Friday, July 19, 2024

“I Want To Breathe Again”: Three Industry Developers Come Forward With Sexual Assault Allegations

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CW: rape, sexual assault, abuse

A new storm of controversy hit the video game industry late Monday night, when two prominent developers in broke their silence about the alleged sexual assault and abuse they suffered at the hands of two high profile members of the industry: Alec Holowka, developer and co-creator of Aquaria and Night In The Woods, and Jeremy Soule, the prolific composer behind the soundtracks to The Elder Scrolls, Guild Wars, and Knights of the Old Republic (among many others).

Further allegations came early this morning when a third woman, TTRPG creator Adelaide Gardner, accused Splash Damage developer Luc Shelton of repeated incidents of sexual assault and gaslighting.

The accusations come on the heels of a landmark settlement by Riot Games over sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, a moment hailed by many as a huge step forward for women in games, and have already led many to wonder just how much progress has been made two years after the start of the Me Too movement.

“I shared a lot with him because I thought he was a friend”

Soule at Comic-Con earlier this year

The allegations against Soule were laid out Monday afternoon, in a blog post by indie developer Nathalie Lawhead titled “calling out my rapist.” In it, Lawhead writes in detail the ways that Soule allegedly used his place within the games industry to take advantage of her when she was starting out in Vancouver. Lawhead claims that not only did Soule sexually assault her, he also spent years holding his power within the industry over her and badmouthing her to friends and colleagues, to the point where she allegedly lost two jobs thanks to Soule’s close friendship with her employers.

“Jeremy said a lot of things about me, to make sure I don’t stand a chance. He controlled my success. He controlled how people view me (both positively and then negatively).
He’s good at making people think that he was actually helping, and that you are out of your mind. I worked very hard on proving all this wrong and coming to a point where I could say something and it stands a chance of being heard.”

Lawhead’s allegations are not solely focused on Soule. They also draw attention to those employers, CEOs of major companies in the industry, who used Lawhead for her labor but eventually kicked her to the curb when she expressed any problems with Soule. They speak to problems endemic in the industry, one where everybody knows everybody and one powerful member can ruin your career in a heartbeat.

“I don’t think there’s words to express how trapped, hopeless, and alone you feel when you realize that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never get anywhere because you are not a man. A guy can do this to you. Rape you. Harass you. Cost you everything, and people will believe the wildest things he says about you because he is who he is and you are nothing.”

Lawhead, via her Twitter

Lawhead has since produced multiple award-winning and innovative indie titles like the collection Tetrageddon Games, the interactive zine Everything Is Going To Be Ok, and A_DESKTOP_LOVE_STORY. She’s also been vocal about her experiences in the tech industry, writing a famous article for GameJolt in 2016, as well as the state of gaming culture.

As of the time of this writing, Jeremy Soule has deleted his Twitter account and did not comment on the allegations. The Fandomentals has reached out to Bethesda Softworks and parent company Zenimax Media, but as of the time of publishing have not received comment.

“Being Silent For Years Has Been Worse Than Fear”

Holowka speaking in 2013

A few hours later, indie developer and comics writer Zoe Quinn revealed her own experiences with sexual assault, alleging that Canadian developer Alec Holowka took advantage of her early in her career in games in a manner similar to the experience Lawhead alleges. Quinn directly named Lawhead in her post, praising her strength and crediting her blog post with inspiring her to come forward.

Quinn alleges that during her relationship with Holowka, he preyed on her emotional state following a separate sexual assault. Quinn also alleges that Holowka spent months isolating her from friends and family, degrading her in private, and screaming at her over the slightest provocation. She also accused him of repeated gaslighting over the alleged sexual assault:

“…he blamed me. He said he was jealous of me, to be wanted like that. He’d bring it up during sex,  where he’d repeatedly be mean and violent. He told me he loved me, in a way no one else would, because he could see that I was terrible and he loved me anyway. And I bought it.”

After their breakup, Quinn accuses Holowka of blacklisting her from the games community, framing himself as the victim and badmouthing her to everyone in the industry. She’s skipped multiple GDC’s, she says, out of fear of being around him or seeing him applauded despite his alleged actions being known by the community at large.

Zoe Quinn at BookExpo 2017

Holowka has made his twitter private as of the time of this publishing and has made no comment about Quinn’s allegations.

“I’m Just As Scared Of Him As The Day I Left”*

Shelton, taken from his website

The third set of allegations came early Tuesday morning when TTRPG creator Adelaide Gardner came forward with her allegations against French programmer Luc Shelton of Splash Damage. Gardner alleges that Shelton sexually assaulted her and and repeatedly engaged in gaslighting and emotional abuse towards her and another woman/

He allegedly called Gardner “crazy” and accused her of spreading STD’s. When she would visit him on holiday, he withheld the keys to his apartment and threaten Adelaide, visiting an unfamiliar city in the middle of winter, with the prospect of being locked out of his apartment. As noted in the above tweets, he once handcuffed her so tightly and for so long that her wrists bled. She writes in her allegations that she still is afraid he’ll message her or come near her, even two years after the alleged incident.


Gardner, via her Twitter

Shelton has not commented on the allegations and made no comment on the accusation when Gardner first spoke out in September 2018. The Fandomentals has reached out to Splash Damage but has not received any comment as of the time of this publishing.

These stories are still developing, and as such may change as new facts come to light.

*EDITORS NOTE: This portion of the article has been updated after receiving clarifications from Adelaide Gardner as to the nature of her experiences

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

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