The game and comics industries are grappling with widespread allegations of harassment and abuse
The wider entertainment industry is having a moment.
Long after people who work in the film and television industries started naming and shaming carefully hidden abusers and bigots, those in the video game, tabletop, and comic book industries are opening up about abusers in their fields as well. Over the past several weeks, accusations have been flooding onto social media, inspiring even more individuals to step forward with their own personal accounts. And, like much of 2020 that we’ve experienced so far, it all seems to be happening so fast.
All of this is set against a tumultuous political climate characterized by protests and outpourings of support for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Perhaps because of this climate, more people seem to finally be paying attention to these allegations and taking them seriously, from individual fans all the way up to the executives at major companies. The repercussions could have a lasting impact on hiring and creative decisions in these industries this year, and in the years to come.
Here are some notable examples among the many stories that have emerged over the past few weeks.
The most serious accusations brought to bear by people in the game industry in the past week have to do with gender-based discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault.
Among the most high-profile incidents comes from the Destiny 2 streaming community. Three female players have accused streamer Lono (who also goes by the handle SayNoToRage) of numerous wrongdoings, including verbal harassment, groping, and propositioning for sex. Over the weekend, Lono responded with an apology both on Twitter and on YouTube.
This past week also saw the resignation of Omeed Dariani, CEO of the Online Performers Group (OPG), which represented Lono. As reported by the New York Times, Dariani has also been accused by a woman in the games industry of “of acting inappropriately toward her and propositioning her for a threesome in 2014.”
From there, the number and type of accusations against Twitch personalities has only increased. Kotaku notes more than 50 of them. Kotaku’s report also covers the recent allegations of sexual assault against Tom “Syndicate” Cassell, who was previously involved in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skin gambling scandal. Cassell has denied these allegations.
Late Wednesday, Twitch released a statement about actions it is taking, which include triaging investigations based on the severity of the claims. The statement also includes information on how to report incidents anonymously.
“We are reviewing each case that has come to light as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate due diligence as we assess these serious allegations,” Twitch said in its news release. “We’ve prioritized the most severe cases and will begin issuing permanent suspensions in line with our findings immediately. In many of the cases, the alleged incident took place off Twitch, and we need more information to make a determination. In some cases we will need to report the case to the proper authorities who are better placed to conduct a more thorough investigation.”
Video personalities aren’t the only ones whose behavior has come into question. These incidents set off a series of statements and accusations from inside game development as well.
Over the past week, accusations against Fallout: New Vegas and Planescape: Torment writer Chris Avellone have garnered international attention. As reported by Kotaku, multiple women have accused Avellone of groping, harassment, and inappropriate behavior. Following the allegations, Dying Light 2 developer Techland formally cut ties with him.
“We treat matters of sexual harassment and disrespect with the utmost care, and have no tolerance for such behaviors,” the Polish company wrote on Twitter. “This is why, together with Chris Avellone, we’ve decided to end our cooperation.”
On Wednesday, the creative director of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Ashraf Ismail, said he would step down from the project following accusations of multiple extramarital affairs with younger fans.
“I am stepping down from my beloved project to properly deal with the personal issues in my life,” Ismail said on Twitter. “The lives of my family and my own are shattered. I am deeply sorry to everyone hurt in this.”
Ubisoft later confirmed his departure to Polygon.
The reckoning in the tabletop industry has been a slow burn since May, with sporadic Twitter threads emerging from marginalized people highlighting their experiences with harassment, racism, and abuse. In the past month, some of the most significant accusations to emerge concerned Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity and a leader at an influential coworking space in Chicago called Some Office.
In early June, former employees of Cards Against Humanity came forward on social media with allegations of a toxic work culture inside the Chicago-based company. Polygon’s further reporting detailed several employees’ descriptions of what they saw as a racist and sexist culture, as well as statements from Cards Against Humanity about its efforts to improve.
Our report also includes further investigation of a sexual assault allegation that was originally made against Temkin in 2014. Polygon interviewed the woman who made the allegation and printed further details from her account, as well as corroborations from five of her peers who said they recalled having been told about the alleged assault.
Temkin denied the sexual assault allegation in 2014 and maintains this denial in 2020, issuing this statement to Polygon: “Today, unfortunately, a false allegation has reemerged and as I have publicly done before, I continue to maintain my innocence. I have never sexually assaulted anyone and I was shocked when this same false allegation was first shared in 2014. In 33 years, no one else has ever accused me of sexual assault or any other non-consensual behavior.”
Former employees accuse Cards Against Humanity of a racist and sexist office culture
Temkin has now stepped down from the company but remains a “one-eighth shareholder.” Cards Against Humanity has issued an apology with regard to former employees’ complaints about the office culture, as well as a resolution to continue ongoing efforts to improve its workplace. The company also provided Polygon with this statement about the sexual assault allegation against Temkin: “We do not know the truth. We believe that all claims of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and we know that it takes incredible courage for a victim to speak out.”
This situation has left a hole in the tight-knit Chicago game development scene. Temkin has effectively separated himself from the Cards Against Humanity brand and the coworking space as of June 9, according to the company. His departure, and the environment he left behind, sours what once served as a vital creative hub in the region.
Another large theme roiling within the tabletop game community is the issue of racism and white supremacy.
Wizards of the Coast has been called to task for its portrayals of race in both Magic: The Gathering (the most popular collectible card game in the world) and Dungeons & Dragons (the most popular role-playing game in the world).
