For the ongoing series, Code Word, we’re exploring if — and how — technology can protect individuals against sexual assault and harassment, and how it can help and support survivors.
What started as a small collection of voices on Twitter has now ballooned into a full-blown movement, as more and more women in gaming come forward with accusations against men who’ve allegedly abused or assaulted them. As several observers have pointed out, it seems long overdue for the industry.
Several women came forward earlier this week to disclose the names of men who’d sexually abused them or engaged in predatory behavior, and now many more have followed. One of the people named in the second wave is Michael Antonov, one of the cofounders of Oculus. Autumn Rose Taylor, marketing director for developer Owlchemy Games, alleged that Antonov used the cover of an Oculus VR demo to grope her.
Fuck it. That this experience sticks with me years later… means something. This person in a position of power when VR was new made me feel small. I shouldn’t discredit my experience. Michael Antonov was a fucking creep to me at an Oculus event. Men don’t get to keep doing this. https://t.co/Q0vaIy20BK
— Autumn Rose Taylor ? #OC6 (@lusterly_) August 28, 2019
Antonov is no longer with Oculus, but Andrew Bosworth, the current VP of VR at Facebook, responded to Taylor on Twitter, saying, “I’m sorry it happened then and that you have to face the trauma again now.” He also linked to the company’s policy on workplace complaints and said, “I do not accept this behavior… You can hold me accountable if that’s not what you experience with Oculus or AR/VR at Facebook today.” Others called him out on this by linking to a tweet from Riot Games’ narrative designer Katie Chironis, who said that she was harassed by an Oculus employee at a company party and reported it to HR to no avail.
I was sexually harassed at an oculus holiday party in front of about 10 other employees, several of whom instantly came forward to corroborate the story when I reported it to HR. the guy still works there. Oculus’s “zero tolerance” policy is a real soft zero, as it turns out https://t.co/4i6CO8KMoT
— Katie Chironis (@kchironis) August 28, 2019
Another name that’s been added to the list of alleged abusers is Alexis Kennedy, one of the founders of studios Failbetter and Weather Factory. Meg Jayanth and Olivia Wood, writers who’ve worked with Kennedy during his tenure at Failbetter, both accused him of inappropriate behavior and emotional abuse towards women who worked with him.
An anon account has been naming abusers in the games industry. Alexis Kennedy is one of them. I can't speak to the motives of the anon, but Alexis is a well-known predator in the games industry. I have been warning people about him for years.
— meg jayanth (@betterthemask) August 28, 2019
I was in a relationship with Alexis Kennedy for nearly two years. He was my line manager the entire time. It was kept a secret from the whole company, including the board. https://t.co/551cdUqpTG
— Olivia Wood ? (@babelfishwars) August 28, 2019
As with the MeToo movement of recent years, the primary platform the accusers are using to share their stories is Twitter. Sometimes their accusers have responded in kind. Kennedy published a statement on Twitter in direct reply to one, saying “I have taken legal advice and I am making a police complaint about what seems to be a campaign of harassment.”
That said, at least one person who’s been accused has admitted some culpability — developer Ken Wong, who, while not accused of sexual abuse or assault, was accused of emotional abuse by former colleague Tony Coculuzzi. Coculuzzi said he was “abused to the point of depression and suicide” and that Wong berated at least one female employee “until she was sobbing uncontrollably, Every Single Day, for months.” Wong has since published a statement on Twitter admitting to having caused Coculuzzi “hurt.” He apologizes and claims to have bettered himself since his time working with Coculuzzi.
— ken wong (@kenwongart) August 29, 2019
Alongside these allegations, people within the indie community have started shunning the accused. As stated in our previous article, one of the co-developers of Night in the Woods gave his support of Zoe Quinn following her story about Alec Holowka, and stating that Holowka wouldn’t be part of the game moving forward.
This week, allegations of past abuse have come to light regarding Alec Holowka, who was coder, composer, and co-designer on Night In The Woods. We take such allegations seriously as a team. As a result and after some agonizing consideration, we are cutting ties with Alec.
— Night In The Woods (@NightInTheWoods) August 28, 2019
After the allegations against Kennedy came to light, Failbetter Games (which Kennedy cofounded) cut ties with him on a Twitter post. The spokesperson running the account said the developers understand that it’s often difficult to separate artist from art, and that Kennedy’s actions may color their appreciation of Fallen London and Sunless Sea, two games he worked on.
We believe and stand with everyone who has come forward to speak out about Alexis Kennedy tonight.
— Failbetter Games | PAX West (@failbettergames) August 28, 2019
One of the immediate aftershocks of MeToo was the retaliation against the accused by the companies who’d previously stood in solidarity with them. We’re seeing that now with regards to the indie games industry, but we’ve yet to see this ripple out to the greater AAA companies, where surely more names and more stories are waiting to come to light.