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Developers sound off after abuse accusations

People across the industry offer support to victims, perspective and calls to action for the rest of their peers

On Monday, Tetrageddon Games developer Nathalie Lawhead published a post on their site saying that they had been raped by Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule. Their stated goal in coming forward was just to get the story in the public space "so other women can be informed," but Lawhead coming forward inspired a number of others in the industry to do the same with their own stories of harassment and/or abuse.

Each of those stories requires care and time to report properly, and we are considering how best to cover them, both individually as well as part of a larger story the industry has been dealing with (or not, as the case may be) for years. In the meantime, there have been plenty of people throughout the industry speaking up to offer support, insight, and perspective for their peers.

"Coming forward about abuse is incredibly difficult and terrifying," said GameSpot reviews editor Kallie Plagge, who went public with her own story of harassment at IGN two years ago. "I support everyone sharing their stories. I stand with you and I hope you make it through this process as painlessly as possible."

While many people applauded those who named their accusers, Microsoft creative director Laralyn McWilliams emphasized that people who have been victimized are under no obligation to follow suit.

"You own your experiences, though, and it's YOUR choice to speak, stay silent, or only share what happened in private circles," she said. "Don't feel guilty if you choose not to put yourself or your career in jeopardy. Only you can really assess what it would risk for you to speak out."

McWilliams suggested people unsure about speaking out should confide in someone trustworthy first, to get the perspective of articulating their experience to another person before taking further action. She also advised taking a break from the internet to relax and "seek out whatever centers you."

One More Story Games CEO Jean Leggett had similar sentiments, saying, "Today's a tough day for those of us in the games industry that have experienced abuse, trauma, harassment, etc., at the hands of others. Take extra care for yourself."

Beyond offering support for victims, some sought to explain how the industry is built in such a way to permit such abuse to occur. Ethics consultant Jessica Moore did that in self-retweeting a thread posted last August that is regrettably still timely.

"hey hi industry harassment and systemic sexism is the direct result of regular dudes in games not taking a stand because they don't want to lose their friends, jobs, or network," Moore said. "It isn't bad apples, it's the barrel that holds them."

Later in the thread, Moore added, "The problem isn't that there are abusers. The problem is that there are abusers who are allowed to continue being abusive, an organizational structure designed to allow them to continue their abuse, a community that protects them and that silences, mistrusts, condemns victims."

Likewise, gaming critic and musician Liz Ryerson noted how tolerating abusers within the industry only creates conditions for further abuse.

"Powerful abusers affect the spaces that they exist within in a profoundly negative way that shapes the entire dynamic of the space and enables future abuse from others, far outside the original abuser and their victims," Ryerson said. "I'm genuinely happy when victims come forward because it feels very validating. even if it's very painful to hear, it's stuff that has already happened in the past. at least now there's a chance for actual accountability and more open discussions of ways to improve the space."

Future Games of London studio creative director Elizabeth Sampat had some things for people to keep in mind when hearing stories about co-workers or even friends.

"Just because someone treated you well doesn't mean they treat everyone well," Sampat said. "Just because someone has female friends/allies/fans doesn't mean they treat every woman well. Many predators vocally support the demographic of their prey, work within organizations focused on the demographic they prey upon, and position themselves as allies to their prey. Doing so provides cover as well as feeding grounds."

While recent years have seen more stories of poor treatment of women come to light, the only thing new is the attention they are getting. The actual misbehavior has been an issue for years, as a number of developers attested. Zynga lead producer Tami Sigmund told stories of her old co-workers watching pornography and running email lists for nude pictures at work. That sort of behavior creates a hostile work environment for women in a number of ways.

"When someone feels like an 'other' at their workplace, they often feel vulnerable like their job is at risk with any misstep," Sigmund said. "These are prime targets for abusers to flex their power on. It's why we see so much abuse in entertainment, because of the male/female ratio. There is a power than men in games have inherently over women. There are far less of us. We are paid less. We fight harder for promotions. We have to fight our way into leadership. We have to beg for conferences to amplify our voices about topics other than 'diversity.'"

Boss Fight Austin design director Damion Schubert had some horror stories of his early years in the industry more than two decades ago, and while he said the industry has grown up some, it's also possible for men in the industry to not notice problems going on right around them.

"But one time you find out is Layoff Day," Schubert said. "You go drink with the people who got laid off, and women who have been dealing with shitty men for YEARS will suddenly feel the freedom to speak. And let me tell you, every time that happens, other women at the table will, almost without hesitation, say 'I know!' or 'Oh my god, not you too!'"

He added, "It's a huge problem, very hard to fix. But I do think that we, as game developers, can do a much better job of keeping our corner of the yard clean. Be better. Call out those who aren't. Be supportive of those who have stories to tell."

Evolve senior PR specialist Astrid Rosemarin had some specific calls to action for how one might keep their corner of the yard clean.

"Don't invite them to your event or conference," she said. "Don't signal boost their social media posts, calls for work, or collaboration. Don't refer them as industry buds when people ask for recommendations on who to work with. Don't give them copies of your game for feedback or review."

Naturally, developer support groups are also speaking up. Game Workers Unite said it is closely following the news and offered assistance to help those who suffered abuse take action, with anonymity guaranteed. Meanwhile, the International Game Developers Association pointed anyone who had been harassed or had witnessed harassment to its resources page with information about legal recourse, self-care, online security, and advice for advocates and allies.

"Many brave game developers have brought to light harassment they have experienced," the organization said. "The IGDA has a zero tolerance policy for harassment, as all game developers should, and we will thoroughly investigate all complaints against staff and volunteers. We must work together to create a welcoming and inclusive community in which all developers feel safe and thrive."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.