Content Warning: This article contains mention and discussion of suicide, sexual abuse, rape culture, and institutional and interpersonal misogyny and misogynoir.
When I woke up on Thursday July 22nd, the first thing I did was check Discord. As sleep clouded my eyes, I read an announcement from an admin of a server I’m in.The announcement detailed that the server’s Twitter account and the whole of gaming Twitter was going to be full of tweets regarding Activision Blizzard being sued over the suicide of a female employee on a work trip after being ‘subjected to intense sexual harassment at the company’, and the general ‘frat boy culture’ of misogyny and abuse.
As I read the server announcement, I wasn’t thinking about World of Warcraft (WoW). The way I saw it, Blizzard had been putting less emphasis on WoW as the years went by, and made much more of their money from their newer games, such as Overwatch. As I braced myself, opened Twitter, and read the breaking story from Bloomberg about the lawsuit, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken that a game I’ve loved for so long was being very rightly criticised for the actions of people who work on it, and much more heartbroken for the women employees who had suffered all kinds of misogynistic and racist abuse, especially on the WoW team. When hearing that people who work in the game I love are perpetrating abuse, I felt numb and at a loss.
Some people were quick to waive this off as ‘this kind of thing happens throughout the gaming industry,’ or even ‘these allegations could be wrong!’ and as someone on the outskirts, I am furious. Women and other gender-marginalised people deserve to feel safe at work, be free from harassment, and be paid equally to their male counterparts when doing the same job, by virtue of being people. The logical part of my brain wants to uncover why misogyny is so especially rampant in the games industry, but right now I’m tired and sad that such an amazing game was made by a company who didn’t just let misogyny go unchecked, but actively encouraged it. It’s hard to remind myself that going through articles and the report of the investigation is actually a form of emotional self-harm.
I was scared that those working for Activision Blizzard wouldn’t speak up, especially as WoW’s Twitter feed was silent for a week. I would check the Twitter feeds of Blizzard employees I followed with bated breath. To my relief, every Blizzard employee I followed was hugely vocal in support of the survivors of the ongoing abuse and work culture, and calling for industry change. This only increased when the WoW team released a statement on Twitter that employees called ‘lukewarm’ and ‘flaccid.’ This discontent with the statement has so-far resulted in a walkout, where Blizzard employees stop working for a day and those who are able to gather at the entrance to the company campus, some wielding signs. As I write this, #ActiBlizzWalkout is in full swing, and the hashtag is trending on Twitter with almost 100k tweets. As angry and sad as I am, my heart is full, knowing that Blizzard employees and those in the wider industry are not afraid to demand change.
I used to be obsessed with WoW, and I still can’t stop thinking about an interaction I had in-game years ago. My guild was meeting up in person for the first time. I was around fourteen years old and I played a night elf, who are depicted as tall, slim, and curvy. As I arrived in the dwarven capital of Ironforge, a male member of the guild proclaimed ‘Wow, Malluela [the name of my character at the time] is hot, let me zoom in a bit.’ I made my character sit down, which covered up my chest as I crouched. The interaction had no repercussions that I remember. I was proud of immediately acting to protect my character from further objectification, but that interaction lives in my brain rent-free. It might’ve seemed harmless to an onlooker, but as we’ve seen, that sort of behaviour is replicated in the workplace. If left unchecked, especially left unchecked by other men, ‘harmless’ comments lead to things like physical abuse and pay inequality. The small things cause serious harm, and are just…incredibly uncalled for. It makes people feel awful, and that’s what it’s meant to do. It’s meant to make us feel small and bad and powerless. Abusers know what they’re doing, and if you do not speak up, you are complicit. I shouldn’t have to be saying this. It’s 2021.
The situation updates much faster than I can type, and from what I can see, it just keeps getting worse and worse, save for the brave and wonderful employees who participated in the walkout. I wanted to have hope that I could return to Azeroth, that I could call it home again. The removal of in-game references to the abuser named in the DFEH (Department of Fair Employment and Housing) report of the Blizzard investigation is not enough. Blizzard knows it’s not enough, and now they have suspended all further all hands meetings and are instead going forward with ‘discussion sessions.’ I lose more and more hope every day over this. I want to call Azeroth home, but that’s simply not true anymore now that I know what Blizzard have let abusers get away with.
I struggled with titling this article, specifically with whether I ‘love[s]’ WoW or I ‘loved WoW.’ The truth is I do love the game. I’ve spent hours on it. It has gotten me through so much. I’m even listening to the soundtrack as I write this. That’s why it’s hard to reconcile with the idea that WoW can both be something that’s previously helped me, and be something that abusers worked on, and subjected other people working on the game to harassment and abuse, creating a toxic and dangerous environment. With that said, amazing people also work on WoW, such as those who attended the walkout. Those people are what have kept me going for the last week, and they have been so stoic and brave while being under constant pressure. Although I don’t feel like I can wear my Alliance ring anymore, the real core of WoW is them. I am so grateful and thankful for them.
Some readers may wonder why Artificial Womb, a small feminist arts zine, is choosing to cover a huge videogame franchise like WoW. The answer is that games are fundamentally an art form, and that it will always be important to keep speaking about the abuse women face at work, because it does not stop. While women and other marginalised genders are still abused, harassed, spoken over, disbelieved, and passed up for promotion in favour of men less qualified than them, the games industry is corrupt, and by extension, the arts are corrupt. It’s not just AAA games, this abuse is rampant in indie spaces too. I feel immense solidarity with the women of Blizzard, and commend them in their bravery. 💙
Use the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout and the blue heart emoji (💙) to show support for the victims and survivors of the Activision Blizzard work culture, even now that the walkout is over. The organisers of #ActiBlizzWalkout have asked that those who are able donate to the following organisations:
Words: Beatrix Livesey-Stephens
Image courtesy of the #ActiBlizzWalkout organisers