Ending sexual assault in the video game industry requires a total reboot
For almost a week, the gaming world has been on a nightmarish repeat. Someone prominent in the video game industry is found to have done something either wildly inappropriate or legitimately illegal to someone they were sexually interested in, and as the world simultaneously reacts in horror, somebody else builds up the courage to show what someone else has done to them. Popular influencers, well-known PR people in the gaming world, and globally celebrated content creators have had multiple credible fingers pointed at them, with a list that continues to grow.
This isn't the first time any of this has happened. Heck, it's not even the first time something on this scale has happened this year in the video game industry. We're well past admitting this industry has a significant problem, and need to start talking openly about how to fix it.
However, if this week has revealed anything at all, it's that the only fix for this environment we currently find ourselves in is a radical reimagining of the way the gaming industry functions.
Get rid of late-night "networking" events
The gaming industry loves a party. They frequently take place during gaming conventions, but instead of happening at the convention center, these frequently unsanctioned parties happen a block or two away at a place the publisher has taken over for the night. There are usually dim lights, a well-stocked bar, and video game stations all over the place. The venue is frequently themed after the game you're checking out, which is usually a great aesthetic as long as the company doesn't go too far and dress up the catering staff or privately hire entertainers as the sexiest character in their game to help "immerse" you.
If you're somebody who only comes to these events to play a new game, rub elbows with a PR person to make sure they remember you come review code time, and grab a free drink, these events are a lot of fun. If you're literally anybody else, these events are frequently Not Great™.
To briefly chime in - I have never, not once in my 10 years in games, felt safe at any game dev networking event, ESPECIALLY when alcohol is involved. My guard must always be up, evaluating the intent & body language of men, and keeping an eye on other women and vulnerable folk.To briefly chime in - I have never, not once in my 10 years in games, felt safe at any game dev networking event, ESPECIALLY when alcohol is involved. My guard must always be up, evaluating the intent & body language of men, and keeping an eye on other women and vulnerable folk.— ✨Carrie Witt✨ (@notsoseriouss) June 20, 2020June 20, 2020
The truth is, there's no reason for these events to happen late in the evening at a hipster bar away from a convention center or some other private venue with no support system nearby. The security guards at these venues are never there for your safety, but instead there to keep the hardware from being stolen. The bartenders are not there to keep an eye on how many drinks you've had. The event staff are not there to step in when someone has had too much to drink or does something inappropriate.
The people who execute these events are frequently PR people who are excitedly wielding the corporate credit card to let loose a little and don't have the experience to handle what comes next. Several of those people are actively being accused of sexual assault right now.
Put simply, these are unmanaged parties and not professional networking events. In their current format, they're wildly inappropriate, unnecessary, and unsafe. There are ways to make these events safe as well as fun. Make them happen in the middle of the day, enforce a 1-2 drink limit if you must serve alcohol, or just don't serve alcohol at all. Also, have staff on hand whose job is expressly to keep an eye out for inappropriate behavior. Make it normal for these people to be someone a vulnerable person can go to when they feel they need help, not some massive dude in a mall cop outfit.
Ditch your current HR practices, protect the right people instead
An all too common phrase when something awful happens in the workplace is "HR is there to protect the company, not you" and in a vast majority of places, that's entirely accurate. What's more, if you work for a small company it's common for there to not be any HR team at all, or for an HR person to be available on retainer to be activated only when there's a crisis.
When an older guy at my last company made inappropriate comments about my body, I brought it up to HR and was told that I can't run to HR everytime something offends me. I worked there for 4 yrs and that was the first and last time I went to HR. 🙃When an older guy at my last company made inappropriate comments about my body, I brought it up to HR and was told that I can't run to HR everytime something offends me. I worked there for 4 yrs and that was the first and last time I went to HR. 🙃— Chelsea (@Chelsea_Danger) June 22, 2020June 22, 2020
The root of this, regardless of the company, is the same. HR is seen as a thing you must have in order to protect the company and not a thing the company should want in order to protect its staff. The mandate from the people in charge is to make sure nothing turns into a lawsuit or causes problems for the company, not to make sure the people who work at that company are happy and effective in their jobs.
There's no easy solution to this, outside of burning down your HR department and starting over with new people who are hired with the express mandate of making your staff feel safe at work. There needs to be a team that can hold somebody accountable for horrible actions instead of releasing an empty statement saying you stand with victims without actually taking action against the offenders.
If done correctly it ensures the team will be significantly more effective together.
Listen to victims. Period.
Every woman I know has a story about an encounter with a guy. Many of my gay friends have similar stories with aggressive men, though admittedly not as many. These stories range from inappropriate comments in the workplace or catcalls in public to the absolute worst-case scenarios. Literally every woman I know — all of them.
Yet, curiously, very few people I know have ever had a friend who did something inappropriate to a colleague. So many are shocked when they hear someone they know went too far, and the thought that they might be capable of that behavior is genuinely surprising to them. I have very bad news for you about at least one of your friends, statistically.
It's up to us to listen to victims and confront our friends who behave inappropriately in any environment, but especially a work environment. Simply refusing to engage in this behavior, or to say you don't condone this behavior is not enough. It's on all of us to stand up and make sure victims know they're both heard and supported.
This is usually the part where I see something about how dangerous "cancel culture" can be. After all, some of the powerful people in the entertainment industry were held accountable, right? What if someone is actually innocent? At no point did I suggest someone should be fired immediately for a complaint against them. Investigations into the claim are still an important part of this process, but so is making sure the person who registered the complaint feels heard and respected. And, honestly, if you really think cancel culture is an actual thing that has ruined people's lives I would direct you to Louis C. K. who is still working despite multiple allegations.
This small list isn't going to fix everything, not by a long shot. However, in a professional environment, this is the absolute least any game company could do to make it so there are significantly fewer weeks like the one we're having right now. And if these companies actually cared about their employees, they'd start announcing policy changes immediately. Companies like Twitch have already announced they're planning on reviewing every case, but we need to see more concrete change. Until then, we have to keep fighting for something better.
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Carli contributed gaming content across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. F