Is it even OK to play Call of Duty anymore? #rwanda #RwOT - MrLiambi's blog

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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Is it even OK to play Call of Duty anymore? #rwanda #RwOT

Activision Blizzard, the publisher behind Call of Duty and

For those who might have missed it, Activision Blizzard is the video game industry's latest out-of-control dumpster fire.

The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher is the focus of a new lawsuit spearheaded by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). It caps off a two-year investigation which found, according to the filing, that female employees — who make up roughly one-fifth of the company's workforce — operate in a toxic, hostile working environment.

We've been here before. Ubisoft and League of Legends publisher Riot Games have both been outed as havens for harmful workplace behavior — including sexual misconduct — in the past. Rockstar Games basically bullied Red Dead Redemption 2 into existence. It's not only corporate blunders that hurt a game's reputation. J.K. Rowling's overt displays of transphobia have already tarnished Warner Bros. Games' upcoming Hogwarts Legacy. The list goes on.

Every time reports of bad behavior shake loose the facades around a high-profile industry personality or business, those of us on the outside who just want to play some good video games are left to navigate the tricky landscape of how to process the news. Do we boycott? Make a public disavowal? Accept that each business employs a veritable army of people, and so punishing the bad behavior of one person or a smaller piece of the whole inadvertently punishes everyone?

There are no easy answers here. But before we even dare to try finding some, let's start from the beginning. What did Activision Blizzard allegedly do?

The facts of the case

The July 20 complaint, first reported by Bloomberg, portrays a workplace where women — and women of color especially, though not exclusively — receive lower pay and fewer opportunities than their male co-workers. The company's leadership is "exclusively male and white," to the point that no woman has ever been named president or CEO. Those few women who have reached the C-suite allegedly "earn less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers."

The complaint also paints the picture of a "'frat boy' workplace culture" where female employees are subjected to sexual harassment. In one depressingly vivid allegation, the court filing describes "'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 toward female employees."

The bad behavior allegedly extends as far up the corporate ladder as "high-ranking executives and creatives," too. The complaint accuses former World of Warcraft Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi of attempting to kiss female employees and telling them he wanted to marry them at the annual BlizzCon fan convention.

In another heartbreaking accusation, the complaint recounts how male employees at a holiday party distributed nude photos of a female co-worker, who was having a sexual relationship with a male supervisor. She later died by suicide during a work trip; suicide is complex and may have multiple causes.

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Activision Blizzard has denounced the lawsuit, describing it as a "distorted" and "inaccurate" picture of the circumstances. The company claims state officials acted in haste, and that these issues could have been resolved outside the court system, according to a statement shared with Kotaku.

"They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court," the statement reads. The state's lawyers have said they attempted to resolve the matter out of the courtroom, but were unsuccessful.

Activision Blizzard also took the state to task for referencing the employee's suicide, calling the move "disgraceful and unprofessional." Though the company undercuts its own objection by manipulating the suicide to politicize the complaint as a whole.

"We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family," the statement reads. "While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California."

What's a gamer to do?

The conduct and workplace environment described in the DFEH complaint has prompted an uproar inside and outside the communities that rally around Activision Blizzard games.

"My brothers deleted all [Activision] games we have after they told me, [and I] will be leaving the community now," one commenter wrote in response to an r/CallofDuty subreddit post about the lawsuit.

In the time since the complaint surfaced, some employees, former and otherwise, have spoken up about their own experiences on the job and shared their thoughts. More than 2,000 current and former employees signed a petition denouncing Activision Blizzard's "abhorrent and insulting" response to the lawsuit, and calling for more thoughtful statements. It doesn't take more than a few moments of searching on Twitter to find streamer personalities and even media outlets swearing off Activision Blizzard.

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GameXplain, a games-focused YouTube channel that's discontinuing coverage of Activision Blizzard, isn't extending the same treatment to the likes of Ubisoft. The rationale, as laid out in a statement to Kotaku, contends that Activision Blizzard's response to the lawsuit "stands in stark contrast to Ubisoft’s promise of meaningful action they laid out in response." The channel wants to see "a clear plan" from the Call of Duty publisher for addressing its issues before coverage resumes.

Clear plans only go so far though; they need to be acted upon. The tightrope that GameXplain is attempting to walk here is a shaky one in light of a recent report that Ubisoft's statements haven't necessarily been accompanied by meaningful actions.

