Activision Blizzard Lawsuit: My Opinion

I had to sleep over this before I gathered my thoughts and was able to write this post. Needless to say, the yesterday’s news are dissappointing, devastating and everything else. I guess I’ll run the lawsuit (which I read in full) issues point by point.

Underpayment/Underpromotion

I’m not tolerant to unadequate attitude towards women, minorities, and in general human people in the workplace. The baseline is: the environment must be professional towards each and every person that works in a company, disregarding their sex, gender, race, orientation, hobbies or whatever other attributes. If a person deserves a promotion, works the same amount as ‘priviliged’ majority, he/she must be paid and promoted according to his/her achievements.

This case is relatively easy to solve I think. The amount of work done by promoted/non-promoted, paid/underpaid persons is easily accounted, it’s something you can measure by the timesheets, archives and stuff. ‘Underperforming’ can be fathomed. If the thing you were working on made it to the game, you coped with the task. But if you designed 10 assets while your promoted colleague designed 20 by the same time lapse, he deserves a promotion, and you’re not – because you’re simply less effective.

The thing about kindergarten. Your employer shouldn’t care less why you need some extra spare time during working hours. You may need to visit a vet with your pet, go do kids stuff, care about your parents or disabled relatives, play tennis, we all have lives, damn it – the question is: do you compensate the time spent on your personal needs by staying late? Is it a one-time thing, or your workday is always 7 hours while others work 8? If so, it’s no wonder you get less payment, because a) you do less and b) others have to do the work for you.

In short, these are technical issues which can be applied to any company, and they can be measured and fathomed without emotions. Either Blizzard provides an easily produced proof of underperformance in every case, or they’re really guilty, and should be taught a lesson and re-evaluate the whole promotion and rewards system.

Representation, or 20%

I know this is a hot stuff in America, and I personally think it’s a total bullshit. The baseline is: a company should hire employees that are skilled and qualified for the job. Under no circumstances there must be any quota for ‘representation’, while at the same time not to look at a person’s gender, race, sex, appearance when you have to decide.

It’s ok to expand the variety and representation within the worlds created, but said worlds must be created by professionals, not genders, sexes or races. I don’t want a surgery from a worse surgeon who got in by quota, I want a surgery by a professional no matter his/her gender, race, orientation. Once you set a quota for employee representation, you’re immediately discriminating the more skilled representatives of the majority, it’s that simple. And you’re decreasing the overall product/service quality in the long run.

If you have to pick from two equally skilled professionals, you may throw in personal qualities – how person behaves and talks, in short, how much of a team player and a nice guy/girl he/she is, how committed he/she seems to the job. ‘I don’t like your face’ argument is rude, but valid to an extent: by the person’s behaviour at a job interview you can often tell would he or would he not fit in among the colleagues, and be committed. It also works both sides: if I’m an applicant, and an employer has problems with my earring, tattoo, or the shirts I’m wearing (my job does not presume dress code), am I ready to work for the person to get constantly reprimanded for my appearance, in the atmosphere of constant irritation? I guess not.

Currently I’m working in a website development/digital advertising company of 180+ employees, about 80% are women, and 100% of top management are women. There is no policy of hiring, it just happened. The current CEO was lured from another company straight to a sales top manager position, she is a no-nonsense, but very rational and adequate woman, and she structurized and tuned the whole sales department from a devil-may-care to work-like-a-clock machine. So when previous CEO (male) sold the company to be a part of an international holding and quit, there was no question who should step in his place. Both men and women from top to bottom treat each other like professionals which we all are, the atmosphere is friendly, and everyone gets a promotion, a raise and an attitude he or she deserves, likewise only professionals are hired disregarding their sex.

I worked at many companies, with 50/50, 70/30, 30/70 male/female rate, or even 100% male (a tiny company, and they hired a couple of women later), but the only healthy way for the company to develop and thrive is to look at professionalism first, personal qualities second, and nothing else matters.

Sexual Harassment

As firm as I am that ‘representation’ over professionalism is bullshit, I’m equally firm with the thought that harassment is out of bounds – and there’s no excuse for such behaviour, no matter how light or severe the damage is.

