with my supervisors, and surrounded by a frat-boy culture that’s detrimental to women.”

Christine said she brought these negative experiences to her supervisors and they were brushed aside. According to her statement, her superiors said the men harassing her were “just joking” and that she should “get over it.” She was told not to go to HR. She was told her abusers had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.

Christine said that after she complained about the sexual abuse she was experiencing, she was demoted and faced retaliation. She said she was denied shares in the company and full profit-sharing, and she received minimal raises.

In her statement, Christine said her mental health was shattered by these events, but she was going public in order to fight for a safe work environment for all Activision Blizzard employees.

“Blizzard has some amazing people that work for them, but we need to feel safe and supported by people in leadership roles, and hold people accountable for their actions,” she said.

Activision Blizzard is facing multiple investigations and lawsuits regarding its alleged frat-boy culture. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing the studio after an investigation uncovered years of discriminatory hiring practices, a systemic failure to treat sexual harassment seriously, and a culture that encouraged abuse. The result, according to the DFEH report, was a studio where just 20 percent of employees were women, and leadership roles were held only by white men.

Lisa Bloom, Christine’s lawyer, made a statement of her own after the employee spoke.

“We are here because sexual harassment victims at Activision Blizzard have been ignored,” Bloom said. “They are still suffering and it’s time that they are prioritized.”

Following an investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year, Activision Blizzard was ordered to establish an $18 million fund to compensate victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the studio. Bloom argued that this amount is far too low, considering there are hundreds of victims. She also pointed out that Activision Blizzard has already missed critical deadlines when it comes to distributing this money.

“I think we can all agree that the $18 million number is woefully inadequate,” Bloom said.

Bloom then outlined three demands. She first said Activision Blizzard should establish a streamlined, fair and fast process for all victims to resolve their legal claims, and asked for a fund exceeding $100 million. Second, Bloom said the studio should deliver a real apology to Christine and the other victims, and third, she demanded a review by a neutral third party of the career damage employees like Christine have endured, with the goal of remedying any discriminatory decisions.

Bloom has ample experience in this legal arena, most recently representing victims of Jeffrey Epstein.

Activision Blizzard employees have staged a handful of walkouts in protest of the studio’s response to these allegations, which has been dismissive and generally terrible. More than 800 workers in November signed a petition calling for CEO Bobby Kotick to resign, considering he’s held that position for 30 years and has overseen the alleged culture of harassment and discrimination the entire time. Kotick’s tenure at the studio and his power over the board is also likely why he hasn’t yet been forced out.

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Game

PlayStation head Jim Ryan criticizes Activision Blizzard response to sexual harassment scandal

It turns out Blizzard employees weren’t the only ones to express frustration with their company and CEO Bobby Kotick after The Wall Street Journal published an explosive report on the ongoing sexual harassment scandal at the publisher. In an email obtained by Bloomberg, Sony Interactive CEO Jim Ryan critiqued Activision’s response to the article. Ryan linked Sony employees to the report, and said he was “disheartened and frankly stunned to read” The Journal’s findings.

“We outreached to Activision immediately after the article was published to express our deep concern and to ask how they plan to address the claims made in the article,” Ryan says in the message. “We do not believe their statements of response properly address the situation.”

As the company that makes the PlayStation 4 and PS5, Sony is one of Activision’s most important partners. Their close relationship is highlighted by the fact Sony has first dibs on some Call of Duty content. The fact Ryan’s email leaked shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it was an all-hands message.

Broadly, The Wall Street Journal report claims Kotick was not only aware of many of the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment at the company, but that he may have also intervened to protect some of its worst offenders, and that he mistreated women himself. In a statement to Engadget, a spokesperson for the publisher said the article presents a “misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO.” Shortly after it started circulating widely on social media, Blizzard employees announced they would stage a walkout. Hours later, Activision Blizzard’s board of directors issued a statement expressing its continued support of Kotick’s leadership. 

According to a report published by Game Developer, Activision Blizzard also defended Kotick during an all-hands meeting the company hosted after The Wall Street Journal published its report. When asked if its new zero-tolerance policy would apply to the executive, the company told employees it did not “have evidence” of the claims against Kotick due to the fact they relate to an incident that happened a decade ago.  

Update 3:49PM ET: Added information from Game Developer.   

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Game

Blizzard cancels BlizzConline 2022 amid sexual harassment scandal

Blizzard won’t host a BlizzConline event in early 2022 as it previously said it would. Back at the end of May, when it , the studio said its plan was to put on a global event at the start of 2022 that would feature both in-person and online components. Now that won’t happen.

