Content Warning: This article includes mentions of sexual harassment and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
Yesterday, Activision-Blizzard employees staged a walkout over allegations of harassment revealed in a lawsuit filed by the state of California against the video game publisher.
California’s lawsuit paints the Activision-Blizzard offices as toxic environments where women, especially women of color, are sexually harassed, receive lower pay than their male peers, and are overlooked for promotions because of the possibility they may become pregnant.
The group of Activision-Blizzard employees who walked out are demanding an end to forced arbitration, hiring policies that champion diversity, public information about the payment of employees, and the hiring of a third party to audit the company’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff.
The entirety of the #ActiBlizzWalkout crowd in front of the gates for Activision Blizzard HQ: pic.twitter.com/TqnRNzFGku
— Jon peltz (@JonnyPeltz) July 28, 2021
The lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard, which is worth reading in its entirety, states:
Defendants […] have fostered a pervasive “frat boy” culture that continues to thrive. In the office, women are subject to “cube crawls” in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they “crawl” their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior towards female employees. Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.
The lawsuit also mentions a room referred to as the ”Cosby Suite” allegedly named after Bill Cosby, the disgraced comedian convicted of sexual assault (a conviction which was recently overturned due to a legal technicality). One female employee took her own life while on a trip with a male supervisor after receiving severe harassment, including having nude photographs of herself passed around the office.
The responses from Activision-Blizzard, shared internally and externally, ranged from insufficient to tone-deaf to gaslighting. The response to the allegations and Blizzard’s responses has been swift, as the publisher has been criticized by studios and developers across the industry. Over 500 employees at Ubisoft, a company which itself has been accused of harassment, signed an open letter decrying the alleged actions of Activision-Blizzard.
The Beat previously criticized Activision’s anti-consumer business model, but the treatment of these workers is far more alarming. This story’s proximity to the Ubisoft allegations shows how widespread this harassment is across the video game industry. This may be thekick off to a much-needed #MeToo movement for the industry, with more reports of harassment still to come.
One way for the strikers to achieve their goals is to unionize. Unions are slowly increasing in the video game industry, but have never been achieved at a large publisher. These events may be the opportunity to change that, or inspire employees in other parts of the video game industry to consider unionizing to protect themselves from employers that, in cases like this, don’t have their best interests at heart. Activision-Blizzard reportedly hired WilmerHale, a law firm famous for the union busting tactics they used for Amazon. The move suggests that Activision-Blizzard is scared that their workers will organize, which may tell employees all they need to know about why they should.