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GDC rescinds award for Atari founder after criticisms of sexually inappropriate behavior

GDC rescinds award for Atari founder after criticisms of sexually inappropriate behavior


The event wants to ‘reflect the values of today’s game industry’

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Bushnell, Nolan - Businessman, Founder Atari, USA
Photo by Adolph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Organizers of the Game Developer’s Conference have rescinded plans to give the annual Pioneer Award to Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell after numerous game developers pointed to reports of sexually inappropriate comments and behavior by Bushnell in the early days of Atari. Although the behavior, which reportedly included provocative hot tub meetings and fostering a “fraternity” culture at Atari, had long been documented in multiple interviews and books, it has sparked new criticism and attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“The Game Developers Choice Awards Advisory Committee, who vote on the Special Award Winners for each show, have made the decision not to give out a Pioneer Award for this year’s event, following additional feedback from the community,” the official GDC account announced today on Twitter. “They believe their picks should reflect the values of today’s game industry and will dedicate this year’s award to honor the pioneering and unheard voices of the past.”

Bushnell responded to the decision on Twitter today. “I applaud the GDC for ensuring that their institution reflects what is right, specifically with regards to how people should be treated in the workplace,” he says. “And if that means an award is the price I have to pay personally so the whole industry may be more aware and sensitive to these issues, I applaud that, too. If my personal actions or the actions of anyone who ever worked with me offended or caused pain to anyone at our companies, then I apologize without reservation.”

The Pioneer Award “celebrates those individuals who developed a breakthrough technology, game concept, or gameplay design at a crucial juncture in video game history - paving the way for the myriads who followed them,” according to the GDC website. Past winners include Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, Minecraft co-creator Markus Persson, and founder and CEO of Frontier Developments David Braben.

In the initial announcement, GDC organizers said that “Nolan Bushnell helped guide Atari to becoming a dominating force in the video game world.” He’s since been removed from the event’s website, where he was previously featured alongside Ambassador Award recipient Rami Ismail and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Tim Schafer.

When reached by The Verge yesterday, a GDC spokesperson said the conference and nominating committees had not known about the reports of Bushnell’s behavior but promised to “look at them more closely.”

Story has been updated with Bushnell’s comment.