A Truly Fucked Up Industry
June 29, 2020 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Victims of Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Fallout: New Vegas), Insomniac Games (Spiderman PS4), Ubisoft (Far Cry, Assassin's Creed) and multiple twitch personalities have spoken out about the sexual harassment, abuse and assaults they have suffered. "The game industry is rotten from within and without. Nakedly, openly abusive of its staff as a matter of course, the stuff it actively hides and covers for consists of more personal, and more horrifying abuse."
posted by simmering octagon (27 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Twitter thread by Meghna Jayanth (80 Days) with dozens of accounts and stories about abuse in the game dev industry. (unrolled link)
posted by simmering octagon at 9:14 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Given that abusive patterns such as permanent crunch time are endemic to the AAA game industry, is it really surprising that there are predators in positions of power there, and they will not hesitate to commit other abuses? After all, you may as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb.
posted by acb at 9:19 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


The content of most games (and I'm someone who does still play some games) should be an indicator of what a regressive boy's club of neanderthal thinking gaming companies are.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:24 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]


Even fairly progressive games have a share of horrifying and toxic men behind the scenes. Don't hold it up as true correlation. Shitty men are hiding under every rock.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:30 AM on June 29 [20 favorites]


The first thing that hits you is how cronyism and hierarchies protect abusers in this context. Who do you turn to when the people who need to stop abuse are the ones perpetrating it? You go above their head but because the abuser is a crony it goes straight back to a superior that's going to protect them.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:42 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


See also this post from a few days ago.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:43 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


The content of most games (and I'm someone who does still play some games) should be an indicator of what a regressive boy's club of neanderthal thinking gaming companies are.

HEY.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:52 AM on June 29 [43 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: working on games is fun as hell. Working in games sucks.
posted by Reyturner at 10:01 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]


A big part of this in my opinion, is our culture of Auteur worship. There's this belief in a Great Man theory, which goes far beyond actual results or quality of work. The Great Man theory is used to sell a company... as well as a game or other product. Most of the heavy lifting this false Great Man theory does is in promoting the corporation or business that employs the so-called Great Man. These names (like Avellone from the first article) are used as Branding and become a shorthand way of telling others that "great talent" is part of their package. Never mind that these so-called Great Men are not actually doing any of the real work, or are in any way leading to a company producing good or great work.

I saw this in the ad industry. I worked for 20 years as an art director in Advertising, USA— in agencies large and small. Some so famous that even non-ad people likely have heard of them. Several times, I worked with some of these so-called Great Men. Usually they were involved tangentially, and their input into the actual workflow would basically just be "appearances" in the various departments, necessitating formal presentations and other acts of ritualistic debasement. These meetings were about Fear. Hell, general proximity to the Great Men prompted a lot of Fear.

Not all of them were outwardly "bad." But the reality was these Great Men were mostly involved in agency self-promotion, they were figureheads deeply involved with dealmaking and sales efforts of the agency itself. They had influence, for sure. But their actual output was mostly about high-level talks with potential clients and media outlets. They were Celebrity Spokesmodels. They were not involved in creative output— except in a political sense— helping decide who sits in the corner offices.

I'm simplifying things here. I'm not claiming that these guys (they were all guys) were all talentless hacks. Far from that. But their existence in the agency was mostly politics and branding. A sales point for potential clients, and a way to retain existing clients.

I'm getting off-topic here, but at least a couple of these "great men" I knew were genuine creeps. I never saw/witnessed any personal bad behavior against specific individuals. But these guys reveled in creating an aura of Big Personality... making off-color comments, putting people on the spot in weird, unexpected ways that had no bearing on what was happening other than to magnify the fact that a Great Man was in the room.

I heard some other stuff, too. And I believe it now, and I believed it then. But I kept cashing those paychecks. I cringe when I read media stories about companies where a Big Name is quoted or profiled.

This all needs to be blown up and rebuilt. Maybe rebuilt.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:49 AM on June 29 [15 favorites]


I just started working in games last year after 15 years in visual effects, most of which was spent at big studios working on high-profile projects. I also spent a few years bouncing around freelance commercial studios. For reference, i'm a ~40yo cis heterosexual white male.

While my data about game company cultures is singular, my overwhelming impression is that it's a very young, very sheltered industry that eschews top-down hierarchies for cults of personality. This is a pretty standard approach by companies that have found some success but haven't experienced enough boom/bust cycles to have an understanding of why things work and why things don't. Instead of a deeper exploration into the causes of success or failure, they tend to stick with the 'rock stars' that have delivered in the past.

