Videogame companies have built a culture of forward motion. It isn’t always expressed in such literal terms; sometimes you may hear it as “the future,” other times a publisher may label their product as “a revolution.” It’s an expression acknowledging a hope to be remembered in history. That somehow this moment will break through and bring about a new era, leaving the old ways behind. However, there has never been a linear ideal of history that exists in this form.
When someone speaks about moving forward, there is always someone who is left behind. In a nation-state, moving forward can often be a call to ignore the history of violence the government has created in order for their narrative to be maintained. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back,” Donald Trump said in his 2020 State of the Union address. This was said shortly before panic arose over the American government’s COVID testing blunders and just as ICE was given increased agency across the country.
In games, moving forward maintains corporations’ control over the violent structures of game culture. Where a new technological breakthrough is reached, exploited bodies are buried.
Consider the parts of gaming where this sentiment is heard the most. The hardware and software that paves this way forward is built on exploitedlabor and creates an unnecessarily large carbon footprint. Many big budget game production workplaces foster abusive and discriminatory work practices that put their workers, especially marginalized workers, in harm’s way. On top of this, many people who play these games celebrate and promote the products without a long-term critical eye towards the practice. This is especially true of games publications who will publish details on upcoming game releases, without any consideration for the harm game companies are bringing to people unless it’s scandalous.
Moving forward in games is a chimerical sales point, conjured to obfuscate the violent practices that bring games to form. Forward is also the label Ubisoft used for their work in their recent “Ubisoft Forward” conference held on July 12th. In the midst of abuse and harassment accusations, the company felt it was best to continue forward with their press conference as planned.
In the past month a wave of allegations came out publicly across the gaming industry, with Ubisoft as one of the companies with the most accusations. According to Liberation, over 100 reports of harassment and discrimination were made over the past two years, only to be ignored by what employees called “the silencing arm of Ubisoft.”
This finally changed with the recent wave of game developers publicly accusing abusers in the game industry. With workers going direct through social media like Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube, many stories of fear and pain came out attached to Ubisoft.
Many outlets reported how company culture had been harming employees for a long time. Consequently, many high-ranking employees stepped down for fostering that environment. Kotaku released a detailed report of many instances of abuse happening at Ubisoft Toronto where drinking culture and an exclusionary boys’ club culture lead to non consensual abuse. Bloomberg reported that two of the company executives overseeing worldwide development were stepping down after facing multiple claims. Motherboard reports that the director of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla was accused of concealing and lying about being in a relationship while pursuing another woman. Most recently Bloomberg published interviews with more than 40 employees revealing that Ubisoft has been aware of these problems for a long time.
While it is good to see abusers face consequences for their actions it doesn’t mean we can ignore how prevalent these problems are. As DennyVonDoom notes, this is not just one or two bad men; for every story we read about there are likely more we will not hear in the news. Despite many deeply entrenched heads of Ubisoft being removed, the CEO, Yves Guillemot, remains in charge. While Guillemot has stood up and made statements against the harmful culture, he is also a founder of the company who has stood by the values of his abusive cohort in the 30 years he has been around.
It’s also important to note that after Ubisoft published their public statements about the company changes, they held their Ubisoft Forward conference hours later. Not only did they move forward, but they outwardly stated they would not be addressing any of the problems during their conference. This videoconference for the company couldn’t be cancelled or reimagined to create a space of conversation. The only space that exists for Ubisoft is the space for their games to sell, and just enough ethical space for their employees not to drop their stock prices.
It wasn’t just Ubisoft who couldn’t reimagine their place in games either. As I browsed through Twitter the day of the event, I saw publications who had published summaries of the abuse allegations were now publishing promotional pieces for the new game. Whether it was promoting the inclusion of same-sex romance in the new Assassin’s Creed or even being critical of the politics of Watch Dogs, all of it built up the Ubisoft hype machine. All of it created noise for the company. All of it ignored the fact that many employees were currently afraid and hurt by the very company they were promoting.
Seeing all this, Ubisoft Forward displayed that the problems of videogames are much larger than the choices corporations make. Media is an important contributor to the narrative as well. At a time when so much pain and vulnerability were being revealed why should outlets share details on the next Ubisoft release date? Why not kill the piece previewing how playing the new Assassin’s Creed feels? Of course, that’s just not how publications work. Even Paste ran a piece on Valhalla that day.
As many games writers discussed that very same day, publications foster games writing on big budget games because that’s where the interest lies. However, if bringing in money is more important than showing solidarity and support to those in pain, how are these publications any better than the corporations causing the problem?
Games writing’s foundations lie in the promotional fan publications of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Fans want more places where they can engage with the franchises they love, and publications hire writers to adhere to those fans. While this may be enjoyable for many, this ends up with the very problem that occurred with the Ubisoft promotion. Serious issues within the industry, like Ubisoft being in the middle of an abuse scandal, are given the same treatment as promotional material for upcoming games.
Many of the problems within games culture have been enflamed or even caused by this relationship between games media and the companies they cover. Marginalized writers are given hardly any support to enter into the industry, and in many cases they must tokenize their trauma to even be included. How many Asian writers have you seen cover Ghosts of Tsushima? Many writers are taught to justify writing about games that would maybe be more reasonable to ignore in light of a game’s issues. How are we still talking about The Last of Us Part II despite its violent Zionist inspiration and exploited labor? And many of the independent outlets, like Uppercut, Into the Spine, and Re:Bind, who hold these publishing morals, aren’t supported with the same attention or money.
All of this comes back to capital, of course. Games aren’t going to change overnight without the system being demolished. However, by taking a stand for what is right we show support for those in need and work for a future of change. If we can’t even take a stand, then we maintain the damage done by videogames moving forward, breaking everyone underneath their path.
Waverly is a trans game artist and freelance writer. She has written at Uppercut, Into The Spine, and Fanbyte. You can find her on Twitter @hotelbones.