What's the right call there? Is GameXplain approaching this thoughtfully and responsibly? Or does that statement read to you like a weak rationalization that lets past offenders off the hook while only holding the latest bad actor accountable? The answers to these questions are complex, nuanced, and impossible to answer in a way that satisfies everyone.

That's why there's no one-size-fits-all solution in a situation like this. Even if we set aside the people who embrace a "separate the art from the artist" mentality — as in they simply don't care one way or another — there's still tons of room for disagreement over the appropriate response. We can't ethically consume when we live in an environment where any creator is always potentially one harrowing Medium post or lawsuit away from being revealed as a monster.

The honking elephant in the room

Sexism and racism are so deeply ingrained into every facet of society that, on a long enough timeline, all your faves are at risk of suddenly becoming problematic. Individual monsters shoulder plenty of blame, but in a very real sense all of us are victims of systems that have been built over decades and centuries to empower some groups at the expense of others.

It's not as simple as blaming systemic inequity and how it constructs society, though. We've stared into the eyes of many influential accused sexual abusers over the past decade, from Kevin Spacey to R. Kelly to Dr. Luke to Louis C.K. They've had an undeniably massive impact on culture, to the point that it's impossible to completely unwind those positive impacts they're attached to from the harms they've caused. They all should take responsibility for their alleged actions, regardless of the societal factors that may have helped shape such behavior. But that doesn't always happen. Even so, the comebacks continue.

Deleting an installed copy of Call of Duty might feel good, but it's a purely symbolic act.

So it is in games. Red Dead Redemption 2 is still a widely played game and the subject of regular updates. Assassin's Creed, the franchise, still enjoys global renown and a supportive fanbase. And yes, in any honest consideration of the big picture, it's clear that a juggernaut like Call of Duty — one of the most popular and highest-selling games in the world — will persevere as well, and in spite of any hits it may take in the short-term.

None of those games faced boycott efforts that gained enough traction to have an impact, even though there's a deep history of such actions leading to change. I'd like to be optimistic and say things will be different this time. The scale and volume of the backlash Activision Blizzard has faced since the lawsuit first surfaced suggests that maybe this one will break through and turn an ethically-minded mainstream against the company until change occurs.

Yet, you can't simply shake these things loose from the public consciousness. We all have to decide for ourselves if it's still OK to play Call of Duty, still OK to watch The Usual Suspects, still OK to show our kids The Secret Life of Pets. These decisions ultimately fall to you, and all they really do is establish your personal comfort level with financially supporting something that may benefit one or more monsters or their enablers.

Don't fall into the trap of putting too much thought into calibrating your own comfort level. Harmful systems are upheld when we look at these situations in terms of how they apply to our own lives. Deleting an installed Call of Duty game that you already purchased might feel good, but it's a purely symbolic act. Think: What does a choice like that really do beyond making you feel like you've done your part in some way?

If ridding your life of all Activision Blizzard products feels right, then do that. Same goes for not spending money on the company's products anymore. Actions like these go much further when they're part of an organized effort, but small, individual acts can add up. A widespread boycott isn't necessarily going to happen, though, and even if it does success is hardly guaranteed.

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Despite the bleak prospects for hitting a billion-dollar business square in its bottom line, there are steps to take that can make a larger impact. Unequal pay is one of many accusations thrown at the video game industry, including in this new Activision lawsuit. Fight for it in your own workplace. Encourage colleagues, friends, and families to do the same. And when you take the fight to social media to call out an alleged bad actor like Activision Blizzard, be specific. Let them know exactly what's so troubling.

Embrace a similar strategy in the fight to reduce (and hopefully, eventually eliminate) sexual misconduct in the workplace. Training programs that educate the workforce on topics like sexual harassment and bystander intervention are proven to work. So again, push your employer to consider these tactics, convince the people you know to do the same, and apply social media pressure only after you've armed yourself with facts and data.

Also, consider throwing your support behind efforts to unionize game industry workers. Union protections and a strong, clear contract can address unequal pay directly, and create a concrete path to dealing with harmful behavior in the workplace when it occurs. Many of the unionization efforts across the industry are still in their infancy, but efforts like the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE), led by the Communication Workers of America, are well-positioned to have an impact.

Taking steps to make yourself feel better, personally, is an understandable first instinct. But the question of whether or not it's OK to keep on liking one thing or another is a distraction. All that bad shit still happened, and it can't be erased. So while it's fine to work toward squaring your own thoughts and feelings whenever these awful stories surface, make a point of thinking bigger, too.

Ask yourself how you can help unravel the systems that allowed these injustices to occur in the first place.



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