Monday, April 15, 2024

“Do Not Forget This Moment”: Video Games Has Its #MeToo Moment As Devs Open Up About Their Abuse

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CW: Rape, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting

Last week’s allegations against prominent members of the video game industry, most prominently Elder Scrolls composer Jeremy Soule, sparked what many have called a “#MeToo moment” for video games, referring to similar controversies in the entertainment industry that outed high profile men as alleged abusers. In the time since the initial allegations, multiple female and nonbinary industry members have come forth to both corroborate the stories of victims and open up about their own experiences with men within the industry. We’ve done our best to source all of the allegations, but information may change as these stories develop. Additionally, there are also multiple anonymous allegations going around Twitter as part of this movement, and while it is our policy to believe all victims of abuse we feel it would be irresponsible to publish an allegation without a name attached to it.

Alex Lifschitz

Lifschitz in 2015

Some of the first allegations to come out were against Alex Lifschitz, a prominent developer and activist in the gaming industry. He, alongside Zoe Quinn, co-founded Crash Override, an organization that offered help and resources to victims of online abuse following their own experiences during the “GamerGate” controversy. Software Engineer and indie game dev Nicole Leffell claims that Lifschitz took nude photos of Lefell without their consent and engaged in emotional abuse while the two were in a relationship, while also privately expressing deeply misogynist views despite his outward performance of feminism. (Lefell’s account has since been suspended for unknown reasons.)

The woman named in the tweets, advocate and designer Elizabeth Sampat, released a statement on the nature of her relationship with Lifshitz and her complicity in the covering up of his actions. She states that she has since cut ties with Lifshitz, as well as corroborating Leffel’s allegations.

Zoe Quinn, Lifschitz’s collaborator on Crash Override, addressed it on their (now deleted) twitter. In the tweets, Zoe claims that Lifshitz “admits to all of it”, and that throughout their partnership with him they were totally unaware of his abuses. They state that they are “gutted” by the allegations, and like Sampat has cut ties with Lifschitz professionally and personally.

Lifshitz has since deleted his Twitter and has yet to comment on the accusations.

Alexis Kennedy

Kennedy, 47, in 2016

The allegations against Kennedy, co-founder of studios Failbetter Games and The Weather Factory, as well as the developer of Fallen London, Sunless Seas, and Cultist Simulator, come from two ex-colleagues of his.  The first, Meg Jayanth, is a narrative designer who worked with Kennedy at Failbetter. In her thread on Kennedy (her twitter has since gone private), Jayanth accuses Kennedy of a long history of abuse towards women in the industry, particularly in “befriending” those new to the industry and exploiting them sexually and professionally. She further claims that Kennedy used his connections in the industry, both male and female, to silence Jayanth and other alleged victims by threatening their careers, isolating them, and convincing them that they would not be believed if they came forward with their accusations.

Jayanth at the 2019 Independent Games Festival

Kennedy quickly responded to the allegations, stating that all of the referenced relationships were small in number and “fully consensual,” further stating that he had made a police report about the “campaign of harassment.”

A second set of accusations came after Jayanth, from Olivia Wood, a writer and editor at Failbetter Games who was in a nearly two-year relationship with Kennedy while he worked at the company (one that was hidden from the company’s executives). In her thread, she corroborated much of Jayanth’s allegations, stating that Kennedy repeatedly cheated on her with people wanting to work at Failbetter who he’d bring to company events. She claims that he broke up with her via text after sleeping with one such woman at a company Halloween party.

Wood, via her website

Wood states that, following their breakup, Kennedy became emotionally abusive on the job, shouting and swearing at her and belittling her work in front of colleagues, all while continuing to work alongside Kennedy and the woman who he slept with and broke up with Wood over. She also professed that his behavior towards women was not limited to her. In another thread, she details the way that it affected her and why she was quiet for so long, feeling threatened by Kennedy when he left the company.

A third set of allegations came from former Failbetter freelancer Emily Short, who details the multiple ways that Kennedy violated her boundaries by encroaching on her personal space, making overly sexual remarks to her in front of her boss, and remarking on her weight. She corroborates many of the accusations towards Kennedy, and states that he used her to “cause harm to exactly the people he knows I care the most about.”

Other writers and developers shared their own experiences with Kennedy, including the above mentioned Elizabeth Sampat, Holden Shearer, and Bruno Dias. Failbetter Games released a series of tweets supporting the accusers while re-iterating their disconnect from him. They also spoke to the way that association with alleged abusers can ruin beloved games.

