Here’s a shocker…racism is alive and well in the video gaming community. We are growing more and more accustomed to seeing it perpetuated among gamers and in the video games themselves. Oftentimes we find ourselves blaming the use of racist and sexist stereotypes in video games on a lack of diversity within dev shops themselves. Recently we saw that it is not as simple as that. A young African American man, going by the name Qu33riousity, claiming to work for Kixeye studio has revealed in a detailed blog post the kind of racism, sexism, and homophobia he was subjected to while working at Kixeye.
Qu33riousity is backing up his online accusations with a lawsuit. He details instances of racism that range from being told that his manner of dress was too “thuggish” to being told that he was being too sensitive because the racist jokes that were prevalent around the office were just that, jokes. Why should he be so sensitive anyway? Slavery has been abolished and if he is not a slave (and actively so) that he should not be offended by the jokes. He also claims that he is told that not only is racism not allowed at the studio, but even bringing up “concerns” about racism is not tolerated. (The tumblr posts by Qu33riousity have since been removed, but Kotaku (who broke the story) was lucky enough to capture the entire mess).
The next week I come into work and find a message from Mike on Skype:
“I have to talk to you later, its not a really big deal but they brought it up to me.”
We step into a conference room during lunch.
“Steve wanted me to let you know that we’re dressing too thuggish in the office and we need to dress in a way that reflects the company better.”
I take a very deep breath through my nose. I tell [Steve], rather I clarify for him that many things said by him and other people in the office has been racist, sexist, homophobic, transpho-
“Whoa whoa whoa, those comments you’re hearing aren’t racist; they’re jokes!”
“The problem is that you’re too sensitive. You need to check all that at the door before you come here to work.”
“We don’t even tolerate people brining up concerns of racism here.”
I try to push back, pointing out the realities of the world, that there are policies and laws that maintain racial inequality so it’s not feasible to check the impact of reality “at the door.”
“No, you’re too sensitive, that’s the problem. I acknowledge that racism happens out there in the world at times, but racism doesn’t happen in this office.”
“Besides, there are transvestites on the team that I hired.”
Oh my lord, so hiring “transvestites” somehow absolves you racist? Prior, I had noticed that indeed there were a few transwomen working in the office. All of them white, and all the while homophic and transphobic comments still riddle the office like bullet holes despite their presence.
Going back to the matter at hand, Steve then proceeds to do what white men always can’t help but do: “educate.”
“Let me tell you, it’s ok to make jokes about slavery because that’s over.”
Yeah, receiving that felt like a bolt of energy striking the center of my head and slicing my body in two.
“Are you a slave? Is anyone you know a slave? No, so jokes are fine because that’s in the past.”
Now I don’t know how surprised we should be that these conversations are coming from within the same company that made it clear that they were looking for Brogrammers and that if someone was made uncomfortable by their politics that they weren’t welcome because they wouldn’t fit in anyway (something that Sheri Graner Ray brought to our attention back in 2011 on her blog Fem IRL and I responded to here). Kixeye’s recruitment video (released back in July of this year) kind of speaks for itself (N.B. the language is NSFW or kids in the room)
It is important to note that Kixeye CEO Will Harbin has issued a statement that claims that the blogger involved in the lawsuit was a former, short term contract employee (I guess complaining about racism really wasn’t tolerated) and that after a thorough investigation that some substantial corrective action was taken. (I wonder how many full time, permanent folks of color Kixeye has.)
All of this speaks to a culture of racism that exists in the video game community writ large. Here at NYMG have talked about racism within the online gaming community and in video games themselves ad nauseum. Kixeye demonstrates that this racism extends even to the developers themselves and offers some evidence that the racist stereotypes that we see in video games is indeed malicious and intentional and not the work of the developers ignorant of what they are doing.
There is much work to be done in the industry and in our community to make it not only more inclusive, but seemingly to make it at all tolerable and tolerant.
Update: Will Harbin has announced that 4 Kixeye employees (including a team leader) have been fired over this incident and that they have hired a new HR person to do sensitivity training. Harbin claims that investigations into Qu33riousity’s allegations are ongoing and further actions will be taken, if warranted.