Note: This article contains mentions of suicide. Discretion is advised.
Desperate times call for desperate measures — but in the case of Activision Blizzard, desperation still may not be enough to hold some people accountable for their actions.
In the four months since the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing filed suit against the company for its toxic workplace culture and ever growing rap sheet of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and silencing victims of both, the situation has grown worse with every passing day. The cause is not merely the reprehensible actions of staff and corporate officials in allowing and even participating in the abuse, nor is it the internal pressure that has been mounting from employees who have issued open letters to the company, staged walkouts, and are currently amassing signatures on a petition for the removal of CEO Bobby Kotick. (At this writing, 2,000 signatures from the 9,000 current employees of Activision Blizzard have been collected.) It is, rather, the company’s refusal to take true responsibility for its actions, and those of its higher powers. As a result, the entire scandal has reached a fever pitch, creating a wave of unrest that has spread throughout the gaming industry.
Now, with all three major console companies having expressed concern and questioning their relationship with Activision Blizzard, pressure is mounting for the company to take substantial action by getting rid of the people responsible, such as Kotick, and enacting some real internal change. While recently, it’s come to light that Kotick is potentially considering stepping down if required, this comes after the company’s latest public relations misstep which was little more than a frankly pathetic and transparent attempt to save people’s jobs.
On November 22, Activision Blizzard issued a press release to announce the formation of a “Workplace Responsibility Committee” to handle the situation regarding its workplace culture and harassment. The committee will be staffed by two members of the Board of Directors, and an erroneous “new, diverse director.”
The release states the following:
As announced on September 27, 2021, in an agreement with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Company, upon court approval of the agreement, will hire an EEO Coordinator; that Coordinator will have a direct reporting line to the Board. The Committee will engage regularly with the EEO Coordinator and an independent EEO Consultant, who will be engaged consistent with the agreement. The duties of these two separate EEO functions will provide transparency both to the EEOC and the Workplace Responsibility Committee.
It goes on to say, regarding the necessity for this committee:
While the Company, with the Board’s support, has been making important progress to improve workplace culture, it is clear that current circumstances demand increased Board engagement. Formation of the Committee and additional future changes will help facilitate additional direct oversight and transparency and ensure that the Company’s commitments to Activision Blizzard’s workforce are carried out with urgency and impact. This has been a challenging time across the Company, but the Board is confident in the actions underway to set the Company up for future success.
This is laughable, at best, and nauseating, at worst, simply for the fact that the Board itself is the core of the problem. Kotick himself reportedly once made death threats against an assistant, and it has since come to light that he’s been aware of the company’s internal behavior for years. When you factor in the fact that a woman working for Activision Blizzard, who was in a sexual relationship with her male supervisor, took her own life during a company trip. At the time, she was subject to things like a photo of her genitals being passed around at a holiday party. In addition, on the trip where she died, her supervisor was found to be carrying sex toys with him.
The company may be required to hire an EEO Coordinator, but this workplace committee with board plants expected to foster any real change when the board itself is complicit in these scandals is, to be blunt, hilariously disgusting.
Repeated calls have been made by employees, shareholders, and affiliates for the removal or resignation of not just Kotick, but Activision Blizzard board chairman Brian Kelly and lead independent director Robert J. Morgado. Now, the company is trying to include the board in reform efforts when all signs point to the board as being the first step in truly cleaning house. We’re talking about years of promoting men over their female counterparts who have outperformed them, kicking nursing mothers out of lactation rooms to hold meetings, cube crawls where women were subjected to unwanted sexual language and touching, and even racial discrimination against women of color who were treated far more harshly regarding performance and behavior.
These are the things the board knew was happening. Some of them even participated — to assure the public that members of the board will have any effectiveness in changing things in the company culture is just insulting.
This is a grim time for fans of the Activision Blizzard intellectual properties. It’s an uncomfortable time to be a member of the gaming community. A company as large as Activision Blizzard, as visible as they are, sets an example for the rest of the world as to what gamers are about.
Kotick’s resignation is the only way to save face at this point, and the longer he clings to his job, the worse things are going to get, not only for him, but for the employees of Activision Blizzard, and for the gaming community as a whole.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.