Activision, the Video Game Industry, and Sexual Harassment

Background on Activision Blizzard

Call of Duty. World of Warcraft. Candy Crush. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Guitar Hero. If you’ve played any video games within the past 25 years, there’s a good chance you have played, or at least heard of, one of these extremely popular games. One thing you may not have known though, is that they all share a common publisher: Activision Blizzard. Activision Blizzard is widely considered to be one of the top video game publishers in the world and is often recognized not only for its video game revenue, but also for innovation it has brought to the video game industry. 

Lawsuit Allegations 

Although Activision Blizzard is often in the news for its video games, more recently it’s made headlines for several lawsuits. One of the most jarring lawsuits, filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), centers around a culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard. The discrimination and sexual harassment was highlighted by conduct such as:

  • Uniformly paying women less than men at all levels within the company
  • Groping women at “pub crawls”
  • A female employee committing suicide on a work trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him
  • Failing to keep employee complaints confidential, which lead to female employees being retaliated against
  • Having a suite named, “The Cosby Suite”, named after convicted serial rapist Bill Cosby.

Bigger Problem in Video Game Industry

Unfortunately, the video game industry has had to deal with its fair share of scandals and sexual misconduct. In 2014, the video game industry’s culture of sexism and harassment was first exposed publicly in GamerGate. Women video game industry journalists were actually so badly harassed on social media that the FBI launched an investigation into the comments they received. Although video games were aware of the complaints, their responses were either dismissive or willfully ignorant about the issues.

Then in 2019 and 2020, the video game industry again dealt with accusations of sexism, harassment, and sexual abuse involving video game streamers, competitive gamers, and companies.  This time, companies at least listened to the complaints and decided to take action.  Numerous streamers got their sponsorships and partnerships removed and were banned from streaming platforms following the allegations. Competitive gamers were removed from teams and banned from competitions.  And executives and employees at companies were often forced to resign or quit while companies investigated their culture and instituted overhauls of the company structure. 

Rooting Out Sexism & Harassment 

Though recently the video game industry and separate companies within the industry have taken some steps to address the glaring issues of sexism and harassment in the industry, the Activision Blizzard case shows there is a long, long way to go.  To really make the cultural change needed to stop the sexism & harassment, the video game industry, and all the various companies associated with it, should consider doing the following:

  • Strictly enforce zero tolerance policies
    • While many companies have zero tolerance policies when it comes to sexual harassment and gender discrimination, few actually enforce the policies consistently.  Failing to consistently enforce the policies leads to employees feeling like their voice won’t be heard if they complain, and empowers bad employees to continue their misconduct. 
  • Create an independent investigatory bodies to investigate into allegations
    • The video game industry is overwhelmingly composed of males. Although sometimes an HR Director at a company may be a woman, their decisions and investigation results may be overruled by the mostly male executives they report to.  Creating an independent agency to investigate complaints may garner some more accountability from companies. 

No Magic Fix

Video games often have codes or power-ups you can use to help get through a difficult section of a game.  Some games though lack that feature.  Similarly, the video game industry coming to terms with how it handles sexual harassment and sexism will not come with a guide or powerup to make it easier.  There is no easy solution to ending sexism and harassment in the video game industry. 

But one easy way to make sure it continues is to do nothing at all. Hux Law Firm fights for workers who have been victims of sexual harassment in the video game industry and gives them the one thing they have lacked: a voice.  If you have been subjected to sexual harassment or abuse while you worked in the video game industry, please contact Hux Law Firm as soon as possible, and our sexual harassment attorneys will see what we can do to help. 

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James J. Hux is the Owner and Sole Attorney at Hux Law Firm, LLC. His practice areas include employment discrimination and general civil litigation throughout the State of Ohio.