Activision Blizzard, the video game maker, has found itself on shaky grounds following mounting allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination.
The video game company is currently being sued by the State of California following a two-year investigation into the company which revealed a ‘frat boy workplace culture’ in which men joked about rape and women were routinely harassed and discriminated against, including earning less than their male colleagues.
A behemoth in the video gaming world and the parent company behind games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and Call of Duty, news of Activision Blizzard’s internal crisis has rattled the gaming world and sparked new discussions on workplace harassment and discrimination in a heavily male-dominated industry.
“It’s sad to see the allegations come forward, especially since I have always considered WoW to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Rachel Thake, an avid local gamer and influencer, told Lovin Malta.
“WoW is a huge part of my life, so much so that my biggest tattoo and face tattoos are WoW related,” she said.
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Pictured above: Rachel Thake with her World of Warcraft face tattoo
“The allegations are disgusting and frankly any harassment in any workplace to any gender is wrong. I do hope that the company acts on and takes the allegations extremely seriously and that they are handled as best as possible, with the people involved prosecuted as needed,” she said.
Just yesterday, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack stepped down following workplace protests that saw more than 1,500 workers walk out from their jobs last week.
Alex Afrasiabi, former senior creative director for WoW, left Blizzard quietly without much fanfare in 2020. According to the current lawsuit, Afrasiabi frequently harassed women and was part of the infamous ‘Blizzcon Cosby Crew’, which other top executives knew about but failed to act upon.
“We obviously condemn the way Blizzard is hiding this,” CEO and founder of local eSports academy Level Academy, Kevin Spiteri, told Lovin Malta.
“If the allegations are proven true, it would be shocking, to say the least, but it’s not unexpected from these big-sized companies,” he said.
Unfortunately, the video game industry has developed a toxic culture of negativity towards women over the years. In 2014, feminist critics of the industry faced death threats in a controversy known as Gamergate.
“This has had a negative effect on the gaming community, with players noticing the lack of attention given to the games and switching to other platforms, from WoW to Final Fantasy.”
“What I hope comes out of this is a widespread awareness of what is acceptable and not and to stop the work bullying culture,” he said.
On the bright side, those embroiled in sexual misconduct at Activision Blizzard are finally being exposed publicly, perhaps marking a shift in attitude and culture in the video game industry.
“It seems like most of the people involved are being publicly named and shamed and it’s shaking the company to its core, sending a powerful message out there to anyone who threatens their employees or colleagues in such a manner,” Kersten James Chircop, Founder of GMR Entertainment, told Lovin Malta.
As shocking as it may be, the Activision Blizzard scandal hits home for a lot of gamers out there, especially those who do not fit the male stereotype associated with the industry, including in Malta too, where a toxic gaming environment persists.
“I personally have suffered from harassment online just because of my gender,” Thake continued. “People think that just because you’re a woman, you’re automatically bad at a game. They would laugh, make fun of me and make sexual jokes. It’s not a great thing to experience.”
Thankfully, the seasoned video gamer has developed a thick skin over the years and is able to brush off the unjust criticism. However, that does not deter from the fact that more needs to be done to address inappropriate actions and behaviours in the online video gaming world.
“We did just ban some people from our community and tournaments for certain comments posted on community channels,” Spiteri said.
“We deal with cases on a weekly, if not daily, basis during the tournament season. There’s loads of toxicity over here but it’s part of our vision to impart this athletic and professional approach to eSports.
Level Academy is Malta’s first eSports academy dedicated to creating elite and professional gaming athletes, with an emphasis on inclusion, fighting discrimination and a zero-tolerance policy for actions against this spirit.
Video game event organiser GMR Entertainment, the company behind local large scale events and competitions such as Playcon and the Malta ePremier League, also tries its best to curtail the level of toxicity within the local gaming community, but controlling a horde of online gamers is almost near impossible.
“Even if we do our best to control it, unfortunately, toxicity will always be part of the gaming community, especially since most of the time you’re playing with people you don’t know,” James Chircop said. “Having said that, at least to my knowledge, I never heard of any particular sexual harassment activity within the local community”.
Despite the backlash and bad press, Activision Blizzard recently reported quarterly revenue of around $2.3 billion, a 19% jump from the same period last year.
“It’s sad to see the game die slowly following this mess, but should the allegations be deemed true, they have themselves to blame,” Thake ended.
“It’s a shame that the players will be affected too. Nevertheless, the game will always be in my heart. It was created by dedicated gamers themselves, who just wanted to make a game that people will fall in love with.”
Have you experienced any toxicity while gaming? Let us know below