Brianna Wu, a software engineer and video-game developer, sits at her workstation in Boston on July 25, 2016. She was a prime target of the online harassment campaign known as Gamergate.
( Elise Amendola
Melissa Harris-Perry: Back with you on The Takeaway, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and a lot of you know that this big dramatic music is World of Warcraft. That is, if you're a gamer if you play. This is the world-sized video game that's been a benchmark for years of the gaming world, but there's a tradition in gaming that has gone on for just as long and has a bigger impact. For years, women have faced sexual harassment and gender discrimination as both players of video games and as employees at the companies that make these games.
You might remember the infamous Gamergate controversy of 2014, which involved an organized online harassment campaign of women in the gaming world. Brianna Wu was just one of the countless women targeted.
Brianna Wu: Within a few hours they were sending me death threats. They published my address to the Internet, they threatened to do some extremely violent things to me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's been seven years since Gamergate and not much has changed. Toxic gaming culture is back in the spotlight once again after the state of California filed a lawsuit against the gaming giant Activision Blizzard in late July. That's the company behind wildly popular games like Candy Crush, World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, and more. Could this lawsuit mean game over for Activision Blizzard and toxic gaming culture overall? To answer that and more, we're joined by Nicole Carpenter, a senior reporter at Polygon. Nicole, thanks for being here.
Nicole Carpenter: Hi, Melissa. Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's start with the company at the center of this lawsuit, Activision Blizzard. What's its reputation?
Nicole Carpenter: Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest and most popular and most beloved videogame companies for the games that it has put out over the years. This lawsuit coming forward in July has changed how the company is viewed now. There have been some problems over the years that have been reported on, but this lawsuit just opened up the company to a lot of really, really damning allegations that hadn't been discussed before.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What are some of those allegations?
Nicole Carpenter: Basically, the lawsuit is targeting Activision Blizzard for discriminating against female employees and also widespread sexual harassment. The allegations, they are spread along those lines. Basically, the allegations are going back quite far as well. These allegations have been spread beyond just the past two years when this investigation had started.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These are allegations that have existed for some time and are larger. Talk to me about how the lawsuit actually came to be?
Nicole Carpenter: The lawsuit came to be after California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing had been investigating Activision Blizzard for about two years. Over those two years, they had been talking to employees, they had sent out a memo to current and former employees asking them, "Hey, let's talk about your experience." That's how they found out about a lot of the things that were discussed in the lawsuit. The things discussed in the lawsuit also range back quite a number of years, and that's an important part of the story as well.
In the lawsuit, the majority of the allegations are targeting Blizzard Entertainment, which is a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard King. A lot of the allegations are regarding that one portion of the company, but in speaking to workers in my own reporting, they've wanted to make it clear that this sort of culture is ingrained throughout the company and not only throughout the company but throughout the video game industry as well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Nicole, I got to tell you, I have been taking this very personally because I have a seven-year-old daughter who is absolutely obsessed with these games and describes herself as a gamer girl, does all the things that my ex-gen brain can't understand in terms of sitting and watching other people play and all of these kinds of things. Just in the broader sense, is it safe for girls in game culture?
Nicole Carpenter: I think that things are changing. You mentioned Gamergate. That period of time is still impacting the video game industry now. Then you see this culture that has been going on behind the scenes as well, and that's because this industry has for so long been accepted as a boys club. In the lawsuit, it was described as frat-boy culture. That sort of culture has been allowed to fester, but it is changing. There are a ton of women and other marginalized people in this industry who are moving forward and demanding change here.
It's going to take time for the leadership, the people who hold the power in this situation, to catch up to that, to listen to those people, but it is changing and there are a ton of women in this industry who are advocating for change. As you've seen from this lawsuit and then the reporting that followed, people are talking about this. People want this to come out. They love this industry, they love the games that they make, and they want those games to be made ethically and without this widespread sexual harassment.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about the games that are made, some of them, like Call of Duty, have certainly come under public scrutiny for violence and that kind of thing, but take something Candy Crush. It crushed my heart to read that this company had these internal problems and made a game that I don't think it would be possible to get either of my children to stop playing. I wouldn't even necessarily want them to stop, it's a great activity in the car when we're driving long distances. Is it possible for consumers to ethically impact this?
In other words, do you see gamers as people who are like, "You know what, no more Candy Crush for me if it's going to be a sexist, toxic work environment"?
Nicole Carpenter: Some people in the gaming community are boycotting these games. Like you mentioned, Candy Crush, that's a King product, but there is one game, Overwatch, from Blizzard Entertainment that has been renowned as a game that has had a diverse cast of characters. There are women, there are men from other countries, just widespread, it's a global game. The cast is diverse and it's been lauded for that. Then seeing what was going on behind the scenes, that's upset people.
The thing to remember, I think, is that the people working on these games are the ones that are pushing for this change and pushing for these additions to be put in. The workers right now at Activision Blizzard are not calling for people to boycott the game or boycott any of their games. They do have four demands that they're asking right now from leadership, but they're not asking for a boycott right now. In my opinion, I think the best way to move forward is to follow the lead of the workers and go from there.
I don't think a boycott is off the table, and if the workers said, "Hey, this is what's going to get the attention of the company," then I think that moving forward from there, that is also an option.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You've talked about women in gaming being here, advocating, pushing. Are there women in leadership? Where there are women in leadership, does it make a difference?
Nicole Carpenter: That's a tough question, because right now, one of the big controversies within this Activision lawsuit has been a response from one powerful woman in leadership, Fran Townsend at Activision Blizzard. Workers at Activision Blizzard are devastated by the response that they had gotten from her internally. She sent out an internal memo that basically wrote off some of the complaints and called the lawsuit distorted and not entirely true. That's what pushed the workers into this open letter, and then later a walkout.
Right now, we're seeing a woman in power, and workers are not happy with how that's going. Putting one woman in a powerful position is not going to change this structurally, but I think overall, having more marginalized people in those positions is a good thing and what will move the industry forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter at Polygon. Nicole, thanks for joining us.
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