Batman Arkham series developer Rocksteady Studios joins the growing list of developers embroiled in gaming’s #MeToo reckoning.
A new report published by The Guardian reveals that a letter dated Nov. 2018 describing instances of abuse and harassment at the studio was mostly dismissed and swept under the carpet by management.
The letter, which was signed by over half of the women working at the studio (10 out the 16 women employed at the time), raised complaints of misconduct, ranging from ‘slurs regarding the transgendered community’ to ‘discussing a woman in a derogatory or sexual manner with other colleagues,’ by way of groping, and ‘unwanted advances, leering at parts of a woman’s body, and inappropriate comments in the office.’
The letter was reportedly kept from the majority of staff, and in response, Rocksteady held a one-off one-hour company-wide seminar. One of the signatories spoke to The Guardian under the condition of anonymity, revealing that little has changed in the interim, prompting the departure of multiple women who signed the letter nearly two years ago.
The anonymous signatory explains that this dismissive attitude has implanted itself in Rocksteady games, notably the hyper-sexualized portrayal of characters such as Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn in the Arkham series.
Seemingly roused on by the threat of The Guardian article’s publication and the damning aspects of its internal culture going public, Rocksteady is said to have held an all-staff meeting last week to discuss the letter and promised new initiatives to tackle the abusive behavior.
A spokesperson provided the following statement acknowledging the existence of the letter:
“From day one at Rocksteady Studios, we set out to create a place where people are looked after, a place fundamentally built on respect and inclusion. In 2018 we received a letter from some of our female employees expressing concerns they had at that time, and we immediately took firm measures to address the matters that were raised. Over the subsequent two years we have carefully listened to and learned from our employees, working to ensure every person on the team feels supported. In 2020 we are more passionate than ever to continue to develop our inclusive culture, and we are determined to stand up for all of our staff.”
Following yesterday’s Guardian article, former senior writer at Rocksteady and the person who spearheaded the drafting of the letter, Kim MacAskill, published a video detailing their experience at the studio. You can watch it below.
MacAskill details further instances of misconduct, including an incident where they came across a fellow female employee in tears after being repeatedly groped and harassed by a male employee.
MacAskill explains the male coworker would frequently send messages after working hours and fabricate stories ‘that he was, in fact, sleeping with her.’ Despite raising concerns with HR, the female employee was forced to continue working alongside the abuser.
This incident, compounded by their own experience of sexism from a staffer still at the company, led MacAskill to sit down one-on-one with the women at Rocksteady and discover that all but one had suffered harassment and abuse in some form.
MacAskill describes a harrowing quote from one woman noting that ‘a day off for him is a day off for her.’ Other reported avoiding social events due to the abuse, seeking therapy, and weathering retaliatory complaints about their work after rejecting advances. The letter was penned shortly after that.
“HR tried to stop me at least twice, and I had members of higher management take me aside to not only tell me to stop what I was doing but to tell that to continue doing so would potentially jeopardize my position within the company. And not just that, would maybe even jeopardize my position of being hired by other companies going forward because I may be seen as a trouble maker.”
Rocksteady terminated MacAskill’s contract shortly after, justifying the decision by claiming that they could no longer afford to employ them, only to hire a replacement writer within a month.
Based on conversations with current employees, MacAskill understands that little has changed since the Nov. 2018 letter. Rocksteady’s recent steps to address the issues appear to be in direct response to the revelations going public, rather than a concerted effort eradicate these instances of misconduct.
Rocksteady is primed to reveal its next game , Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, in the days ahead. Whether fan anticipation for the title will eclipse these revelations remains to be seen, but there’s hope the spotlight could be instrumental in pressuring Rocksteady to alter its work culture.