Activision-Blizzard is facing a lawsuit over pervasive sexual harassment in the company as well as sexism, inequality and what the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing described as "frat boy culture". After the company's official response discredited the testimonials of several employees who were the victims of harassment, a walkout is being organized in protest.
After news of the lawsuit - the product of a two-year investigation - spread, Activision Blizzard executive vice president, who was also former homeland security advisor under George W. Bush, Fran Townsend, called the lawsuit "distorted and untrue" and the stories within "out of context" and in some cases a decade old.
Not only did Townsend's statement reveal that sexual harassment has been a problem at the company for over ten years (surprising nobody), it also unilaterally seeks to invalidate the experiences of several Activision-Blizzard employees who have suffered from harassment and discrimination on a constant basis. Since the lawsuit was filed, additional employees both current and former have sought out the DFEH to add their testimonials.
Ever since the controversy began, work on World of Warcraft has ground to a standstill, an Overwatch map reveal has been delayed and most recently, the Hearthstone team did a quiet reveal of the new cards being added to the game without the usual fanfare.
Additionally, a video from BlizzCon 2010 has been making the rounds where a panel including staff members named as sexual abusers respond dismissively and derogatively to a question from a female audience member about oversexualized female characters in Warcraft.
Oh god, I'd not seen this before. It's heartbreaking.
Here's a 2010 Blizzcon panel in which a fan was brave enough to ask a panel full of men, including J. Allen Brack (left) & Alex Afrasiabi (right) whether there's scope for some of WoW's female characters to be less sexualised pic.twitter.com/Elaf3K7KVc
— Chris Bratt (@chrisbratt) July 23, 2021
Employees dissatisfied (to say the least) with the company response penned an open letter to management detailing their disapproval of the ‘abhorrent and insulting’ response, and provided a list of demands. At the time of writing, the letter has received over 2,600 signatures from current and former Activision-Blizzard employees. In order to escalate the situation, employees have also organized a walkout for this Wednesday.
Those who work physically at the Blizzard Campus in California will walk out of the office, while talent working for the company remotely will signify participation with the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag online. Participants of the walkout urged non-employees to signal boost the protest and to donate to charities fighting for the equal rights and treatment of women, women of colour, trans persons and other marginalized groups.
This is also a fantastic time to reiterate how essential it is for game workers to unionize. It is a very real possibility that Activision-Blizzard will fire anyone associating themselves with the walkout. It isn't only their job the participants risk, but considering how widespread and deeply seeded sexism is in the video game industry, vocally opposing it could practically blacklist protestors. Unions are not magical "solve everything" silver bullets, but they are definitely a powerful force in the protection of worker's rights.
Activision-Blizzard is just the latest major gaming company involved in a sexual harassment scandal, hot on the heels of Ubisoft and Riot Games. Achieving meaningful victories in this fight against institutionalized harassment will be a tough journey, but it is essential for everyone to take all the steps they can.