"Batman: Arkham Knight" "Batman: Arkham Knight"

Six weeks ago, three senior Ubisoft executives were ousted amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. Now claims of sexist behavior and harassment are dividing the U.K.’s Rocksteady Studios, another game developer.

The controversy has unfolded in several stages. On Tuesday, The Guardian published details of a letter signed in November 2018 by ten of the 16 women who worked for Rocksteady at the time. The letter, addressed to bosses, accused them of inaction over widespread sexism at the studio, which is known for the Batman: Arkham series and owned by AT&T’s Warnermedia.

The behavior detailed in the letter included “slurs regarding the transgendered community,” “discussing a woman in a derogatory or sexual manner with other colleagues,” and sexual harassment “in the form of unwanted advances, leering at parts of a woman’s body, and inappropriate comments in the office.”

The letter was shown to The Guardian by one of its signatories, who still works at Rocksteady and claims little has changed. “I have heard everything from groping claims to incidents involving [senior staff], all of whom are men,” she said. “Yet the only thing we had as a result was a company-wide seminar that lasted an hour. Everyone who attended was asked to sign a statement confirming that they’d received the training. It felt that it was a just way for them to cover their arses.” She also said that the management’s ongoing inaction has led other signatories to leave Rocksteady.

Spurred by the Ubisoft scandal, the signatory, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided to make the letter public. She explained: “I think a good outcome [of publicizing the letter] is basically showing the games industry in general [that] no matter how big your company is, how much you promote it as supportive of diversity, if you keep putting your head in the sand you will eventually be outed.”

On Wednesday, Rocksteady responded on Twitter by publishing what it describes as an “unsolicited” letter from other female employees. The letter rebuts the Guardian source’s allegation that the studio didn’t adequately respond to the original letter from 2018. According to Rocksteady, eight of the 2018 letter’s signatories still work at the company, and seven of them endorsed this new statement.

The statement’s authors, who also wish to remain anonymous, write: “We do not feel that [the Guardian] article is a fair representation of us, the events at the time or since the letter was received.” They credit management with taking “immediate action” in response to the 2018 letter, creating “a safe space to talk about any issues we were facing, figure out strategies to resolve these issues and what the studio could do going forward.”

The statement continues, “Continued efforts have been made to ensure that we have a voice within our work and within the studio, ranging from involvement specifically with how our characters are represented to workshops to help build self-confidence within male-dominated industries.”

The Guardian source claimed that the 2018 letter had been kept private for two years partly because of a culture of secrecy at Rocksteady, and partly because staff feared they would be denied credit on its upcoming game Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League if they spoke out. The new statement contradicts this, too: “[The letter] was kept private for personal reasons to all involved, not due to industry secrecy.”

Meanwhile, Kim MacAskill, a former writer at Rocksteady, took to Youtube [see video below] to reveal that she was the author of the 2018 letter. Commenting on the Guardian article — but speaking before Rocksteady’s response — MacAskill, who left the company in 2019, said, “When I left, I thought that things had improved, and I’m learning that they haven’t. I am so angry. So angry.” She added that her letter was prompted by her experience with one sexist individual, who she says is still at the company.

The Guardian reports that on August 13, after it contacted Rocksteady for comment, its management convened an all-staff meeting and revealed the existence of the 2018 letter to the whole company for the first time. The newspaper understands that new initiatives to combat discrimination were promised.

A Rocksteady spokesperson told The Guardian: “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.”

Far from settling the matter, Rocksteady’s publication of the new letter has only inflamed the controversy. Many on Twitter criticized the company’s reaction:

The mention of workshops “to help build self-confidence” also raised eyebrows:

Others criticized The Guardian’s reporting:

Two people claiming to be a Rocksteady employee and ex-employee defended the statement:

(Image at top: “Batman: Arkham Knight.”)

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