Activision Blizzard Employees Talk about the Walkout and What Needs to ChangePhotos by Katherine Long Games Features Activision Blizzard
On July 20, the state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging numerous accounts of gender-based discrimination and harassment. Following the lawsuit’s filing and an unsatisfactory response from Activision Blizzard leadership, more than 3100 employees signed an open letter demanding change and refuting statements made by leadership. Employees at Blizzard Inc. in Irvine, California also staged an in-person walkout last Wednesday to protest leadership’s response and the mistreatment of employees. We talked to two current employees who were at the walkout, one from Blizzard and one from Activision, about the current state of worker morale and what actions the company could take to address their concerns. As per their request, they will remain anonymous.
Paste: How did you both personally feel once the lawsuit was filed and it reached the general public?
Blizzard Employee: First and foremost it, I would say the prevailing emotion was incredible disappointment, followed by disgust at what was reported as absolutely abhorrent and objectively unacceptable behavior in an industry that I feel very passionate about. And shortly after, especially finding this community that has been organizing so passionately, it was followed up by this very galvanizing call to action and a desire to contribute in a powerful and impactful way that will change the industry in a way that I think will benefit it.
Activision Employee: I remember specifically thinking that I was shocked that some of the behaviors that I had experienced were not just happening to me and were not just normal things that happened. I was strongly disappointed and just horrified at the denial that occurred after the fact. Because in my experience, and in talking to other marginalized gender folks at Activision Blizzard, I believe these victims. I believe that these stories happened and I’m horrified that they could happen. And I’m, quite frankly, I’m committed to trying to make sure they can never happen again.
Paste: You were both at the walkout on Wednesday. Were you nervous about participating? What made it worth it to be there?
Activision Employee: I was definitely nervous. But honestly, the people made it so worth it. Everyone there supporting each other, elevating these voices and speaking out against injustices that we see in these companies that we love, speaking out for the people that we love. It was really, really beautiful. And I was invigorated by it. It was stunning.
Paste: What changes do you believe need to be made to effectively improve the workplace culture at Activision Blizzard?
Blizzard Employee: I think one, well, all of the changes that have been listed in the demands that we published are changes that… no one change has precedent over the other. No one change will placate our demand, what we’re requesting and what we want to see. So until all of them are implemented, we will continue to fight. But I think if I were to comment on one in no particular order, I would say that giving employees agency and a greater voice in decisions that are made throughout the company, the kind of executives that we elect to lead our company in the direction that they want to lead in is pivotal. At the moment there feels like there is a deep disconnect between how employees feel, our ideologies, and that of a lot of what we hear coming from the high executive leadership. So I think that having a greater collaboration between employees and executive leadership and working more hand in hand to implement policies regarding diversity, equity and inclusion will make for a better [Activision Blizzard King]. And we’ll also set a standard for the rest of the gaming industry, or help set a standard that other companies across the gaming industry can follow, because ultimately we are all part of the same community, and what affects us affects everyone else.
Activision Employee: We want leadership to work with us. We want to have that seat at the table so we can collaborate on these matters because right now it feels like these statements that have been put forth don’t accurately represent the companies that we came to work for. We know that they can be better, and we want them to be better.
Paste: Do you think that this will lead to further change outside of Activision Blizzard?
Blizzard Employee: That’s the dream, that’s the plan. You know, it’s very hard to say or predict what will and won’t happen. A sentiment that has been spreading throughout the organizers, as well as outside of the organizers of the walkout, is we don’t want this momentum to die. And it’s very important to take this inertia and run with it, I don’t even want to say for as long as we can but indefinitely. Because as difficult as it is to predict how this will all turn out, we know we have our eye on the goal and that’s where we’re setting our sights on. So, which is all a fancy way of saying that we won’t be silenced, we’re not going to stop supporting each other, we aren’t going to stop helping victims have their voices heard. And we aren’t going to stop demanding for change that will—it’s hard to put into words because the love that I feel for my company, for what I know it can be is beyond description. Just as a personal note today I had lunch with some of my coworkers who had offered nothing but extraordinary support. But even outside of the discussion of this topic, it was just such an incredible feeling of “these are my people,” creatively, emotionally, mentally, on every level, these are my people that I don’t want to leave behind, and I mean that in a way of I don’t want to make them feel like they don’t have a place here. So, it’s a deep emotional investment beyond just what objectively is right or wrong.