Other companies and individuals in the industry with ties to Kennedy have publicly broken those ties and stated their support for his accusers.

The Fandomentals has reached out to Weather Factory for comment on the allegations, as well as Kennedy for comment on later allegations. Kennedy has not responded, and Weather Factory has declined to comment.

Vlad Micu

Micu, via his Twitter

Dutch games journalist and business consultant Micu, who has worked with Critical Force Entertainment, Fuero Games, and Data Realms, was accused by developer Mina Vanir of not just sexually harassing her at a game developer’s conference, but then guilting, gaslighting, and emotionally manipulating Vanir in an attempt to get her to remain silent. Vanir had previously posted about the incident, which took place in 2017, but it wasn’t until this week that she named Micu as the alleged perpetrator.

Her attached pictures show the conversation she and Micu allegedly had about the incident, with him first trying to shift blame onto Vanir before guilt-tripping her for bringing it up and trying to press her for an apology. Streamer Niina Pesonen seconded Vanir’s allegations, with a screen-capped Facebook post that showed Micu defending manipulation of women and PUA tactics.

Micu has not commented on the allegations against him as of the time of this writing.

Michael Antonov

Antonov presenting at GDC

Yet another set of allegations came against Michael Antonov, co-founder of VR company Oculus as well as their Chief Software Architect, and former CTO of Scaleform. Autumn Rose Taylor, a prominent member of the VR and indie gaming scene in Austin, TX, spoke out against an anonymous abuser on her Twitter. In that thread, Taylor detailed her experiences in the gaming community, of being hit on at developer events, harassed, belittled, and molested at GDC by an executive from a major VR company, who allegedly stuck his hand up her skirt while she tested a VR game (all of this while Taylor was still a college student). A few hours later, she named Antonov as the alleged perpetrator.

Taylor in 2018, via her Twitter

In a reply to Taylor’s thread naming Antonov, multiple members of the VR community seemed to corroborate Antonov’s reputation for such behavior and the issues within the industry. Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook VP in charge of VR (Facebook bought Oculus in 2018), replied to Taylor’s allegations professing that such behavior is “sickening” and stating that he was now looking into how situations like Taylor’s have been handled.

It’s unclear if Bosworth’s tweets count as Facebook or Oculus’s official statement, but we have reached out to the company directly for comment. As of this writing, there has been no official statement.

Ben Judd

Judd, via the Dangen Entertainment website

The allegations hit the Japanese indie scene as well, when Ben Judd (a former Capcom employee and co-founder of Indie development company Dangen) was accused by artist and game designer Alex Abou Karam of predatory behavior, including the harassment of younger women, exposing his genitals in public, holding business meetings at strip clubs, and the use of racial slurs.

Days later, Karam published more tweets going into further detail on the nature of their relationship with Judd after finding emails from the time of their relationship. Karam claims that in addition to what was posted earlier, Judd took advantage of their vulnerability as a new member of the game design scene to start a relationship despite a 12 year age gap. He allegedly tried to hide them from others, gaslit them, made them seem crazy, and discredited other women who came forward with similar accusations. He got away with all this, it is alleged, due to his power and fame within the Japanese gaming industry.

There has been no comment from Ben Judd or Dangen Entertainment, and they have not responded to our request for comment as of this writing.

Marc Ten Bosch

Bosch in 2010, at PAX East

The list of names grew when Marc ten Bosch, an independent game developer, was accused of harassment and inappropriate contact by Owlchemy Labs Art Director and developer Carrie Witt. Witt alleges that after meeting Bosch at PAX East, as a 21-year-old intern, he repeatedly violated her personal space at a networking event, including overly familiar touching, and repeatedly ignoring her repeated denial of consent. He allegedly followed her around the event while she tried to get away, and continued to “hold” Witt while “flirting and making lewd comments.” The next day, he allegedly tracked her down at her booth and tried to get her to give him a tour. Later that night and the next day, Witt says, the harassment and her negative reaction to it became a joke among members of the industry.

Bosch has not responded to the allegations at this time.

As stated above, we will continue to stay abreast of things and update the article if any new information about the above allegations come to light.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, or know someone who has, you can contact RAINN  for assistance and support, both online and at 800.656.4673

All Images via their respective owners

Title quote thanks to Anita Sarkeesian

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