Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual harassment, rape and suicide.
In July 2021, Activision Blizzard was smacked with a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) after a two-year-long investigation into the company’s discriminatory business practices. The lawsuit from the DFEH cited a “frat boy culture” that acts as a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” The harassment included unwanted comments made about women’s bodies and uncomfortable jokes about rape. The lawsuit reveals that male employees engaged in so-called “cube crawls,” in which they would get drunk at work and crawl around groping female employees. And then there was the office of Alex Afrasiabi, which was better known as the Cosby Suite. Named after the convicted rapist Bill Cosby, the Cosby Suite hosted alcohol, partying and “hot chixx,” as referenced in a BlizzCon Cosby Crew Facebook group chat screenshot. Afrasiabi is not only named in the DFEH lawsuit but was also the subject of multiple sexual harassment accusations until his departure from the company in 2020. After the DFEH lawsuit went public, many references to Afrasiabi and other employees accused of sexual misconduct in Activision Blizzard games have been removed.
Though the official court date is not until 2023, the DFEH lawsuit against Activision Blizzard is likely to be settled for $18 million. This settlement is a small fee for the company that, in 2021 alone, made $8.8 billion. In comparison, Riot Games agreed to pay a total of $100 million during their own sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit earlier this year. For these affected employees, financial compensation is not enough. The offer is a slap in the face. What has been done to the victims cannot be undone. What Activision Blizzard needs is a complete internal reworking — and even that might not be enough. Did they really think that changing a few character names and paying people would be enough to dodge the negative impact of what happened here? Changes in leadership don’t always trickle down to the other male employees that perpetuate this kind of behavior, but it’s a start. Maybe the recent sale of Activision Blizzard to Microsoft will change things. Oh, wait.
The DFEH lawsuit isn’t the only current lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. In March, the family of finance manager Kerri Moynihan filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. In 2017, Moynihan died by suicide while on a company retreat after becoming the target of constant sexual harassment from male co-workers. The court documents cite that during a company holiday party in December 2016, male co-workers passed around a nude picture of Moynihan. The family said they had not known about the sexual harassment that Moynihan had been forced to endure until the DFEH lawsuit. Activision Blizzard had taken multiple steps to suppress evidence that could have implicated them in Moynihan’s death, such as shredding human resource victim complaint documents and secretly settling non-disclosure agreements with others involved. The DFEH lawsuit cited a female employee that took her own life while on a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought sex toys with him — which Moynihan’s parents later realized referred to their daughter.
In addition to the second lawsuit, a third sexual harassment lawsuit has been filed against Activision Blizzard from an anonymous woman further referred to as Jane Doe. This woman recalled that on her first day, she was taken to an “initiation lunch” by several members of the Activision Blizzard leadership. In a sequence of events akin to fraternity hazing, Ms. Doe was pressured to drink multiple shots of tequila and share an embarrassing secret, both of which she found highly uncomfortable. In addition, the woman said that former director of IT Mark Skorupa had forced his hand into her lap and made other unwanted advances toward her. Other nightmarish stories are scattered throughout the court documents, offering ample evidence of the constant sexual harassment of Ms. Doe. After she filed multiple sexual harassment complaints with the human resources team, she was told that her superiors were only trying to be nice and that she should keep her concerns to herself so as to not damage the reputation of Activision Blizzard. Additionally, she was demoted and further passed up for future promotions. She recalls that she was slowly shoved out of the company in retaliation for her actions.
When I first heard about the Activision Blizzard lawsuit over the summer, I was extremely shocked. To hear such disgusting allegations coming from a company that I had once been a huge fan of was so disheartening. Women are perpetually abused, harassed and discriminated against in the video game industry, and yet these stories don’t seem to ever come to the surface. Between those not seeing and those that look away, women’s accounts of being sexually harassed at work are quickly being swept under the rug. I used to dream of working in the video game industry, but it’s a dream that seems to be quickly fading away. As a woman, how can I work in an industry that constantly gets away with sexually harassing and discriminating against women?
The people that came forward to share their stories to call out Activision Blizzard are incredibly brave. It’s hard to tell your story when you’ve been through something as traumatic as what the female employees at Activision Blizzard went through. But these women have pulled the curtain back and revealed that the dream world of working on video games is not as great as it seems. The lawsuit has been heavily talked about online, which is making the issue visible to a larger audience. Going forward, I maintain hope that things will change, even if it seems unrealistic. Maybe this will make more people that are discriminated against feel seen and inspire them to come forward with their own stories.