As you can imagine, the overwhelming preponderance of these people are white males. And the overwhelming message at all levels is that these people are indispensable and should be given free reign. You can imagine how that goes. Efforts to address diversity are in direct conflict with this, and changing it will be a long, painful process.

These places also seem completely saturated with 'nerd culture.' Not only is there an expectation that you be plugged in to this culture, there's also great concern about how you'll be perceived by 'fandom'. My coworkers scour youtube comments sections. But more to the point, most don't consider this to be a job - it's a part of their identity.

Finally, it's worth keeping in mind that production on a game is measured in years. This is a big chunk of peoples' lives they spend on a single project, so emotional investment is natural. But it's incredibly problematic to blur that lines between personal and professional time that much. People need private lives. People need room to make mistakes and learn hard lessons and they can't do that at work. But companies have a strong financial interest in become a source of passion for young people, so they have every reason to ignore the problem.

Anyway just some random thoughts I've had kicking around.
posted by misterdaniel at 12:02 PM on June 29 [23 favorites]


> become a source of passion for young people

Passion is just a latin word for suffering.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:05 PM on June 29 [20 favorites]


Some excellent comments here. Over the years I’ve slipped further and further away from the games industry “community”, which at its worst is a gaggle of spoiled, self-pitying man-children nursing imagined slights from their past and unwilling to learn anything from outside their industry. Not all game devs, of course – but far too many willing to ignore the constant drumbeat of abuse and sexual harassment .

What’s especially galling about this neverending shitshow is just how much money companies are making. Just... so much money! And yet they put their workers through hell.
posted by adrianhon at 12:26 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


I'll add: I never saw this horrible personal shit firsthand. Not surprisingly, I am a cis het white male.
posted by SoberHighland at 12:36 PM on June 29


Several times, I worked with some of these so-called Great Men.

I worked with a sort of B tier one of those in the game industry, and I was Not Impressed. More ego and self-promotional skill than software engineering skill. And yes, he was a sexist creep.
posted by Foosnark at 1:23 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Ignore or dismiss the video game industry at your own peril, but I will say that many of the "GameGaters" were people who never touched a video game in their life. They just saw the culture as breeding grounds for (especially misogynistic) hatred and abuse and attached to it like fucking lampreys. Because they're ultimately there to defend the culture, not the industry. However, the same applies to anyone who wants to fight back against said culture wherever it appears.

This might not be The Reckoning™ yet, but every story that comes out and every Chris Avellone that gets their true nature revealed makes the industry look less appetizing to predators and other opportunistic jerks. Give no quarter, except the kind that goes into arcade machines.
posted by Arson Lupine at 1:38 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


What’s especially galling about this neverending shitshow is just how much money companies are making. Just... so much money! And yet they put their workers through hell.

The industry self-selects for a certain sort of worker. When you literally state that programming should be one's life and select for that, you will get a certain sort of worker, and nobody else. (And this isn't just limited to the games industry - there's an anecdote recounted by Nosferatu-American Peter Thiel where he rejected an excellent candidate from a job at PayPal purely because the person enjoyed playing basketball when off the clock.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:05 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Jesus. It really is astonishing how fucked up that industry is, at a fundamental level. Games, movies, music; it feels like the amount of tolerated toxic behaviour in an industry is inversely proportionate to the whimsy and joy of the products.

One question that keeps coming up for me in the game context, specifically, is figuring out how the hell to navigate my spending habits. (Take it as said that I don't want my money going to anybody who is, or aids and abets, a harasser.) For one, roles on a game are often pretty nebulous and may not always be disclosed. Avellone has been a freelancer for years - who knows what projects he may have worked on that he was uncredited for?

But secondly, these people KEEP GETTING HIRED AND FIRED. What do I do with a company that hired somebody not yet publicly known to be awful, got rid of them suddenly without explanation or comment, and then allegations come out years later? (Avellone is again a pretty good example here.) Frankly, I have to assume that the sudden departure was caused by some fucked up behaviour that was not, subsequently, made public. Do I laud the company for firing the person, or do I criticize them for not finding a way to make it better known?

At this point I feel like I should just wait for AI-generated games to get good enough, because I think I'm setting myself up for disappointment relying on humans.
posted by ZaphodB at 3:19 PM on June 29


> At this point I feel like I should just wait for AI-generated games to get good enough

AI-based content generation is still just a tool in a human's toolbox, like a really advanced paintbrush, and it's gonna stay that way for a hundred more years. And even then, there's going to be a human who decides what those unpaid AI slaves are making. We need real solutions to human problems; technology isn't going to fix it.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:43 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


In retrospect, "Famous Name guest-stars on various big-budget Kickstarters but doesn't seem to ever get attached to a studio to sprinkle his big-name magic on something established" should've been a clearer warning sign that something more fundamental was up.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:39 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


A big part of this in my opinion, is our culture of Auteur worship. There's this belief in a Great Man theory, which goes far beyond actual results or quality of work. The Great Man theory is used to sell a company... as well as a game or other product.
The benefit of having Videogame Auteurs is that they can get away with making things that would be too difficult or risky if there wasn't a big name attached. Death Stranding, say, was obviously the product of hundreds of people's work, but it never would have been made without Hideo Kojima (and it's awesome).

