Activision Blizzard lawsuit

Misogyny: A Gaming Company against the Community

17 minutes to read
Clara Daniels

The gaming community has always suffered from unjust judgment from its peers. News and media have portrayed gamers as something negative.

The gamer stereotype was that of a patriarchal, misogynistic man who just wants to sit in his room and eat junk food all day. Thriving on his own and enjoying his digital achievements, the influx of dopamine into his brain is constantly exposing him to sexist content created by gaming developers.  However, this stereotype has matured greatly, into something which the gaming community can be proud of. Recently a lawsuit had been filed against Activision Blizzard, a renowned videogame developer, where misogyny was prevalent in their workspace. The response that was given by the community in regards to how women were treated in gaming and in the companies that developed these games speaks louder than the stereotypes which are presented nowadays.

In this research, we want to show that in this day and age, the stereotype which was painted of “gamers” by the news and the media is outdated. This will be illustrated by using a case where the community stood against the producers of their beloved games. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the term misogyny, the Blizzard lawsuit, and the response from the community through digital discourse analysis.

Misogyny defined

Misogyny is about feelings of dislike and hatred towards women. Kendrik (2021) says: “The gendered nature of gamer culture originates out of a construction of the traditional gamer identity as one that is naturally male, allowing male ownership of gamer culture to remain prevalent.”  Over half of the gaming culture nowadays is female (Kendrik, 2021). This increasing shift presents itself as a threat to some traditional gamers. As a socially disengaged group, they may struggle with this more recent audience, resulting in online bullying and discrimination against women. Due to new technologies, the games are becoming more diverse and this makes players other than traditional more visible, diverse, and open. However, the targeted audience of video games still remains male.

Blizzard Lawsuit

On July 21, 2021, the news of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit broke. This lawsuit reveals that female employees have been sexually harassed constantly, were discriminated against by being paid unequally, and were subjected to retaliation. The company did nothing to prevent this from happening after getting complaints. A so-called frat-boy culture in the company made it a perfect place for this to happen. This consisted of male employees drinking a lot while crawling through multiple cubicles in the office and engaging in having inappropriate behavior towards the female part of the workforce. Only a small part of the workforce is female, it is mostly dominated by white male employees. While the female employees got most of the responsibilities, the male employees dodged them by giving them to the women so they themselves could play video games. Amid the ongoing lawsuit, many underpaid women left the company including Jen Oneal, a co-lead.

Figure 1: Greg Street and fellow game designers with a picture of Bill Cosby from BlizzCon 2013. Bill Cosby is also misogynistic, so this picture proves that they are looking up to him as if he is some kind of god.

During the scandal, images such as WhatsApp text groups appeared on the internet, where the higher-ups at Blizzard Entertainment had been referring to taking "Chicks back to the Cosby suite" (see Figure 2).  In Figure 1, we can see multiple executives from Blizzard Entertainment and other well-known gaming companies, all of them seemed happy to pose next to a picture of Bill Cosby. This does not paint them in a positive light to the gaming community during the entire lawsuit, even if they responded to the picture and messages by saying that they saw it as a mere joke at the time.

Figure 2: the text messages exchanged by the executives referring to "hot chixx".

Once the scandal started attracting mainstream media attention, the company saw this as their last straw to gather all stereotypical gamers through social media posts and press releases. Having them on their side would easily ensure the scandal was going to be swept under the rug. Further isolating the target customers from transitioning into an open-minded community would save Activision Blizzard’s reputation, enabling the “boys will be boys” attitude displayed before, to continue. 

The Community's Response

The community seems to be much more pro-woman than the behaviour from Activision Blizzard portrays. Even though the gaming company should be an example for their audience, the community seems to have much more tolerance and respect when it comes to other genders.

Blizzard Entertainment posted a Tweet informing fans why Jen Oneal, Blizzard’s first female leader, stepped down from her position in the business. While seemingly neutral information, what the community made of it offers insight into their opinion on the company's past actions. We will list a few of them here and draw conclusions about them through digital discourse analysis.

A response from @TheDrLegend (2021) reads: “Blizzard: Women are important to gaming. Here’s the proof. the proof'' and then a picture that says "404 - page not found" (see Figure 3). This picture indicates that the proof is not there using a screenshot of an error message. It shows how people actually think about Blizzard, a woman unfriendly company. The 404 message displayed is a snippet from a Blizzard game, aiming directly at the community playing it. This in-group approach further solidifies the stance against the company from within the target audience.