“Any BlizzCon event takes every single one of us to make happen, an entire-company effort, fueled by our desire to share what we create with the community we care about so much,” the company said. “At this time, we feel the energy it would take to put on a show like this is best directed towards supporting our teams and progressing development of our games and experiences.”

Without directly referencing the that has rocked the studio in recent months, Blizzard notes it plans to take time to “reimagine” BlizzCon. “Whatever the event looks like in the future, we also need to ensure that it feels as safe, welcoming, and inclusive as possible,” it said.

It’s no surprise Blizzard wants to rework the event. One of the most serious allegations made by California’s involved BlizzCon. According to the agency, the annual show was the site of the infamous “” where Blizzard employees, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, allegedly sexually harassed women.

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Game

Activision Blizzard says over 20 employees have ‘exited’ following harassment cases

Activision Blizzard has confirmed that more than 20 employees have “exited” the company as part of its efforts to change its internal culture following allegations of fostering a “frat boy” workplace. The video game company has published the letter Executive VP for Corporate Affairs Fran Townsend sent to employees revealing the move, in which she also said that more than 20 other individuals faced different types of disciplinary action. Back in July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the developer for allowing a work environment wherein female employees were allegedly subjected to constant sexual harassment.

The agency, which sued the company after a two-year investigation, detailed several of its findings in the lawsuit. It said female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, and that they have to endure being groped by male colleagues. They’re also not paid as much as their male counterparts, are typically promoted more slowly and fired more quickly. At the time, Townsend told employees that the lawsuit “presented a distorted” picture of the company and that it included “factually incorrect, old and out of context stories.” Hundreds of employees walked out in protest over the company’s response. 

Now, in her letter, Townsend said that there’s a team dedicated to investigating harassment claims, “working tirelessly to ensure that, moving forward, [the company] is a place where people are not only heard, but empowered.” The team received an increasing number of reports in recent months, including concerns from years ago, and it was the members’ investigation that led to the exit of more than 20 employees. Townsend declined to name those individuals, but she told Financial Times that they include several game developers and a few supervisors. None of them came from senior management or from the board. 

A Kotaku report from August named three senior designers who abruptly exited the company. Two of them — Diablo 4 lead designer Jesse McCree and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft — were previously pictured inside the Cosby Suite. In its lawsuit, DEFH said the Cosby Suite is a room with a photo of Bill Cosby where male employees allegedly harassed women during company events.

To be able to handle more complaints, Activision Blizzard hired three full-time employees to join the investigation team. It’s also adding 19 more full-time roles to its overall Ethics & Compliance Team, two of which will be dedicated to overseeing investigations for the EMEA and APAC regions. Townsend admitted that the team can’t always share the details of an investigation, but she also promised more transparency “We know there’s a desire to know about the outcome when misconduct is reported. Sometimes, there are privacy reasons we can’t share. But where we can, we will be sharing more information with you. We will also be providing you regular aggregate data about investigative outcomes,” she wrote in her letter.

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Game

Activision Blizzard loses three senior designers amid sexual harassment lawsuit

Three senior designers pivotal to Diablo 4 and World of Warcraft are no longer at Activision Blizzard. Kotaku confirmed the trio of abrupt departures after initially learning about them from internal sources. They include Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga, lead designer Jesse McCree, and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft. Insiders told the publication that the three developers names had been removed from Blizzard’s internal directory and Slack. 

News of the shakeup arrives as Activision Blizzard is grappling with allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The incendiary accusations, which were revealed in a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), have already led to damaging repercussions for the publisher. Blizzard is facing an internal outcry, with workers staging walkouts and demanding corrective action. Earlier this month, the company lost its president and was hit with a lawsuit by investors irked by its handling of the crisis. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has admitted that the publisher’s original response to the DFEH filing was “tone-deaf.”

While the company did not give a specific reason for the latest departures, two of the designers (namely McCree and LeCraft) were reportedly pictured in photos of the infamous “Cosby Suite.” This was the hotel room explicitly mentioned in the DFEH lawsuit where male employees allegedly harassed women at company events. As Overwatch fans may know, the battle royale game features a cowboy called Jesse McCree named after the now ex-Blizzard employee. It remains to be seen if the publisher changes the character’s name.

“We have a deep, talented roster of developers already in place and new leaders have been assigned where appropriate,” a spokesperson for Blizzard told Kotaku. “We are confident in our ability to continue progress, deliver amazing experiences to our players, and move forward to ensure a safe, productive work environment for all.”

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Game

Inside the sexual harassment lawsuit at Activision Blizzard

When California’s fair employment agency sued Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game studios in the world, on July 20th, it wasn’t surprising to hear the allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. It wasn’t a shock to read about male executives groping their female colleagues, or loudly joking about rape in the office, or completely ignoring women for promotions. What was surprising was that California wanted to investigate Activision Blizzard at all, considering these issues have seemingly been present since its founding in 1979.

