Written by Stephanie Fletcher and Lovemore Nyaumwe
Edited by Isabella Harford and Brittany Eide
Trigger Warnings: rape, sexual assault, verbal harassment, suicide, pedophilia
Over the last few years, a movement has begun to make the gaming industry a safer place for all professionals, especially women. Survivors of harassment and abuse have spoken up from all corners of the industry with their stories. Although most survivor’s stories in recent news have been told by women about men, many have also exposed the undercurrents of racism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia that have consistently run through this industry. Abuse has occurred within same-sex relationships as well. These issues are not new, but historically have gone unnoticed and ignored by people within and outside of the industry. Recently, casual gamers and professionals alike have taken more notice. Calls for change in policy and leadership of large streaming companies, such as Twitch, and smaller game-specific organizations, like Method in World of Warcraft, have become commonplace. Today’s goals may be far-reaching, yet in less than a week, major steps have been taken towards equality for all in the gaming industry thanks to the hundreds of survivors who have, and continue to, stand up and share their stories.
How did the world of video games become so divided in the first place? Since time immemorial, women have been treated unfairly. While video games have featured narrative characters since 1980, the gaming industry did not attempt to accurately portray female players until 1986. According to Adam Ruins Everything, Pac-Man was originally a man, but enough women enjoyed playing the game for the company to title the sequel Ms. Pac-Man and give her a bow in 1981. Guinness World Records gave the award for first playable female character in a video game to Samus Aran from Metroid which was released in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Though she dons armor for most of the game, Samus Aran’s suit materializes at the end, revealing that she is a human female. The amount of skin shown is negatively correlated with the amount of time played, as a reward for faster run-throughs of the game. This sexualizes Samus Aran, yet she fights space pirates as a hero, and makes money as a bounty hunter and working woman. As a character, she had more depth than most women in media at the time. Despite the success of Metroid sales, improvements in the portrayal of women came to a halt in the mid eighties.
After the Video Game Crash of 1983, companies had to come up with new marketing techniques. Nintendo decided to move their products from the electronics aisle to the toys aisle, and subsequently had to choose to target young boys or girls. They chose boys and other companies like SEGA did the same. As those boys grew older, Nintendo’s marketing further targeted them with the “Touching is Good” advertisement campaign. The commercials contained nothing more than a DS and a sensual female voice asking the consumer to “please” touch the rectangle since the viewer “might like it” and “it’s just good practice.” Since then, Quantic Foundry has reported that Match 3 and Family/Farm Sim games are the only genres out of the 23 researched with the majority of players identifying as women. Because of these disparities, women who wish to work and partake in the gaming industry have faced a lot of pushback.
The issue of sexism in video games has been evident for decades, but it can be easy to ignore the lasting effect it has on women in the industry. Maria “Remilia” Creveling, who played support for Team Renegades from 2015 to 2016, was the first woman to compete in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). She was also the first transgender competitor on that stage. Many looked up to her and gave her the nickname “Madwife” in honor of her ability to play Thresh as successfully as Hong "MadLife" Min-gi. However, a good percentage of the League of Legends community was not receptive to seeing her play. According to the Chicago Tribune “the comment sections accompanying live [Twitch] streams of Renegades matches were flooded with sexist and transphobic harassment. Fans disputed her gender identity, wrote critically about her appearance, and bashed her abilities.” Shortly after starting, she left the team due to personal reasons and anxiety. She played League of Legends in Latin America for a while and started streaming on her own through Twitch despite the harassment she continued to receive. Remelia passed away in her sleep on December 27, 2019 according to her best friend, Richard Lewis, and the community lost a brave role model.
In 2014, #Gamergate started a debate encompassing “the treatment of women in gaming” and “ethics in games journalism” according to Vox. Gender-based harassment started when Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest, was accused of cheating on Eron Gjoni with Nathan Grayson, a writer in the games industry. All of the details of Quinn and Gjoni’s breakup were publicly posted about, fueling people’s dislike of Quinn. She “was harassed endlessly via Twitter, her phone, and other modes of communication.” The company that Nathan Grayson worked for, Kotaku, investigated whether or not Quinn had traded sexual relations for good reviews and found this not to be the case. In the outcry, journalists were accused of ignoring Gjoni's accusations because they were “covering for one of their own.” Perpetrators were convinced of corruption in the industry if “women like Quinn” were able to make successful indie games.
At the beginning of #Gamergate, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian began a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a video series on harmful tropes surrounding female characters in video games. The campaign was successful due to Quinn’s story of gender discrimination appearing in the news at the time. After posting “Damsel in Distress: Part 1 - Tropes vs Women in Video Games” on YouTube, “the threats [received through social media] were so specific that Sarkeesian feared for her life and went into hiding” according to Vox. Breitbart got involved after posting an article titled “Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart.” The article downplayed concerns over death threats as “even more pathetic than taking to the internet to work off your anger,” placing the women involved below their perpetrators. Since then, Sarkeesian has leveraged her platform to speak out against gender-based injustices.