Figure 3: Response from @TheDrLegend

There is also a response from “thelaughingman” which says “you left out the part where you treated her unfairly and swept sexual harassment under the rug” (in Figure 4). It obviously is not responding to Jen Oneal´s statement about stepping down, it is in fact responding to Blizzard as a company and why the lawsuit is ongoing. It can also mean that this person is questioning the unmentioned reasons why Jen Oneal is stepping down. The official statement says that she is stepping down out of her free will but the user is questioning this in context with the ongoing lawsuit (Oneal, 2021). The tone of the response once again shows a pro-woman attitude and shows that the community does in fact not agree with what is happening and tries to bring it up once again.

Figure 4: Response from @thelaughingman on twitter

Apart from the responses to Jen O'neal stepping down, the community also responded to more general workspace problems mentioned in the lawsuit. Not only do they directly comment on Tweets the company releases but they also bring the discussion over to other social media platforms.

Figure 5: Comment under the post by u/dreffen

Figure 5 shows a comment made under a Reddit post made by u/dreffen in the r/wow subreddit. The post is about the company Blizzard being sued by the state of California about its ‘frat boy culture’, which includes misogyny, sexual harassment, and several other allegations. Responses to this comment mostly included people agreeing with the user and people that refute their worries, but there were also users that explained their previous interactions with this ‘frat boy culture’. Although this is just a single comment in quite a busy comment section, judging by the number of replies it seems like there are many other users that feel the same way about this issue.

According to Byrd (2021), many of the responses show that fans of the games are understanding of the situation and support the employees that have become a victim of the frat boy culture. However, there is a small part of fans that do not like the delays that this lawsuit has caused. They value being able to play a game over the safety of people in a company. Luckily this is only a small part, most of the people seem to be okay with waiting and as shown above, are very supportive of the legal actions that are being taken against Activision Blizzard right now.

The community has also responded by doing more than just sending out a written reaction. World of Warcraft players (a game of Blizzard Entertainment), protested in the game against the unethical treatment of employees at Activision-Blizzard, by holding a fundraising campaign for a program dedicated to teaching young girls about computer programming (Van Vlokhoven, 2021). This shows that the community is more than willing to make a lasting change in the gaming community by actually helping girls, in contrast to Activision-Blizzard that does everything but that.

WoW! - an Influencer’s Response and Impact

Popular streamer "Asmongold" has also commented on the scandal numerous times. Being the most viewed influencer who has been playing Blizzard games over the past decade, we looked at one of his recent videos titled "Asmongold Comments on Blizzard's Horrifying Scandal", where he comments on Bloomberg's Article " Activision Blizzard Sued Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment ".

His response seems to be akin to that of his own community, mostly using satire and memes to get their points across, one of which is comparing the higher-ups at Blizzard Activision to " That drunk uncle at your party ", furthermore explaining that the community itself is affected by the events, mostly due to their game being of lower quality because of the misogynistic work conditions, and hence the lower quality of work that is being produced because of it.

Figure 6: Satirical comment under "Asmongold" youtube video

Below we will show a couple of the comments from Asmongold's community:

Figure 7: Comment from the Asmongold Community

This comment is clearly referring to Blizzard showing compassion on the outside, yet the community not believing that they are genuine with their actions.

Figure 8: Comment from the Asmongold community

Here we can see that the frustration of the customers, lingering on the quality of Blizzard's games, has now grown even stronger after hearing of, what the community itself finds, inappropriate workplace behavior.

As previously mentioned, one of the communities' favorite ways to respond is through memes and satire. The phrase "this entire city must be purged", is an iconic inside meme which originated in 2003 from the very popular strategy game "Warcraft 3". Nowadays, it is used against the company which created that very same game, namely re-writing it as "this entire company must be purged", referring to Blizzard Activision and their higher-ups.

Figure 9: Meme with the text "Let's purge the company"

Team Misogyny VS. Team Inclusivity

The gaming community has two main groups which we focus on. Those who believe that the gamer community should remain a patriarchal domain with misogynistic tendencies and a more modern group that accepts the inclusion of females into gaming, or at the very least does not mind the inclusivity of them. Throughout time, the former misogynistic part of these groups was definitely the more dominant one. Yet with the inclusivity of women both in video games, the targeting of videogames, and the inclusivity of women working for gaming companies and developing games, it has gradually skewed its way to become more like the latter group and accept women as part of their community.

This becomes very clear in the response from the community. Most of them are negative about the fact that this company was able to pull these activities off for such a long time. This really shows how the community is changing for the better.