Activision Blizzard is a multibillion-dollar publisher with 9,500 employees and a roster of legendary franchises, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo and World of Warcraft. On July 20th, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging executives had fostered an environment of misogyny and frat-boy rule for years, violating equal pay laws and labor codes along the way. This is about more than dirty jokes in the break room — the lawsuit highlights clear disparities in hiring, compensation and professional growth between men and women at Activision Blizzard, and it paints a picture of pervasive sexism and outright abuse in the workplace.

Here’s a rundown of some of the allegations:

  • Just 20 percent of all Activision Blizzard employees are women.

  • Top leadership roles are filled solely by white men.

  • Across the company, women are paid less, promoted slower and fired faster than men.

  • HR and executives fail to take complaints of harassment seriously.

  • Women of color in particular are micromanaged and overlooked for promotions.

  • A pervasive frat-boy culture encourages behavior like “cube crawls,” where male employees grope and sexually harass female co-workers at their desks.

It’s been a few weeks since the lawsuit was filed, and employees, executives and players have all had a chance to respond. Meanwhile, additional reports of longstanding harassment and sexism at Activision Blizzard have continued to roll out, including photos and stories of the “Cosby Suite,” which was specifically named in the filing. According to the lawsuit, this was a hotel room where male employees would gather to harass women at company events, named after the rapist Bill Cosby. 

Days after the filing, Kotaku published photos of the supposed Cosby Suite, showing male Activision Blizzard developers posing on a bed with a framed photo of Bill Cosby at BlizzCon 2013. Screenshots of conversations among the developers discussed gathering “hot chixx for the Coz” and other insulting, immature things (especially when you remember these are middle-aged men, not middle-schoolers).

One of the only executives actually named in the suit was Blizzard head J. Allen Brack, and it alleges he routinely ignored systemic harassment and failed to punish abusers. Brack called the allegations “extremely troubling,” but this line was thrown back in his face on Twitter when independent developer Nels Anderson compared it to a video out of BlizzCon 2010, featuring Brack on the far left. 

In the video, a young woman asks the panel of World of Warcraft developers, all six of whom are white men, whether they’ll ever create a female character that doesn’t look like she just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. The panelists laugh and one responds, “Which catalog would you like them to step out of?” They proceed to essentially dismiss her question. At the end of the exchange, Brack piles on and makes a joke about one of the new characters coming from a sexy cow catalog.

On August 3rd, just two weeks after California filed its lawsuit, Brack stepped down from his role as the president of Blizzard. In his place will be GM Mike Ybarra and executive development VP Jen Oneal. Oneal will be the first woman in a president role since Activision’s founding in 1979; the lawsuit notes that there has never been a non-white president or CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard’s initial response to the lawsuit was tragic, with one leader calling the allegations meritless and distorted. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who regularly gets into fights with shareholders over the ridiculous fortune he’s amassed, published his own response to the lawsuit, where he essentially promised to listen better. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t alleviate many employees’ concerns. A petition in support of the lawsuit ended up gathering more than 2,000 employee signatures, and workers organized a walk-out just eight days after the filing, calling for systemic change at the studio.

Shareholders weren’t bolstered by Kotick’s response, either. Investors filed an additional class-action lawsuit against Activision Blizzard on August 3rd, alleging the company failed to raise potential regulatory issues stemming from its discriminatory culture. Blizzard’s head of HR, Jesse Meschuk, also left the company in the weeks following the initial lawsuit.

Meanwhile, other major game developers have rallied behind the suit, and former Activision Blizzard leaders have shared their support for employees, apologizing for their parts in sustaining a toxic company culture.

None of this is new. As evidenced by the photos, videos, stats and personal stories flowing out of Activision Blizzard, the company has operated on a bro-first basis for decades, and honestly, it’s been sustained by an industry that largely functions the same way.

In 2019, a wave of accusations against prominent male developers crashed over the industry, and AAA studios like Ubisoft and Riot Games made headlines for fostering toxic workplace environments. California is currently suing Riot over allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in hiring and pay practices.

But even that’s not new. Women, non-binary people and marginalized folks in the video game industry have been speaking up about systemic harassment and discrimination for literal decades. Sexism is apparent in the hiring and pay habits of many major studios, and it’s also clear in the games themselves, which feature an overabundance of straight, white, male protagonists.

What is surprising, this time around, is that the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard kind of came out of nowhere. It took a blockbuster media report to make California sue Riot in 2020, but the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard appeared on its own, after years of quiet investigation by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If sexism is systemic in the video game industry, it feels like the system is finally fighting back.

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