By going mainstream, the #Gamergate movement created momentum among proponents of women’s empowerment, momentum which has spilt over into 2020. Now women in the gaming industry have taken to Twitter with strength in numbers to address the quotidian social injustices being committed in the gaming industry. Although there are still multiple dangers related to speaking out against harassment, including but not limited to verbal threats and doxxing, some are optimistic that nowadays there will be more systemic change.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday, June 23rd that “more than 70 people in the gaming industry, most of them women, have come forward with allegations of gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault” and the number has increased daily. A Destiny player known as both “Lono” and “SayNoToRage” was the first to be accused of sexual harassment on Friday. A wave of survivors spoke out in solidarity, citing discussions and interactions with “high-profile men in the industry, including fellow streamers, YouTubers, game developers and talent managers.” Such stories involve people from every corner of the gaming industry. The numbers do not reflect “a few bad apples,” rather that there are people everywhere who abuse and there are bystanders everywhere that fail to notice or speak out against hurtful comments and actions. Public condemnation has required “a moment of reflection for an industry that has often contended with sexism, bullying, and allegations of abuse.”
Why are people in the gaming industry suddenly listening to allegations brought forward by women? Kenzie Gordon, who studies gaming in relation to prevention of sexual and domestic violence as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alberta, reported to The New York Times that “we’ve just hit a critical mass of these allegations coming out over and over.” Perhaps there has been more visibility due to more people staying at home and going online amidst coronavirus waves, or maybe the public has realized that these injustices have gone on for too long.
The Survivors Streaming Industry has been compiling a list titled “Survivor Stories of Harassment/Abuse/Assault within the gaming live-streaming industry” with 418 stories as of Monday, July 6th. This comprehensive list includes reports of harassment from a wide range of companies including Corsair, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) Studios, Intel, Ubisoft, Mixer, YouTube, and Twitch. Positions held by those accused vary from streamer to COO. In many, if not all stories, the person’s position within the industry was leveraged to manipulate, groom, or gaslight. Anthony Burch, a writer for Santa Monica Studio and formerly for Riot Games, “created fake job listings to get interviews with women, then attempt[ed] to try to sleep with them” according to an anonymous user. Another person involved with hiring as a marketing and partnerships leader in the industry, Stan Press, “consistently told companies not to hire women who have turned down his advances” according to another anonymous report.
Many other survivors reference TwitchCon as being the location of their physical abuse. @generalandrews and @highfivedesigns spoke out against Chris “supdaily” Thompson for inappropriately touching them throughout the event. Thompson was someone who gained the trust of these men by posing as someone against abuse before betraying that trust and touching them, in public, in front of friends, according to @generalandrews. Thompson also hurt @highfivedesigns who claims that Thompson spent years on Twitch talking about consent, kindness, and active listening without embodying those ideals. PAX conventions have been cited as well. Jessy Quill, who uses her platform as a Twitch streamer to support mental health, kissed @SeaAir_Uh, another streamer, nonconsensually after PAX South. Quill claims it was consensual. The ways in which the victims of these stories were affected, no matter the accused’s response, emphasizes the importance of asking for consent rather than assuming it.
The allegations against abusive gamers created a chain reaction of effects; as more people came forth with their allegations, more executives in the gaming industry were forced to respond. Despite Twitch CEO Emmett Shear putting out announcements in support for survivors on Twitter, his company has been mentioned in over 20 statements on the Survivors Streaming Industry’s list as of Monday, July 6th. Some of the situations would have been difficult for Twitch to know about, nevermind moderate. Three people spoke out against Twitch streamer “LovindaTacos” who made @Kiraeyl “kiss him several times before he unlatched the door and let [her] into the uber” one night. Since they did not meet through Twitch, and LovindaTacos simply streamed there, the platform had no control over the situation. However, some harassment has occurred in public Twitch chats where questionable messages could have been caught. @aFUZZYduck_ accused Twitch streamer “Dodge_More” of grooming, intense sexual suggestions, and racism expressed in direct messages when she was 15 years old. In an instance of verbal harassment, Twitch streamer “Bloocifer” was relentlessly berated by Twitch partner “Shytomb” for faking her disability. Whether or not this was the case, the streamer reached out to Twitch staff for assistance and was told that “all reports are read and acted on accordingly by Twitch Staff” as she continued to be harassed and driven off the platform. These stories demonstrate the need for steps to be taken within Twitch management as there are issues with moderators and staff, as well as the individual streamers.
The continued visibility of verbal harassment in Twitch chats confirms that more work needs to be done by Twitch. Bloocifer’s story showcases Twitch staff’s lack of effort to mitigate conflict. In response to these stories and dozens more, the community rallied around #TwitchBlackout on Wednesday, June 24th has attempted to raise awareness of these issues, particularly to Twitch Staff, but also to the larger communities consuming this media. Viewers must be aware of which streamers they are supporting and staff must take all allegations seriously. Many people still streamed their games, but there were visibly lower view-counts on individual Twitch streams and in TwitchTracker charts.