On June 10, the Hasbro-owned company announced that it would ban from play and remove from its online database seven Magic cards that contain racist imagery and text. One card, Invoke Prejudice, was even archived online using a web URL ending in “1488” — numbers synonymous with white supremacy.
Just one week later, on June 17, the D&D team announced that it would be making changes to portions of its 5th edition product line that fans have called out for being insensitive. That includes racist portrayals of a people known as the Vistani, an in-fiction analog for the Romani people. The company will also be making a substantive change to character creation to broaden the permissible spectrum of character types within each of the game’s many races.
“Later this year, we will release a product (not yet announced) that offers a way for a player to customize their character’s origin, including the option to change the ability score increases that come from being an elf, a dwarf, or one of D&D’s many other playable folk,” the company said in a statement. “This option emphasizes that each person in the game is an individual with capabilities all their own.”
One of the highest-profile individuals to come forward with their own experience is Eric Lang, an award-winning tabletop game designer, an executive at publisher CMON, and a Black man. Lang shared his experiences with racism on Twitter and on his personal Facebook page. His outpouring of energy led to a candid, and at times uncomfortable, livestreamed conversation about racism with tabletop personality Tom Vasel. Titled “Gaming in a Social and Political World,” the video has been viewed nearly 20,000 times — many times more than other videos on the channel released around the same time.
Meanwhile, Lang has continued to be the target of racist dogpiling and other attacks online. Some of his tweets are even restricted from view at this time, likely due to reports made against him to the social media giant by those unhappy with his remarks.
Finally, Mike Pondsmith — creator of the Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing universe — penned a lengthy blog post detailing his personal experiences interacting with law enforcement as a Black man. Against the backdrop of police violence in the face of massive national protests, Pondsmith made it clear where he stands.
Here’s something I want to tell those of you who think the color of their skin makes them safe. “Your” cops are out of control. They don’t care about who they work for anymore. Like the cops in Cyberpunk, they work for themselves. They have weapons, power and invulnerability that has been granted to them because of the devil’s deal the people in power made with them since the 90’s.
Pondsmith ended his essay with calls for establishing better laws to protect citizens against out-of-control policing, to “break or otherwise renegotiate” contracts with police unions, and to demilitarize the police.
“Remember; the Cyberpunk future is a warning; not an aspiration,” Pondsmith said. “Whether we hear the warning is up to you.”
A similar reckoning with abuse and sexual misconduct in the direct market comics industry began on June 15, with several women accusing artist Cameron Stewart (Batgirl, Motor Crush) of “grooming” them. As reported by Comics Beat, multiple women have alleged that Stewart tried to interest them in engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with him, at a time when they were teenage fans or young women interested in working in the comics industry, while he was an established creator in his 30s or older. According to some corroborating voices — including Marsha Cooke, widow of industry legend Darwyn Cooke — Stewart’s reputation for this behavior was widely known in Toronto’s close-knit comics community.
A day after the stories about Stewart emerged, others spoke up about their experiences with similar behavior from writer Warren Ellis, whose work on The Authority, Transmetropolitan, and Netflix’s Castlevania has made him one of the comics’ world’s biggest household names. At the time of this writing, artist Jhayne Holmes has gathered a private group of “nearly 50 members” who feel that Ellis coerced them into a relationship despite the gap in age, experience, or career prospects between them.
Ellis released a statement on June 18, saying, “I will continue to listen, learn, and strive to be a better human being. I have sought to make amends with people, as I have been made aware of my transgressions, and will continue to do so. I have apologised, I apologise, and will continue to apologise and take total responsibility for my actions without equivocation.”
Ellis added that he did not believe he had institutional privilege, saying, “I have never considered myself famous or powerful. […] It had never really occurred to me that other people didn’t see it the same way.” Ellis recently oversaw a Stormwatch imprint for DC Comics, and is currently writing The Batman’s Grave with artist Bryan Hitch. The day following Ellis’ statement, DC Comics announced to retailers that it would be removing a short story written by Ellis from the upcoming anthology issue Dark Nights: Death Metal Legends of the Dark Knights #1.
More accusations have emerged since. They include stories alleging harassing behavior from Jason Latour (co-creator of Spider-Gwen, writer on Wolverine and the X-Men); stalking and harassment from former Dark Horse Comics editor Brendan Wright; and multiple accounts of sexual assault and abuse in the form of grooming levied at Scott Allie, former editor-in-chief, then freelance editor, at Dark Horse. Following the accusations against Allie, both Dark Horse and superstar artist Mike Mignola announced that they would cut ties.
Comics creators have also rallied in their rejection of the executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit that offers legal funds and other services to support the First Amendment rights of comics creators. Charles Brownstein had served as executive director of the organization since 2002, but last week’s ongoing conversations resulted in the resurfacing of a well-reported 2006 incident of Brownstein groping artist Taki Soma, which ended with a bystander having to pry his hands off of her clothing.
Over the weekend, multiple comics creators, including Brian Michael Bendis (Superman, The Avengers), Al Ewing (Immortal Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy), Pia Guerra (Y the Last Man), and James Tynion IV (Batman, Detective Comics) announced they would no longer be working with the CBLDF — or spoke publicly about how they had already stopped working with the organization — because of Brownstein’s conduct.
On Monday, the CBLDF announced that it had accepted Brownstein’s resignation, saying in a statement, “As we move forward, it will be with a renewed focus on accountability and transparency. And as we plan for the future with new leadership in place, we will work with our staff and human resources experts to continue developing policies that will make us a stronger organization.”
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