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We need a movement to tackle systemic abuse, not a moment | Opinion

For years people within the industry have listened, but they refused to hear

Over the past few weeks, our industry has been having a "#MeToo moment". All over social media, and now in long-form investigative articles, predators and abusers are being called out and named. The companies for which they work are being forced to reckon with the culture they have fostered -- often with carefully-worded, preformative press releases -- before returning to business as usual. But the problem with a "#MeToo moment" is in the very term: it is a moment, and is fleeting by nature.

In a few weeks, a handful of names now too exposed to protect will be given severance and released into the wild. They will use their talent and charm to con their way into another well-paid position. The "good guys" who were "shocked and horrified" will pat themselves on the back for a job well done. They will be incredulous and sickened by the actions of their colleagues, some whom they considered to be friends.

Before long, the cycle will continue, and it will be years, again, before we have another week like this. The "moment" will pass, and the false peace will return. Order will be restored, because truthfully, in the case of systemic oppression, hundreds of people can scream for years, but only be heard for a moment.

In the case of systemic oppression, hundreds of people can scream for years, but only be heard for a moment

And I say this as an optimist. I say this as someone who loves this industry, has worked in it for almost a decade and intends to stick around. I love games. I love making games and playing games and talking about games. But nothing, no amount of passion or creativity, can blind me to the cruelty, bigotry and abuse that is rampant in our corporations and communities.

I knew four of the names at first. And I don't mean that I had heard of them: I knew them as abusers. They were men that I have warned others about for years, both through whisper networks and through the "correct" channels. By the end of the week, that list had grown to ten. It included not only those I had worked to flag, but some who had been flagged to me. For some, their behaviour was an "open secret" among dozens or hundreds of people, a "quirk" that had no bearing in their professional lives.

Others I had heard about because some kind person, often a victim or a friend of a victim, had confided that I should not let myself be alone with them, and to guard against their violence. In games, I am a by no means a big name, yet here I am knowing ten men now called out. So imagine those who have been here longer than me, who have worked with more teams at more companies, who have endured for longer. Imagine how the landscape must look to them, like a minefield. And imagine navigating that minefield every single day, just to get to work.

There is something that happens to you when your voice goes unheard... The people and the corporate entities you tried to warn have decided that you, the disturber, you must be the problem

This is what is so difficult to explain to people who now come asking, "Why didn't you say anything?" Or who beg us to give up the names of those abusers who are still hiding behind their charm and their "talent" (and there are many). Because it is never a matter of just speaking up; it is a matter of being heard, and that is more complex than many understand.

In the days after these stories broke, I wrote a Twitter thread about it; I needed to explain what I went through, and what I think many are going through in times like this. I'll reproduce it here, with a few amendments, because I think it is the closest I have come to explaining how we get to this moment, and how it fades away.

When I began to warn people, and spread the names and deeds of predators, I did not go entirely unheard. Many marginalized and mistreated friends or colleagues listened to me, often corroborating my story or sharing their own. But a vast majority of more privileged people, many of whom would happily identify themselves as allies and friends of mine, would ignore or dismiss these warnings. Not out of malice, but out of self-preservation and to avoid conflict.

Perhaps they were friends with the perpetrator, perhaps they did not believe that someone like that could really do such terrible things, perhaps they saw this behaviour as "just the way things are in this industry." Whatever their reason, they preferred the comfort of silence, the absence of "drama" over the fight for meaningful change. And so while I kept talking, and others kept talking, they did nothing. They listened, nominally, but they refused to hear.

These people will never notice that, in their circles, the same group of men is always there, but the women keep changing

There is something that happens to you when your voice goes unheard. I've seen it happen to so many victims, witnesses, and genuine, earnest allies. You scream so loud and so long. You do all the "right" things, from HR to PR, to project leads and managers, to the police -- nothing comes of it. You try again and again, but eventually you realize it isn't going to help. You aren't going to help. And maybe, you think, you shouldn't have tried. Because over days or weeks or years, you realize that many of the people and the corporate entities you tried to warn have decided that you, the disturber, you must be the problem.

After all, you have asked them to change, to get into fights, to upset the balance, to do work. You've asked them to consider life outside of the project, to allocate budget, to dismantle a team or, God forbid, undo friendships.

Meanwhile, the predator has been nothing but kind. The predator asks nothing. He smiles and laughs with them. Plays games with them online. Offers gifts and hangouts. He brings joy. What do you bring but trouble?

When confronted about their ongoing support of this person, these "allies" will often dodge accountability. At best, they will make a weak concession: they understand you have a problem with this man, so they will not speak about him when they are in your presence. They will not invite him to events if you are attending, but... really, everyone likes him, don't they? And isn't it easier, at this point, to just not invite you? Suddenly, you're being left out. And they're all together, in the rooms where decisions are made.

You've been gaslit so long that you do it to yourself

Now, these people will never notice that, in their circles, the same group of men is always there, but the women keep changing. They'll never realize that marginalized genders, ethnicities and identities are rarely given invites at all. So now you're all outside looking in, uninvited and left behind. And all you can do is watch as the number of people willing to listen to your story dwindles, and the predator gains allies, followers, friends.

One day, you realize you've lost.

People aren't going to listen to you. And in your attempts to get the truth out, you've told your story to enough of these false allies that they've helped make the predator stronger, by virtue of alerting him to what you know. He can hide his actions better now, and knows who needs to be discredited, and how to cover his own tracks. He's so practised, so good at feigning kindness and empathy, that he just keeps on winning. You can just watch as he not only survives, but thrives.

You watch people celebrate the one predator. Then another, and another. You watch people raise up and amplify their voice. Sometimes people you looked up to. Sometimes people you warned. Sometimes people who swore to you a thousand times that they would never support this kind of person. And you watch, you begin to wonder: "Was I wrong?" You've been gaslit so long that you do it to yourself.