World of Warcraft was given a spotlight mainly due to realized accusations against “MethodJosh,” a member of a raiding guild. According to PC Gamer, he “has been accused of rape and sexually abusing underage girls” since 2019. MethodJosh was banned from Twitch, but Method did not let go of him until June 25th. There have also been “claims of sexual harassment and misconduct by co-CEO Sascha Steffens” who Method has “placed on unpaid administrative leave.” Byron “Reckful” Bernstein, formerly the highest-rated player in World of Warcraft, was supposedly accused by @indiefoxxlive of kissing her neck without consent and being “pushy” to get her to sleep in his bed. She never gave his name in her accusation and fans have simply assumed based on the context that it was him. The post has since been taken down. There is no evidence that Reckful knew about the accusations. On July 2nd, 2020 Reckful killed himself, which was implied from his Twitter, @Byron, and confirmed by @BlueGoesMew.
In early July, many youth participants in Super Smash Bros. tournaments came forward and identified pedophiles and abusers. @PuppehSSB and many others who have circulated videos on Twitter have exposed “Cinnpie” and her predatory behaviors. “Cinnamon initiated sexual conversations on Snapchat” with a 14-year-old, then in person she “tackled [him] to the ground and started to make out with [him] while laying on top of [him].” These events were followed by a summer in which the experiences “escalated as far as oral sex.” @CaptainZack_ boldly stood up against @NairoMK who paid him to stay silent. In Discord messages he extensively describes sexual encounters they had when he was 15. @Craterize, whose name is Chris, described his experiences with “Blue” who asked him to “simultaneously masturbate… while on call.” Chris repeatedly refused but eventually felt obligated to go along with it at the age of 15. After a tournament, Blue asked to cuddle with Chris which was “met with the same cycle of reluctance into reassurance into obligatory compliance.” That time Chris was 17 years old and Blue was 26. @deerBride came out with accusations against “Alois” and “Cruz_Control.” When he was 15 years old, Alois picked [him] up from school and brought [him] to the park to perform… sexual acts.” That same year he slept with Cruz_Control. Afterwards he stated that he was “not comfortable with” messing around or being touched, and still had to lie to get away from him. Another player, @KeitaroTime admitted to letting a 16-year-old girl get drunk, touch him, and have sex with him. @Xzax510, confessed to sexting a 16-year-old and making unsolicited sexual comments when speaking with women. Countless other stories from adult members of the Super Smash Bros. community have been posted as well.
Though there is still a long way to go, it is important to celebrate the victories that act as stepping stones towards a better world of gaming. Molly Fender Ayala, who streams on Twitch and works as the community development lead for Overwatch, accused the C.E.O. of Online Performers Group, Omeed Dariani, of inappropriate actions and propositions for a threesome according to The New York Times. On Twitter, Dariani responded with one line of push back, claiming to not remember the conversation, before revising his statement and stepping down from his position. The Online Performers Group lost many other employees and connections in the wake of this allegation. Twitch partner Tyler Rosen reportedly sexually assaulted Twitter user @NurseBaemax who “woke up to him touching [her] while everyone else was asleep” in 2017. She was 18 years old at the time and he was her mentor. Since being accused, Rosen had a “separate instance of unprofessional behavior” when working for Blizzard Entertainment and wrote that he would finally “take a step away from [his current] role at Rally Cry.” Ryan Morrison, a talent agent who “relentlessly gaslights his staff” and “made off color sexual remarks about a transgender staff member’s genitalia” was exposed by Ma'idah Lashani. The law firm he worked for, Morrison Rothman, put him on unpaid leave. @magyo_gt stated that “sleepyk frequently attempted to groom [her]” when she was 13. She documents that he asked her to send nudes at night and “he sent [her] messages confessing that he masturbated to [her], and sent explicit pictures of himself.” After a tournament he touched her thighs with his hands and face before being interrupted by a roommate. Since the accusation was made, he has been banned from Georgia Melee and VGBootCamp events. ESPN reported on Facebook Gaming’s suspension of Michael “THINND” McMahon who streamed on their platform. The company “opened an investigation on Monday into allegations made by his ex-partner of domestic abuse.” Finally, Evil Geniuses cut their associations with Grant “GranDGranT” Harris who commentated DOTA 2 “after several women accused him of sexual misconduct” they also eliminated connections “with fighting game pro Christopher ‘NYChrisG’ Gonzalez for… demeaning Black female gamers.” Evil Geniuses has seen many structural and humanistic improvements since Nicole LaPointe Jameson took over as CEO of the once “storied but fading esports outfit, Evil Geniuses” according to Forbes.
As G-man stated in Half-Life 2, “the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.” Remember to stand alongside those who are marginalized in public, in game, in social circles, and in the workplace. Do not let disapproval of sexism and harassment end in the days, weeks, months, and years after #TwitchBlackout. The movement for equality is a constant effort and should always be kept in mind, especially within the gaming industry which remains a stronghold of discrimination. All emotions are valid throughout any social movement, so remember to take care of yourself as well.