Have you heard about [INSERT COMPANY’S NAME HERE]? What are the chances that a beloved studio could do something so heinous as [union busting/sexual harassment/sexual discrimination/crunch/managerial neglect/making a freaking diversity ranker]? It’s sadly become a common occurrence; developers are still businesses, and no amount of rockstar talent or directorial vision can cover up the innate capitalistic goal of breaking a profit. Money talks, and the cost of making videogames has grown regularly and exponentially.
Bad actors exist everywhere from indie to triple-A (or now quadruple-A) studios—nowhere is safe from the predatory nature of consumerism and selfish individuals who abuse their power for their own ends. That’s not to say there aren’t still good people within these studios, people who fight hard against crappy management and decisions to craft games into art that they are proud to send off into the world. They just probably aren’t the ones in charge.
So before you take to Twitter to swear that your favorite developer would never do such a thing, take a moment and read this guide for steps that you as a consumer can take to both help those affected and remove our beloved studios from their pedestals and into the fallible realm of reality.
This might seem counterintuitive to those who, like myself, use Twitter as a newsource. But being on social media when your favorite company gets exposed can be very emotional, and you might want to respond immediately without knowing any of the facts. And you don’t wanna be one of those people, would you? As soon as word of a story reaches you, turn off Twitter and tune into Google instead.
By the time breaking news reaches you, it’s often not breaking anymore. You’re instead reading it filtered through a News Writer, complete with our various summations and personal touches, which is fine! It’s important that news disseminates into as many places as possible for ease of access and diversity of opinion, but it’s important to remember that we all get the news from somewhere: the initial story.
Try to track down this article—sometimes it’s on Bloomberg or Axios or GameIndustry.biz, other times it’s on a government website. These journalists are often professionals in their field, so while you might not understand everything they’re talking about, engaging with the primary source will help provide a deeper understanding of the bigger picture of what’s going on. If the language or content gets a bit specific and confusing, head back to those news summaries; chances are the writer has condensed it into something more understandable.
This is the time to do your research and ask the following questions: Is it one person or are there multiple sources? Has the company responded yet, and if not how have they responded to similar accusations in the past? Internal problems likely didn’t appear overnight; this just might be the first time they’ve become public knowledge instead of an industry-wide dirty little secret. Have the police or governmental bodies gotten involved? Perhaps most importantly, how are employees reacting to the situation?
You’ve steered clear of airing your opinion and started doing research—congrats! But now is probably the hardest step of all: taking it all in. Put away all the technology and do literally anything else—go for a walk, make a fun lunch, plot to destroy the world—all while the news marinates within your brain. This is the time to think about all the questions detractors online will ask and respond with your wittiest, most intellectually sound comment.
For example: Well Kyle145569, the only thing crunch is good for is peanut butter. There’s a difference between putting in extra effort and being forced by company policy or culture to work overtime on problems that could’ve been avoided with better management.
Feels good, right?
You might notice that some of the questions you respond to stop coming from online trolls and more from you personally. It’s often difficult to reconcile the friendly faces of these companies and their games that have influenced so much of your life with the terrible things they are being accused of. In order to truly start figuring out the best ways to help those affected, you must come to terms with the fact that [INSERT COMPANY HERE] is not your friend.
Let me say that again: companies are not your friend. Is three times enough? I hope so. Developers may employ people you like, they may tell stories that resonate with you, they may even do good things now and then, but they aren’t going to do something that does not benefit them in the long-term. Sometimes that may line-up with popular opinion, sure, but not always.
As with celebrities, parasocial relationships with companies have got to stop. It’s wonderful when the CEOs are happy mascots and even better when their amiability lines up with announcements and initiatives that reward their fanbase. But we don’t know these people intimately, and we never will. That’s perfectly okay, in fact it’s how it should be. You can support their work without thinking of them as your good buddies. Having this critical distance will not only save you future heartbreak but allow you to finally fully engage with the people who matter most within companies: the employees.
With all the emotional baggage and parasocial demons out of the way, you’re finally in a place to start actually helping out those affected by allegations. There are many ways to go about helping, and many are situationally specific, so allow me to put a list within this list and run through a few common examples:
A. Leave the people who have lent their voice in accusing the company of something alone. Speaking up against institutional errors takes an enormous amount of strength and courage, and they’re bound to be overwhelmed by everything. Feel free to send your love and support their way once or twice, and then listen to what they want. Did they make a big thread? Retweet it instead of co-opting their words. Do they want to be left alone? Then leave them out of it! Simple as that. Respect both them and their time, and it’ll go a long way to making what’s certainly a difficult experience slightly better.
B. Listen to the employees who still are with the company. Many of them are often fighting against the issues in their own way, so don’t sling shit their way about how they can justify working for such a bad place. Focus your energy elsewhere: if there’s a petition going around, sign it, and if there’s a protest scheduled, support it.
C. Retweet employees looking for jobs. You may not be in the games industry, but maybe someone who follows you is, or that follower knows someone else who is. Retweets go a long way to spread resumes and create connections. At the very least, it assures the employee that they aren’t simply screaming into the void.
People are tired of being unjustly harmed by those who abuse their power, and the only way to make sure that changes is by creating greater accountability for their wrongdoings. No matter how big they are, these developers are nothing without their employees, so it’s probably best to stop fucking with them and to start helping them. Restructuring the systems in place that led to these abuses would be a pretty great initial step. Some companies are taking steps already—Insomniac developing without crunch, indie studio VodeoGames unionizing, various studios enacting four-day work weeks, and the massive win of Raven Software unionizing—but there’s always more work to be done.
This article only scratches the surface of these situations and how complex they are, but it’s a start. There are even more difficult conversations about the best ways to support the developers—do we buy a game made by a talented team even if the studio/IP is a poisoned well?—that must be had. Being an informed consumer, and a generally decent human being, are ways that we can start trying to incite the transformation toward a better industry. If you truly love something, you should never be afraid to criticize it.
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.