It’s actually so easy that it’s ridiculous: respect personal borders, and understand if your actions are desirable or not, it’s not some social quantum physics, god dammit. For example, a hug does not equal a hug: a couple of employees could hug for a mutual photo, or in a friend-like manner, actually being good friends: hey, it’s Jessica, we designed this together, and we’re so excited about the result! *cue friendly hug, Jessica hugs back equally excited* At the same time, when you make advances and breach personal borders with the person you barely know, your hug is noooot okay. Mutual consent – is that too much to understand?

I mean, normal people do not have difficulties IRL, outside of workspace, to predict whether a hug, a kiss, holding hands, comments or what not would be greeted or appall a person – based on your personal depth of relations. The closer you are, the more is allowed and allowed back as well. Siblings or close friends may call each other whore, dick or bitch, as a joke or in an irritation, hug and hold hands, and offer marriage as a joke, but try to pull that in your local deli or in the street, or hug you local coffee dealer or a bus driver, and see what happens. So if a person even vaguely realises who he can and cannot hug and call names outside of workspace, why would he do that in a professional environment?

This is so simple to understand and follow, and that simplicity is exactly why the behaviour should not be tolerated at the very least. Social dynamics at this level are too simple to violate them, period.

I feel for the victims. Having worked in a toxic environment a while ago and having been in a toxic relationship before I met my wife, I know very well how bullying, gaslighting and manipulation works. The whole point of abuse is make you doubt yourself, whether you understand it correctly, and ideally blame yourself for what is happening, and it goes deeper and deeper.

I got fired from the mentioned toxic company exactly because I saw through the manipulations and emotional swings they tried to pull me in. And did not fall for them, as others did. So in a while they tried very hard to find real and imagined flaws in my work, and in the end it was: “you do not resonate with the company values, goodbye”. Values of bullying and manipulations? Good riddance. And yet, even if I knew how they behaved and what they said was wrong with my gut, I nearly fell for manipulations. I brought what was happening at work to home, to my wife, described and asked her: am I right, or are they right? And she always said: what they’re doing and saying is total bullshit, what douchebags they are, and explained me in plain words what I was already feeling with my spine.

The most disturbing thing in the lawsuit was not even a suicide case – it’s the mass nature of harassment to an extent that it was labeled in the lawsuit as frat “culture”, keyword “culture”. One (proved) case is too many, and the reluctance, blindness, lack of decisiveness or inability of HR and management to retaliate the mass abuse was what devasted me most.

***

I wonder if Warcraft’s recent changes, what we players see on surface, were Blizzard’s attempt to try and fix what was happening. We got LGBT characters, like a Zandalari duo in Vol’dun questline, or Flynn/Shaw outstanding chemistry and then officially romance, races like elves, dwarves, gnomes, especially humans got an extensive appearance option expansion, allowing to tune and identify with PoC players.

Battle for Azeroth was entirely built on and around strong female characters with distinctive values, characters and personalities, both heroes and villains alike – Taelia, Jaina, Talanji, Lucille Waycrest, her witch mother, Lady Ashvane, Azshara, Katherine Proudmoore, Tyrande, Maiev, Sylvanas, mayor of Stormsong, royal guard LGBT zandalari duo in Vol’dun, Nazmir “ma’das” – hey, blood troll society was a matriarchy! In the end of all, MOTHER, and many minor heroes and villains on both Zandalar and Kul Tiras. They defined the agenda – and the men followed, and their personal arcs and characters were all very well written and thought out, nothing stereotypical about them.

The now infamous Afrasiabi got quietly fired – and without as much as a traditional gratitude farewell letter, as far as I recall. Maybe others followed – that we do not know. Was it the result of an investigation to try and mitigate damage in a pre-emptive attempt, was it the fact that it went too far and repetitive ‘slap on the wrist’ warnings did not take effect – or both, that we do not know yet.

***

There’s no easy way for Blizzard out of this. Given that the company lives through its worst times already, it’s another devastating blow for them.

What can be done now?

