Why Won’t Video-Game Companies Even Talk About Employee Harassment?

By

In the last few years, it’s been disturbingly common for angry corners of the gamer internet to tee off on video-game-company employees they blame for whatever they’re annoyed at at the moment: narrative choices, character design, or whatever else.

Summing up just a handful of these incidents, Polygon’s Colin Campbell writes:

From the outrage over BioWare’s narrative decisions in Mass Effect 3 in 2012, right up to Beamdog including a trans character in Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, hate campaigns often focus on the consumer’s perceived right to dictate how companies present and manage their own products. … Game execs at Sony Online and Bungie have been doxxed, with serious legal repercussions. Other execs and creatives have lost their jobs, or just decided to quit, following intense social media abuse. Others have stepped back from social media, following threats against family members. These examples only include those people who work for large companies. Independent game developers and small companies are often targeted too.

Unsurprisingly, these attacks seem to be particularly heated when the controversy in question involves race, gender, or progressive politics — there is still a coterie of gamers who feel like their hobby is being “stolen” from them by “SJWs.” (That’s not to say there aren’t also uproars over obscure, nerdy debates that don’t map easily onto the culture wars, of course.)

In light of all this, Campbell sent 25 “games companies and trade organizations” a simple query: “Please can you share with us how [your company] plans to deal with any situation in which an employee comes under abuse, doxxing or threatening messages. Alternatively, please let us know what steps you are currently taking to tackle this issue.” He only got responses from six — CCP (the Icelandic company behind Eve Online), Electronic Arts, Gearbox, Nintendo, Microsoft, and the International Game Developers Association.

That silence is pretty weird. It’s such a softball question, such an easy way to score some quick and easy PR points. Just off the top of my head: “JesseCo will not tolerate any online or offline harassment of our employees, who have a right to feel safe. Since harassment takes so many forms, and there’s no one-size-fits-all response, we handle each incident on a case-by-case basis, meeting with the victimized employee to make sure they have the resources and support they need, and, where necessary, bringing in the assistance of law enforcement.”

So why are companies remaining tight-lipped on this? One company’s retracted response offers a hint:

In other words, it might be the case that these companies understand that some of the people doing the harassing are their loyal customers, and that any public statement condemning said harassment will cause these (easily offended) customers offense. In the corner of the gaming subculture responsible for this behavior, after all, even acknowledging that this sort of harassment is a problem — rather than believing Gamergate and its ilk are reasonable and necessary grassroots movement against the politicization and feminization of gaming — is seen as a sign that one has been brainwashed by the SJWs.

Is this definitely what’s going on? No. But it’s still very weird that Campbell got so few responses. Issuing an anodyne statement about doxing and harassment should be the easiest thing in the world for a company to do.