Gaming is big business. Often, it is also a cesspool of misogyny, assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination. As detailed in a recent New York Times exposé, scores of competitive gamers and streamers have courageously come forward with stories of rampant sexual misconduct and hostile environments of harassment allowed to persist by industry leaders and fellow competitors. As appalling as the tales are, victims and others in the industry forecast these recent stories will serve as catalysts for long-overdue changes after previous waves of complaints were met with swift backlash or denials.
The Times report details how gamers have been sharing their stories of mistreatment on platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and the blogging platform TwitLonger. Similar to claims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the “bro love” culture of the tech industry, gamers’ have alleged nonconsensual touching, propositions for sex, and harassment by highly-ranked and high-profile gamers as well as executives at companies that manage gaming talent, game developers, and fellow streamers.
This Time, Because of The Times, Things May Be Different
This isn’t the first time allegations of rampant sexism have roiled the gaming industry. In 2014, women who critiqued its male-dominated and sexist culture endured death threats and other forms of abuse during what was called “Gamergate.” A wave of similar allegations in 2019 faced an equally dismissive, derisive, or hostile response. Despite the contempt, many women faced after publicly voicing their just demands for safer and more equitable work environments, the collective call for change in the industry did yield meaningful results at some companies. Due in large part to the advocacy of a small group of women emboldened to speak out, Riot Games, one of the most popular game developers in the U.S., agreed to settle a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit brought on behalf of women seeking equal pay, equal access to promotional opportunities and a safe work environment free of harassment and discrimination. While some companies have heeded the warnings of women in the industry and taken steps to institute internal safeguards to ensure equitable treatment of women and employees of color, the cultural dynamics of the gaming industry which beget hostile and biased work environments persist as the status quo.
But 2020, in an almost incomprehensible number of ways, is not 2019 or 2014. The Black Lives Matter movement, along with what is sometimes derisively termed “cancel culture,” has fostered an environment in which consumers, advertisers, and the general public expect accountability when allegations of racism, sexism, harassment, and discrimination arise.
This intense public pressure has either forced or “motivated,” those accused of such conduct to resign or publicly come forward, apologize, and take responsibility for their actions. Similarly, companies whose leaders or executives engage in such behavior now feel compelled to sever their relationships with those individuals to avoid backlash or abandonment by sponsors, talent, and the gaming community as a whole.
No Longer Intimidated By Threats, NDAs, and Gaslighting
Knowing that an increasing number of women want to share their stories gives other women the strength to stop being silent. By supporting each other in stepping forward, women can combat fears of retaliation, intimidation, job loss, gaslighting, and loss of credibility with colleagues. But challenges still abound. As the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and other individual and collective actions have demonstrated, NDAs have been one of the most repressive aspects of case settlements, not only because of the gag they impose on female plaintiffs, but the strict penalties, including forfeiture of settlement money, plaintiffs face should they breach the agreement and speak out later. Although tech companies like Google and Uber, along with Bloomberg LLP, Condé Nast, have either eliminated NDAs involving sexual harassment claims or have pledged to release women bound by them, many more companies adhere to and strictly enforce the restrictive covenants.
The critical mass of complaints is also rendering ineffective one of the more insidious tools used by companies (and politicians) to coerce women into backing down from their allegations – gaslighting. Gaslighting is a tactic used by managers and companies to make women feel like they’re delusional, off-base, misinformed, or “crazy” when making claims of discrimination or harassment. That may be easy to do when one person is a lonely voice in the wilderness. It is much harder to employ that tactic in the face of hundreds, if not thousands, of other people making the same claims.
As one gamer quoted in the Times said, “When it’s one call-out, it’s a problem with a person. When there’s a ton of call-outs, it’s a problem with the industry.”
Undeterred by opposition, often from those within their own gaming communities, brave women continue to shine the light on the gaming industry’s misconduct and reckless oversight when it comes to ensuring that women can exist safely and thrive in their places of employment. If nothing more, we’ve learned from the past six years that concerted action can work to push the needle forward. Together, women and their allies in the workplace must insist that these companies, who have for too long been offered a pass due to the insularity and cultural norms of the industry, comply with their obligations to create an equitable work environment for all employees.
Contact Outten & Golden If You Have Concerns About Gaming Industry Harassment or Discrimination
The willingness of women in the gaming industry to come forward combined with societal changes that impose substantial personal, financial, and reputational consequences for sexual misconduct and discrimination will hopefully lead to a cultural shift for those who play and work in the sector.
But sexual harassment and discrimination still occur all too frequently. If you have experienced such misconduct, please contact the employment law attorneys at Outten & Golden.