Why don’t more publishers and developers outright denounce the toxicity and bigotry that exists within their communities? Gaming suffers from this problem more than most industries, and while these attitudes exist in film and other media, we’ve seen actors and directors alike fight back against these attitudes. Even while upcoming blockbusters such as Captain Marvel are being loudly derided by mouthy corners of the internet, director Anna Boden is proudly calling it a “feminist” movie in interviews. You simply wouldn’t see the creative director of a big-budget video game expressing the same belief regarding their upcoming release.
So why is the gaming industry so unwilling to push back against the trolls? THQ Nordic‘s decision to hold an AMA on 8chan this week helps to answer this question. 8chan is an image board that was blacklisted by Google in 2015 for “suspected child abuse content.” Its users anonymously post racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and anti-LGBTQ images and comments. It’s known for being an even less censorious version of 4chan, with many of its users proudly espousing white supremacism. It is, as you can imagine, the last place in which a major game publisher should hold an Ask Me Anything session.
Yet THQ Nordic did just that. Earlier this week, the company announced via Twitter that it would field questions from the hugely controversial site’s users. Predictably, 8chan responded by filling the AMA session with bigotry. Among the comments to which THQ replied, one user wrote: “Please don’t censor any games nor appeal to the SocJus crowd, you guys are doing fine as is.” THQ responded: “thanks! we’ll try to stay that way.”
Now, the actions of THQ Nordic’s PR director aren’t completely reflective of the gaming industry on the whole. Though we’ve seen many attempts at “edginess” from marketing companies in the past, a company willfully lumping itself in with a site banned by Google for suspected pedophilia is a completely different ballgame. But its enthusiasm for jumping in with this crowd is noteworthy, as it shines a spotlight on just how ambivalent the industry is towards the overwhelming amount of bigotry that exists among its consumer base.
The gaming industry’s history of harassment
Alison Rapp was fired by Nintendo for moonlighting following a targeted online hate campaign. (Image Credit: Alison Rapp/Twitter)
Tellingly, the most high-profile instances of game companies responding to this toxicity have been at the tail-end of harassment campaigns. In 2016, ex-Nintendo Treehouse worker Alison Rapp was targeted as part of an online hate campaign, orchestrated in response to localizations of Japanese games that toned down their sexualization or removed questionable scenes. Though Rapp worked in marketing for Treehouse, and was therefore not a part of the localization process, most of the vitriol was directed towards her due to her being an outspoken feminist on Twitter.
The campaign eventually unearthed private details concerning Rapp regarding her second job, with this information making its way to Nintendo. Nintendo fired Rapp, denying the harassment she received was a factor in its decision, but without defending its employee amidst the hate campaign that had been launched against her. Though Rapp’s second job was reportedly against Nintendo’s policies, the company failed to openly support her while she faced a torrent of abuse. A catch-all company statement was released, noting that Nintendo “firmly reject[s] the harassment of individuals based on gender, race or personal beliefs.”
In a statement given to VentureBeat, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) leaped to Rapp’s defense after her firing: “Unfortunately, the company seems oblivious to the consequences of their actions, not realizing the perceived victory it handed to the online hate groups who are now pursuing the dismissal of other women game developers by derision and defamation to their companies.”
Guild Wars 2 writers Jessica Price and Peter Fries were fired after an online spat with players.
In 2018, ArenaNet employees Jessica Price and Peter Fries were fired after getting into a Twitter spat with one of the game’s players. After a popular MMO YouTuber disagreed with Price’s thoughts on the genre, Price replied: “Today in being a female game dev: ‘Allow me — a person who does not work with you — explain to you how you do your job.'” Fries defended Price against the backlash from her comment before both were let go.
Speaking to The Verge, developer Jennifer Scheurle said that Price and Fries’ firing was evidence of how “large corporations letting their communities dictate and influence how to treat their employees is a very dangerous approach and obviously a slippery slope.”
Since 2014, when GamerGate brought the topic of harassment in gaming to the mainstream, the games industry has largely remained silent. There have been outliers, such as former Sony Europe president Jim Ryan calling the harassment of women in games “absolutely horrible” (via Metro), and Blizzard CEO Michael Morhaime opening Blizzcon 2014 by condemning the “small group of people who have been doing really awful things.” However, despite these issues still persisting today, the majority of the companies who could work towards giving video games a more inclusive community instead opt to stay silent.
The sound of silence
THQ Nordic owns the Timesplitters license.
This quiet complicity with the vitriol that surrounds video games is exemplified by THQ Nordic’s bizarre PR move. This is a big publisher, one which owns the rights to Timesplitters, Darksiders, de Blob, and more, hopping into an image board filled with bigots in a desperate attempt to promote its brand. THQ Nordic seemingly didn’t care if its audience was filled with racists, so long as they were potential customers.
This is what causes the industry-wide silence; the fear of the targeted hate directed at developers, journalists, Twitch streamers, and gamers harming a company’s bottom line. Individuals can be thrown under the bus repeatedly, but so long as those bigots keep buying the games, they’re just as good as any other customer. This bigotry and harassment may be awful for those being forced to deal with it, but as long as those folks keep putting money into video games, then the industry will keep turning a blind eye.
Yet all of this contributes to the long-term problem that gaming faces — it looks like a terrible industry to work in. What happens when the good, talented people who keep its games running simply give up? What happens when these developers look at the extensive lay-offs and the vitriol they face online, before deciding to up and leave?
This year, we’ve seen huge layoffs across Activision-Blizzard, EA, and more. Last year, major developers like Visceral Studios were shut down. As PC Gamer noted, in a 12-month period 10 studios closed their doors forever. According to GamesIndustry.biz, over 1,000 jobs were lost. The terrifying instability of the industry, in which no job outside of executive positions is ever safe, is coupled with a vocal base of consumers that will harass those working in it, and have been shown that they can forcibly remove people they dislike from the industry if they coordinate to do so.
With all this in mind, THQ Nordic’s decision to host an AMA on 8chan makes a modicum of sense. If the wider industry isn’t rallying against the bigots and the harassers, then they’re just another customer. Though the company’s PR and Marketing Director claimed the AMA was the result of him not doing his “proper due diligence” and that it wasn’t “about being edgy,” when game companies have done little but placate the online mob for so long, why wouldn’t a PR lead eventually try to directly serve that mob?
At every games industry event, industry heads across various publishers explain how they do what they do for the gaming community. Gamers, we’re told, are second-to-none in terms of their passion and dedication. But as harassment, toxicity, and bigotry continue to be a major problem, it’s unclear which gamers these companies are really targeting; those who enjoy the hobby and encourage its continued inclusivity, or those who would harass one of their developers out of their company if they tweeted about feminism.
Image Credit: Michael Kraus / Getty Images