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Activision Blizzard sued over sexual harassment allegations

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Former female employees of Activision Blizzard are coming forward to share their experiences at the company after a California state agency filed a civil rights lawsuit against the gaming giant alleging widespread sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination. Yahoo Finance’s Dan Howley joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down the key takeaways and what this means for the company.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Activision Blizzard now facing a lawsuit from four former employees charging harassment at the company and talking about a frat boy culture at the video game maker. Yahoo Finance's Dan Howley joins us now with the details on these latest allegations. Howley, and where the company goes from here and what they have said, if anything so far?

DAN HOWLEY: Yeah, It seems frat boy culture is a little too tame for what was allegedly going on here. We're talking about employees talking about how they were proud to be coming in hungover, they would do things called cube crawls, where they would wander around the office harassing people. There was sexual harassment, as well as gender discrimination, as well as gender and racial discrimination, against particularly, women of color who were micromanaged to the point of just being incredibly ridiculous. One woman said she had asked for time off and had to write a one-page summary of what she would do during that time, something that none of her other employees had to do.

Another woman allegedly committed suicide because of the harassment that she faced. She was having a relationship with a supervisor and apparently, other employees had shared nude photos of her at a holiday party. So this is something that really just seemed to be systemic throughout the company. One of the former creative directors of Blizzard's "World of Warcraft," one of their more popular games, was at an event called BlizzCon, it's an annual event that Blizzard holds, where they show off new games and apparently he was allowed to sexually harass women with impunity, groping them and saying that he would marry them and such.

So I spoke to a few former employees who said that it's every bit as bad as described in this lawsuit. That they were personally harassed and discriminated against. That they were treated as lesser because they were women. And in particular, that they would seem to get kind of the negative attention if they had tried to stand up for themselves, whereas their male colleagues were kind of patted on the back for that and received promotions ahead of them.

So this is going to be a major reckoning for Activision Blizzard. They say that the lawsuit is kind of without merit, that they weren't provided with enough information about it. And that they take allegations like this seriously. But this is something that the entire video game industry is kind of going through at this point. We had #MeToo in the TV and movie and music industries, video game industry kind of got a free pass. But since it's been dominated by men for so long, more women obviously have moved in because women make up 50% of all gamers. It's something that the industry is having to reckon with.

Ubisoft had to get rid of five executives because of similar claims, Riot Games had claims of harassment. So that is just the industry itself and then that doesn't even take into account the Gamergate fiasco that had happened several years back in which video game developers and writers who were women were targeted by misogynists online. That kind of spiraled out of control pretty terribly. So obviously, a big issue here that Activision Blizzard is going to have to deal with now.

JULIE HYMAN: Yeah, I wanted to get you to contextualize this a little bit more if you could, Dan. Because my brain immediately went to Gamergate, which I just looked up happened all the way back in 2014, right? And it's sort of astonishing. I mean, you say that they sort of got left out of #MeToo, but they had that early sort of wave of that because of Gamergate drawing attention. Has the culture not changed at all in that time in the gaming world? Have there been-- are there any pockets of sort of progress there or can we just assume like everything's kind of like this?

DAN HOWLEY: You know, there's been some progress I think with more independent developers and publishers who were trying to tamp down on this, trying to make their businesses more inclusive. Riot, for instance, they make League of Legends, when they were facing these kinds of accusations, they started a inclusivity and diversity office, where they tried to turn the culture around there. But you know, Gamergate was kind of, you can draw a line from that to the whole idea of this misogyny, groups along those lines, Proud Boys, those proud Western chauvinist kind of people, that's kind of where that dovetails almost with gaming. It turned off into these different types of movements, incels, things like that.

As far as the general gaming industry, I don't think there was that kind of reckoning when Gamergate came around. You know, they would say, companies would say these kinds of platitudes where they would try to say that we respect all women and things along those lines. But obviously, that hasn't been the case if you look at the recent incidents at Ubisoft, which was in 2020, and now this at Blizzard.

I don't think the general industry has had the kind of reckoning that it needed to have, especially as I said, you know, 50% of gamers are women. It's not like it's just a guy thing. And women want to be part of the development process of the games that they love and have loved since they were kids. So there needs to be some kind of movement here on a grander scale to really kind of put a stop to this kind of behavior.

MYLES UDLAND: All right, Yahoo Finance's Dan Howley. Thanks for bringing us this story on this Friday morning. Again, Activision Blizzard facing allegations of fostering an unhealthy work environment to say the very least.