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Several high-profile game developers publicly accused of sexual assault

Several high-profile game developers publicly accused of sexual assault

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Back in 2018, Guardian editor Keza MacDonald wrote that “the video games industry isn’t yet ready for its #MeToo moment.” But whether or not that’s still true, people are attempting to hold abusers and their enablers accountable. Over the past day, multiple high-profile men in the video game industry have been accused of sexual assault. Many of the accusations are years old — in some cases, more than a decade — and they all point to a toxic environment where developers not only have to live with a constant fear of abuse, but also the significant professional and personal repercussions of outing their abusers.

Things started with a lengthy blog post from artist and game designer Nathalie Lawhead, bluntly titled “calling out my rapist.” In it, she accuses Jeremy Soule, a longtime game composer behind series like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls, of rape while the two were working together at an unnamed games studio in Vancouver in 2008. The post also points to a severely degraded work environment following the assault, in which Lawhead was disrespected at work, had to fight for pay, and was ultimately let go from her job. These claims are backed up by extensive documentation in the form of dozens of emails.

“I share not expecting to be able to get through the backlash, the lying, the excuses, the gaslighting happening all over again, the fanbase that might come after me because that’s just what happens in games, or hearing more of ‘his side of the story,’” Lawhead’s post reads. “My side of the story was never given a chance. I’m willing to try. I’m sharing this hoping that there will be information about him out there so other women can be informed.”

“My side of the story was never given a chance.”

Following Lawhead’s post, others started speaking up. Zoe Quinn — developer of games like Depression Quest, author of Crash Override, and a focal point of the misogynistic Gamergate movement — posted a harrowing account on Twitter, recounting alleged abuse from indie developer Alec Holowka, best known for his work on Aquaria and Night in the Woods. “I’ve been silent about this for almost my entire career and I can’t do it anymore,” Quinn wrote. The post includes disturbing accounts that include Quinn hiding in a bathroom to avoid an attack. It also notes that Quinn was inspired to come forward in part because of Lawhead’s post, which Quinn says “shook me to my core.”

In a statement on Twitter, Scott Benson, who worked with Holowka on Night in the Woods, wrote that “we believe Zoe’s account of Alec’s actions, we’re very sad and very angry.”

A third incident came to light when Adelaide Gardner, who works in tabletop role-playing games, wrote a lengthy Twitter thread accusing Luc Shelton, a programmer at British studio Splash Damage, of sustained psychological and physical abuse two years ago. “It’s been two years and every once in a while, like now, I realize I’m still terrified of him,” Gardner wrote. “He’s a country away and I will never see him again and he has no way of contacting me, and I’m just as scared of him as the day I left his flat for the last time.”

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Women and non-binary people in the industry, including Insomniac Games writer Mary Kenney, have similarly come out since with their own stories of abuse and harassment. At the same time, others, like Mina Vanir, have brought up older accusations that previously received comparatively little attention.

This isn’t the first time men in the video game industry have been accused of sexual abuse or assault. But the sheer number of stories — which only seems to be growing — coupled with the prominence of those being accused makes this moment feel particularly significant, and hopefully something that will actually lead to notable change for an industry where sexism, abuse, and toxic behavior are both widespread and systemic.

We’ve reached out to Splash Damage and Elder Scrolls publisher Bethesda Softworks, employers of two of the accused, and will update this story if we receive a response.

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