Hiring Chris Avellone was a way of signalling that you actually cared about the writing in your videogame, even if his actual contribution was small. And he did have a certain style. Unfortunately, the likely result of getting rid of individual authorship in general (as opposed to getting rid of particular authors like Avellone) is more games ending up as extruded corporate entertainment product a la Ubisoft, and the stories coming out about behaviour at Ubisoft are some of the worst.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:42 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I like video games. I play video games. I have played some of the video games mentioned in this post.

Fuck these men. They are, by and large, not auteurs like Kojima. They are not special.

Games are a collaborative medium. They will survive and likely thrive without individual asshole men abusing people, whether they are 'great men' or not.

And if a game relies so much on the unique contributions of a single sex predator, then that game should not exist.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:41 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


At this point I feel like I should just wait for AI-generated games to get good enough, because I think I'm setting myself up for disappointment relying on humans.

I have some bad news about humans in many other fields of human endeavor.
posted by atoxyl at 8:49 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Cis white guy here. 10+ years in the industry.

Never saw this stuff but I have always been sure it happened around me. I'll quietly reach out to colleagues and ask them if they are having any difficulties in the workplace. Usually I'll frame this as asking about "rough patches" or "roadblocks," because 'hey, you being harassed?' seems like something a Narc would say.
Only one ever told me of sexism, and when I asked if there was anything I could do, she said it had already been handled to her satisfaction by the higher-ups. I recalled the guy she mentioned had becomd a lot quieter and more polite to everyone starting a few weeks prior.

I always assume that bad shit may be still going down and I'm just not the person who people want to confide in at any given moment. That's fine. But I'm trying to be clear that I'm here if the time comes. Whenever someone gets interrupted by another dude (and it's always a dude), I ask them to finish their thought. Don't know if it's made a difference, but a handful of guys interrupt people less now, at least when I'm in the meeting. But it may well be coincidence.

One thing that never changed: every woman I've talked to had horror stories about past jobs. Sexism, harassment, etc. Maybe I've just been lucky and the companies I've worked at had the right people in charge at the right time. They certainly say all the right things: whenever one of these articles drops, everyone tut-tuts about how bad things are, and how we need to do better as an industry.

As for Chris Avellone: "Famous Name guest-stars on various big-budget Kickstarters but doesn't seem to ever get attached to a studio to sprinkle his big-name magic on something established"
isn't really correct. He was a co-owner at Obsidian, and that's the timeframe for at least some of the accounts for his abuse.

I've met him very briefly at conventions and worked on a handful projects that he's contributed to, so I can't comment on what kind of person he is or the persona he projects, but I believe the allegations. It's sad but not shocking.

As for auteurs-as-marketing: yup, that is absolutely correct. Hideo Kojima is allowed to make weird games because that's his brand and enough investors believe the ROI is solid. Same for Tim Schafer, same for others.
posted by ®@ at 9:42 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure I saw the comment here on meta, "Surely your talent is remarkable enough that you can produce great work without being an asshole?"
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 12:49 AM on June 30 [14 favorites]


"Here is a fundamental truth: we do not need video games. Paradoxically, this truth opens up the world of video games to be as full and varied and strange and contradictory as life itself... If wonder is not scarce and progress is not linear, then the world that rises from the ashes of the Video Games Industry can be more exciting and more technologically vibrant than ever before." --@even_kei

Divest from the Video Games Industry!
The video games industry has many deep, tragic, and intertwining problems. It’s beyond the scope of this piece to examine the entirety of games culture (I will focus on development and, to a lesser degree, distribution). It’s also beyond the scope of this piece to convince anyone that these problems exist, but I’ll be moving forward with the assumption that we agree that they do. Here is an incomplete list: [...]
posted by kliuless at 1:49 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Given that abusive patterns such as permanent crunch time are endemic to the AAA game industry, is it really surprising that there are predators in positions of power there, and they will not hesitate to commit other abuses?

I will admit to being very late in coming to this realization. That's why it's useful sometimes when people state it bluntly, so even slowpokes like me can make that connection.
posted by Harald74 at 3:52 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Unionize games now.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:36 AM on June 30 [3 favorites]


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