1. I personally want to see the results of the court’s hearings and resolution. While I’m sure that smoke is not without fire, and omg, fire seems big, at the same time I would be happy to hear a solid proof that Blizzard understands and acknowledges charges, and already made and making changes to the company policy towards employees and the whole culture, dating back in a while – firing of Afrasiabi being one of such steps. In short, I wish what they released in their statement was true at least in some points – that today’s Blizzard is not what it was like a year, a two, or a decade ago.

2. Most definitely, the damage happened and damage prevented should be fixed and relieved as much as possible. This includes personal (!) investigation and retaliation to the abusers, some sort of compensation and support to the abused, and overall company culture changes.

3. I wish to see that sanctions are personal, and do not paint the whole company in black paint. Blizzard is not divided in abusers and abused, the majority (I hope!) of the company are decent people, delivering what they can and behaving as they should, top to bottom.

In my personal experience of the toxic company that I described before, it was just two people in top management, charismatic and valuable for the company, that promoted this abusing attitude towards an outcast they picked for bullying and manipulating at a given time. The others – decent and good people! – just followed in their trail, not having the wits or experience to tell gaslighting, outright bullying and manipulations from fair points and fair performance criticism they’ve masterfully woven in, so it seemed that victim was to blame for the attitude. So, it’s not always easy to detect and stand for the abused even if it’s happening in your own eyes – or even for the abused itself!, it’s not out of fear or something, and you can’t be blamed for that.

4. Ergo, I’m appalled and devastated with the evidence and accusations that are too many to ignore, but I still want Blizzard and WoW to thrive, and I hope for the best. I continue playing and paying – normal people of the company still deserve their job, you know – yes, normal people, the non-abusers, and – surprise – women that work there pay their bills off your subs too!

5. And whether it’s Blizzard’s personal incentive that ‘something’s not quite right and we gotta fix it’, the investigation and lawsuit that whipped it up, or most likely, both – I hope that the company would come out of fire purged, cleaner and healthier than before. The only thing they can do is provide solid proof of what points they know the lawsuit went wrong with, and accept the blame for what was really wrong.

Because – it’s not the time and the case of being stubborn.

Now, fingers crossed – Blizzard, please do the things right. You don’t have the luxury to poorly handle more reputation blows. I believe in you.

4 thoughts on “Activision Blizzard Lawsuit: My Opinion

  1. Just a quick (well, that’s the intent at least…) note on the representation point. Because I entirely agree that all else being equal, merit should be all that matters. We shouldn’t need to entertain the idea of quotas.

    But the huge ‘if’ in there is around the ‘all else being equal’. It just isn’t. What finally tipped my views over from ‘Quotas are bullshit’ to something more accepting of them was a course on implicit bias and the impacts it can have on all sorts of things. Implicit bias is a fascinating subject, but the cliff notes version is that they’re unconsciously held beliefs. These beliefs can run contrary to the values live by, even. They’re a product of upbringing, life experience, that kind of thing.

    One example being most people these days probably believe it is equally acceptable for a mother OR a father to be a stay at home parent. But when this assumption is tested, the bias leans toward a rapid assumption of the mother fulfilling this role.

    The relevance of this for the professional environment is that there are some roles that the world has *taught us* are predominantly male or female. Or white. Or straight. And these biases have power, even over someone who believes in equal opportunity for all. These implicit biases don’t mean these people are liars, or faking it — but they exist nonetheless.

    Quotas aren’t really so much about the here and now. The aim is to normalise seeing people of minorities in those roles, to change the underlying implicit biases the world teaches us to have — so that going forward? In the longer term? The quotas are no longer required.

    Like

    • Yes, we discussed the matter with my wife, and she had the very same argument which I agree with. Sadly there’s no easy or quick forced solution so far, and quotas are still out of question. We can only try to promote the idea of that equality is normal, anyone can be anyone, and support the opportunity programs like that coding camp for African-American girls, for which players ran a sitting-in-Oribos charity event in the wake of the current reaction.

      The world gradually changes for the better, just not as fast as we’d like it to be changed.

      Like

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