Activision Employee: I think that what’s important is that everyone who’s looking at this, everyone who sees us acting, knows that they aren’t alone, knows that there are people out there who will believe them, who will stand up for them, because this is a group of people who are standing up for each other, who are believing in each other. And that support, that solidarity, is possible everywhere. And I’m hopeful that, at the very least, other gamers and players will know that they aren’t alone, and will feel empowered to make changes in their own companies.
Paste: Why exactly do you believe it has taken companies in the industry so long to properly deal with these issues of discrimination and harassment?
Blizzard Employee: There are various reasons, one of which being isolation and this feeling that you are the only one this is happening to, and maybe it’s in your head, maybe you are just not thinking correctly, or even if it is in your head and it most certainly isn’t but I’m saying as far as how people perceive it: I’m an individual. And it was difficult to come together, to have an organized group not just of victims, but also of allies. Because not only is there a feeling of isolation, but there’s a feeling of “Who can I trust? Whom can I speak with who will take me seriously?” And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s also this self propagating culture of “it’s just a joke and so, don’t take it seriously.” And that levity takes agency away from victims. Because not only do they feel isolated already, but now all of a sudden, there’s this permeating culture throughout the gaming industry of if you do think that, if something is happening to you, it’s just a joke. So it’s difficult to organize around that. And all of a sudden, we hear this shift in the paradigm, it’s not a joke. It was never a joke. And now, not only do we realize this, now we’re going to make everyone else realize it.
Paste: Has this past week been somewhat validating for you and others within the company?
Activision Employee: Absolutely. It’s been honestly incredible to see people outpouring their support to these victims, to these stories that we’re trying to shed light on and trying to elevate, because they happen and it’s an ugly truth. And a lot of people don’t want to recognize it, but because of action like the walkout, people are recognizing it and taking steps to change things in whatever way they can other than their own personal sphere of influence or on a greater level.
Blizzard Employee: Something else that I think has been a very large factor is historically and with the systems that are currently in place, the onus is on the victim to not only step forward, but to prove that their case is valid, and legally sound. It’s difficult in every possible sense, but not least of all mentally and emotionally, especially for somebody who’s gone through something that is definitively life ruining in many ways. And what this movement has sparked is this idea that you don’t have to be the only voice, you have allies who have gone through this or maybe even haven’t, but do believe you and will not necessarily speak for you, but will offer their voice when you don’t have the strength to use your own. And that’s been empowering.
Paste: Is there anything else that you both personally would like to relay to Activision Blizzard fans?
Blizzard Employee: Don’t stop talking about it. Don’t stop talking about it. There’s a lot of information coming forward. A lot of articles, a lot of proof coming forward. And I know the initial reaction is disgust, that should be the initial reaction is disgust. We cannot tell fans what to do and what not to do and how to react, and we will not. Everyone has their own way of dealing or of interpreting. But from our standpoint, we appreciate journalists who are bringing these stories to the forefront, we appreciate that they are letting victims tell their stories. And that information, as painful as it is to see, it needs to be seen. It needs to be read. Don’t let this momentum lose any speed, any power. Keep talking, as painful as it is. Because that’s how we keep the pressure on.
Activision Employee: The outpouring of support from the community, from the wider games industry, from gamers, has been heartwarming. It has been incredible to just see people believe these victims and people standing up for each other. It’s been beautiful. Thank you for your support.
Katherine Long is an intern at Paste and a rising senior at American University. She loves hyperpop, roller skating and videogames and can finish a sudoku puzzle in 43 seconds.