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Game Giant Activision Blizzard Sued Over Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, With a “Pervasive Frat Boy Workplace Culture”

Visitors play World of Warcraft at a video game trade fair

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, the video game giant behind massively popular games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and so many more, alleging the company’s “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” has resulted in patterns of harassment and pay discrimination against female employees and women of color in particular.

The lawsuit details the “sexist culture” and the ways in which it manifests at Activision Blizzard. There’s the “cube crawl”—like a pub crawl but at work, where male employees “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”

The suit describes how male employees are given free rein to play video games at work while passing their responsibilities on to their female colleagues. The men would “engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and make numerous jokes about rape.” Women said their male colleagues and supervisors would “hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior.”

“This behavior was known to supervisors and indeed encouraged by them, including a male supervisor openly encouraging a male subordinate to ‘buy’ a prostitute to cure his bad mood,” reads the complaint.

Women also reported being held back from promotions and assigned to lower-level jobs. They said they were held back because of the possibility that they might become pregnant and women who did become pregnant were punished for it.

“Supervisors ignored medical restrictions given to female employees and gave them negative evaluations when they were out on maternity leave,” the suit reads. “Other female employees reported that they were criticized for leaving to pick up their children from daycare while their male counterparts were playing video games and female employees were kicked out of lactation rooms so employees could use the room for meetings.”

Things are especially bad for women of color, who were “particularly vulnerable targets” for the company’s “discriminatory practices.” Black female employees are described in the suit as being relentlessly micromanaged and infantilized. One of these women put in a request for time off of work and was required to “write a one-page summary of how she would spend that time off”–something no one else had to do. She was also criticized by her male supervisor for her body language, as if a video company is full of slouching men.

The lawsuit is the product of a two-year investigation and while it is incredibly upsetting, it’s also, unfortunately, not exactly surprising. We just went through basically this exact same thing with Riot Games (maker of League of Legends) and they were far from the first large video game company to be called out for this kind of pervasive workplace toxicity. It’s also not unique to the large studios—indie games aren’t immune to this kind of systematic hostility aimed at women, POC, and LGBTQIA employees.

Yes, this is a “not all studios” situation but it is absolutely an industry-wide problem. And there are far too many people within that industry—and that includes both professionals and consumers—who are fine ignoring the problem until an example so big it literally cannot be ignored (like this one) is put right in front of their face. They then write that instance off as a shocking “bad apple” and the pattern continues.

(via Bloomberg Law, Variety, image: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.