Pro-Women Gamers in the Lead

A lot of the community response is very pro-woman. The online discourse shows that the majority of the people do not agree with everything that has been going on in the company. They are making outsiders of the people who engage in the wrong activities and the people who support this frat-boy culture. The community makes it a rule that you cannot be a member of the community if you support it. This relates to Becker’s theories that he describes in Defining Deviance (1963). The community is fighting hard for inclusivity in the gaming community. They show that they do not agree with the disregard that is done to women. The results are enforced upon the community because the people who do not agree will get canceled by the community.

A community like this is constructed through digital media, as you can see above in all of the responses that are posted online. It is easier to impose the pro-woman movement online because you can spread the information a lot easier online than offline, this can also be found in research from Wellman and Gulia (1999). Relationships seem to get much closer online even though some people have most likely never seen each other in real life. This leads to the news, like the lawsuit, spreading around the globe more easily. This causes the whole gaming community to turn their back to this company in a way that they seem to think is the best, while they are also able to support the victims of the inhumane activities in the company. Social rules rise up in these communities. They define this situation by saying, what Blizzard-Activision is doing right now, “we as a community don’t tolerate it, and if you support it you are not a part of this community. Your membership is canceled”. An outsider is created by the insiders of another community, as we have also seen in Becker's theory.

The community makes it a rule that you cannot be a member of the community if you support misogyny

Examples of these outsiders we have seen earlier are the gamers that had the reaction of being unhappy with the situation because the updates of the games were not coming fast enough after the lawsuit was filed. They are selfish people who do not belong in the community that consists of (pro-woman) gamers and are thus the deviant, a product from the responses of the community. But seeing that, from the perspective of this selfish part of the community, the pro-woman movement is labeled as an outsider is also important to keep in mind. However, a major part of this community is pro-woman, so they become the mainstream and show that the stereotype of gamers nowadays has changed; they are not the misogynist gamers that they were once before. The mainstream has shifted from the misogynist gamer to the much more tolerant and pro-women game which is constructed with the help of discourse on social media. However, the mainstream, according to Katy Brown, Aurelien Mondon & Aaron Winter (2021), is constructed, contingent, and fluid, so this may change again in the future.

These social rules are very informal, they are not enforced by law but by the informal sanction of the internet in the form of comments. But the more your social group has become one’s identity, the more work it is going to require to be able to stay a member of that group.

Level-up Women!

In research from Statista (2021), you can see that women in 2021 account for 45 percent of the gamers in the United States, this makes our own research even more interesting. It shows that the gamers' world is changing and that the stereotypical ‘misogynist gamer’ is disappearing because, of course, a woman is not going to be misogynist considering that would mean she is hating on herself. The stereotype for gamers came from a long journey but there is no reason to say that it is dominated by men while, in fact, the distribution among the genders is almost equal.

However, comparing the actual gaming community to the companies in the gaming industry, women are still not equally treated. We have also seen this in the Blizzard Lawsuit. If we are looking at some statistics provided by Wittenberg-Cox (2021), we see that women only make up 16% of the executive teams. Less than equal in actual communities nowadays. The responses from the community also show that they want to change this in order to prevent certain phenomena in the Blizzard-Lawsuit from happening again in the future. If we keep going like this then there is a possibility of change, but otherwise, things like this will just keep happening. We have seen this in the past with the Gamergate hate campaign and now we see it again, we have not learned anything from the past.

Fighting for the Same Rank

After looking at all of this we can say that at the very least, the community is fighting for more inclusivity than ever before. The community responses clearly show a defense in regards to the injustice that was done to females in the gaming industry. Furthermore, the community has even pushed for companies such as Blizzard to incentivize giving a 1 million dollar grant to Women in Games International, an NPO that further develops and mentors women that wish to work in the industry. All in all, it is safe to say that the gamer stereotype which was seen in the news and media is a thing of the past, and the community as a whole has definitely become more accepting, even in the more male-dominated platforms.

A Win for the Future

After researching the gaming community, the gradual change of the stereotypes of gamers, and the discourse surrounding the Activision-Blizzard lawsuit, we discovered that the main reason for the changes surrounding the gamer stereotype is mainly caused by a development of behavior of gamers towards women. While some gaming companies such as Activision and Blizzard still hold true to the former stereotype of gamers being misogynistic, as seen in the Activision-Blizzard lawsuit, modern-day gamers actively fight back against the former stereotype. This causes the former stereotype to dissipate and turn into a new stereotype, one depicting gamers as pro-women and more accepting compared to their former counterpart. As the internet opens up to a progressive and globalized sphere, so do the gamers, which in turn provides a safe space for women all over the world. 


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