You know that your friend of many years normally champions justice, speaks out about abuse, abhors predators... So if they aren't doing anything about this, if they didn't deem this worthy, maybe you were wrong. Maybe the abuses you spoke about weren't really that bad. Maybe the intel you received from a victim was wrong. Maybe you really are dramatic, bitter, gossipy.

There is no vindication here. No satisfaction or glee. There is instead the exhausted soreness of how long it took to get here

Over time, that is the lie you tell yourself, and the one that sinks in. As the predator makes himself bigger, you make yourself smaller, keep your head down, try to just do the work. You're already weakened, but at the very least you can try to wring some enjoyment out of an industry that has, in cruel and invisible ways, cast you aside.

And then, months or years later, on an unremarkable Sunday, something suddenly changes. You hop onto Twitter and you see a name. The name you've been avoiding, muting, fearing for ages. The name you used to say to people you hoped would care. But despite the inspiring courage and strength and fury of victims who have finally spoken up to say "enough", there is no vindication here. No satisfaction or glee.

There is instead the exhausted soreness of how long it took to get here, the vague unspoken guilt that you should have done more, the resentment toward yourself that you were not strong enough to keep fighting. The fear that those now speaking out will be vilified on a whole new level to the one you feared. And there is also anger. At the predators, yes, but you've held on to that rage for years. So now it spreads to the friends and colleagues, the "allies" you see feigning shock and dismay. But you remember the coffee breaks spent telling them to please, please listen and do something now.

In the days to come, these same people come back to you, all sweetness and pouts, asking "Hey, what can I do?" but it's only for the moment, to soothe you and their unmentioned guilt. It is not a request to know how they can make up for the months and years they spent brushing the truth aside, abandoning you to your own devices and conveniently forgetting things they knew. Emptily, they spout that "we have to do better", but it is without apology for all the ways they helped make things worse.

If anything at all is going to change, this cannot be a 'moment'. It must be a movement. And this can only be the beginning

This is where so many of us are right now: I am furious and I am exhausted and I am broken. I feel dead by a thousand cuts, and I know that I share this feeling with so, so many. And so I sit here at my screen asking myself the same question that I cannot answer when it comes from former friends: What can I do?

The answer I give myself is that I can help. I can say that if you need me, I am here. Through what means I have available, I will keep trying to bring new voices into safer spaces, and advocate for change and upheaval in dangerous ones. And I will work to protect and uplift those I can. I invite any who need it to reach out to me through whatever means you prefer, even if all you need is a listening ear or someone to advocate for you in a room where you feel alone. This does not tire me, nor cost any energy, and as a Black woman, it is as valuable to me as it is to those around me. I want to do this, and I am finally, gratefully in a position where I can move with some safety and agency.

In 2018, I founded my own narrative development company, Sweet Baby Inc, and it has allowed me to build a small team united not only around writing and narrative and design, but with the common goal to make the industry a better and safer place. We are here trying to bring representation to stories, diversify teams, and get marginalized devs and aspiring devs paid work, credits, training, time, and care.

I feel empowered, and grateful and eager to help, but it also shouldn't take founding one's own company to feel a little safer. The work must happen in the structures and the companies where these problems are rampant, where thousands of people are mistreated every day. We must dismantle them and rebuild them with empathy and accountability, and with an ear to those voices that are leading the charge right now, whether survivor or advocate.

Listen to those who are speaking up, risking themselves and their livelihoods to make this world better. They are doing so much inspiring work, and making this industry worthwhile for myself and for so many others. They are those who should be leading, should be charged with making decisions, and should be heard. If anything at all is going to change, this cannot be a "moment". It must be a movement. And this can only be the beginning.

I want to end by repeating something: I love this industry. I love games. I love making games and playing games and talking about games. I want to remain here, with all of you who dare to do good, and I will not go without a fight.

Kim Belair is a writer, narrative designer and co-founder of Sweet Baby Inc, a narrative development company based in Montreal. In the industry since 2013, she's worked with companies including Ubisoft, Rocksteady, Square Enix, KO_OP, Valve, and JuVee Productions to bring games and stories to life. Beyond narrative work, Kim is an advocate for representation and inclusion, and is currently leading an initiative aimed at supporting, training and empowering marginalized developers. Find her everywhere @Bagelofdeath.

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Latest comments (4)

James Berg Games User Researcher A month ago
Thank you for this Kim.

If folks know of organization-level policies around reporting abusers, that have proven to work, please share them publicly if you can.

Doesn't have to be from large communities, or a company, just anything that's worked well that we can learn from. I help lead GRUX, and as an organization, we're trying to tackle this problem within our space.
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Cam Lewis Design & Production Manager, Eb gamesA month ago
This is so important. Absolutely can't just be a moment. I was listening to this podcast lastnight about the phenomenon of "himpathy" - people's tendency to worry more about the ramifications for the abuser than the pain and suffering of the target - and the resulting increased anguish caused by the feelings of abandonment and betrayal that come with friends and colleagues not acting on information. Something you obviously know all too well. Anyway - I recommend this episode and the whole series "Men" to anyone who wants to look closer at how we got to this place. Thank you for your powerful words. Much love and respect. [link url=""]https://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-53-himpathy-men-part-7/[/link]
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Angi Cividino Content Editor, Manager & Writer A month ago
Thanks for this, Kim. I think that in order for this to gain strength and momentum, more voices will have to be heard. More names will have to be named. There's strength in numbers. I'm still in the "lawyering up" phase. :(
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Durval Pires Unity Programmer A month ago
This was an incredible article. Probably the best I've read about this subject. Factual, calm, but very raw in its feeling. Hope we can all make the change happen.
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