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New allegations of sexual assault surface against established game devs

Update: Several more developers have come forward with abuse allegations against other prominent men in the game industry in the wake of yesterday's accusations.

Kris Graft, Contributor

August 28, 2019

6 Min Read

CW: Sexual assault

Several game developers have publicly revealed new allegations of sexual assault, perpetrated by prominent men in the game industry.

The reports come years after the #MeToo movement initially swept through Hollywood, outing powerful men who used their influence often against up-and-comers. People privy to similar sexual assault and misconduct in the game industry have since wondered if the movement would sweep through the game industry. Today's stories - not all of which are even accounted for in this short article - will almost certainly not be the last.

Last night, Nathalie Lawhead, an award winning game developer, designer, and artist, published a lengthy retelling of their rape in the post, "Calling out my rapist."

Though only published earlier today, Lawhead’s post has kicked off a wider conversation about abuse at the hands of, in their words, “game industry legends,” and prompted other developers to disclose similar misconduct they’ve experienced. However, many still say that they don’t feel safe sharing their own experiences for fear that their stories will fall on uncaring ears.

In the blog post, Lawhead identified composer Jeremy Soule, known best for his work on Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls franchise, but whose work has been included in dozens of games, as the alleged assailant who attacked her about 10 years ago.

"As things went on, he started to become more misogynistic and sexist," Lawhead wrote. Their recounting described a friendship that went south as he made unwanted advances, placing himself in the role of the victim. The post also describes subsequent contracting jobs where Soule and men at the head of studios would routinely demean and gaslight Lawhead.

"He talked about the mystical power women hold over men with sex," Lawhead wrote of Soule. "How men are helpless and they need sex. How he needs sex, and a relationship, so he can write his music."

Lawhead, who has since won the Independent Games Festival Nuovo award for Tetrageddon Games in 2015 followed by awards and nominations for Everything is Going to be OK, tweeted the blog post saying to share it and put it "on full blast. I don't want any woman to ever get hurt by him again."

Soule's social media presence, including Twitter, Bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram, have either been deactivated or have had all content deleted.

Lawhead's post prompted another notable game designer and writer, Zoe Quinn, to name game developer Alec Holowka, best known for the games Aquaria and the popular indie game Night in the Woods, as the man who allegedly sexually assaulted and emotionally abused them while visiting Winnipeg. The relationship took place shortly shortly following a previous alleged sexual assault committed against Quinn, who had just started their game development career.

Holowka and Quinn were romantically involved, though their relationship devolved into physical assault and emotional abuse. His mood swings, according to Quinn, resulted in Quinn frequently hiding in the bathroom.

"I was scared to leave," Quinn wrote. "I was scared to tell anyone...When I got home [from Winnipeg], I sent a cordial and friendly breakup email. He lashed out and banned me from an indie games community he ran...He tried to ruin the career I'd barely started. To a degree it worked."

While Quinn and Lawhead's posts commanded most of the conversation about sexual abuse in the game industry today, their posts prompted other members of the game industry to bring their own stories to light for the first time -- and some to repeat their stories, which were previously almost wholly ignored.

Mina Vanir, comms specialist at Black Forest Games, resurfaced a thread she posted almost a year ago, this time naming her alleged assailant along with the chat logs between her and Vlad Micu, a game industry biz dev consultant.

"Today a lot of brave women came forward and gave me strength," Vanir wrote today. "It's been two years now. Last week I learned that I was not the last. I hope what I'm going to do now will help."

We've reached out to Bethesda Softworks and Holowka for comment.

Update: Two of the other developers behind Night in the Woods have tweeted that the team is cutting ties with Holowka, and both postponed the game’s physical release and canceled another project as a result.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s allegations have encouraged more developers to come forward with their own stories of abuse by those in a position of power in the game industry. Those additional accusations include multiple against Weather Factory and Failbetter Games founder Alexis Kennedy from narrative designer Meg Jayanth, who herself tweeted to corroborate claims from parties that wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

Failbetter writer Olivia Wood later backed up Jayanth’s claims, saying she experienced predatory behavior from Kennedy during his time as CEO of Failbetter, a period in which they were in a secret relationship and while he was her direct manager. Additionally, Emily Short, who provided freelance work for a number of Failbetter projects, notes that “while none of these things happened to me, the stories I have heard chime with my own experiences of Alexis” in a thread naming those encounters.

Kennedy has since replied to Jayanth’s original tweets, saying that he denies the allegation and has never heard any other specific allegations outside of that one in question. He notes that he has had “a small number of fully consensual relationships with other people in the industry,” but says that the rest of the thread is a “malicious misrepresentation.” Kennedy closes his initial tweet by saying he is consulting with a lawyer and filing a police complaint “about what seems to be a campaign of harassment.”

Another developer, Owlchemy Labs Marketing Director Autumn Rose Taylor, tweeted accusations of sexual harassment against Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov. Taylor accuses Antonov, who has since departed Oculus, of inappropriately touching her while she demoed VR hardware at an industry party. Katie Chironis, previously a designer at Oculus, followed Taylor’s tweets about Antonov with her own story of sexual harassment at Oculus, harassment that was then reported to HR but she says resulted in the unnamed perpetrator remaining at Oculus despite the company’s zero-tolerance policy on such behavior.

Florence dev lead Tony Coculuzzi has also come forward to accuse Ken Wong, creative director at Florence developer Mountains, of emotional abuse toward developers working at his studio, particularly junior developers and including Coculuzzi himself. “Abuse, whether sexual, emotional, physical or verbal, should never have a place in a professional environment,” tweeted Coculuzzi.

In response, Wong eventually issued a public apology for the "pain and hurt" he inflicted on Coculuzzi and others, and admitted "there are a lot of things I should have done better."

"I'm truly sorry for the pain and hurt I caused [Coculuzzi] and that he's carried with him since," wrote Wong on Twitter. "There are a lot of things I should have done differently during that time. This was my failure as a leader and as a coworker. To the person who wrote the thread and to the other people I've hurt through my career: I'm sorry."

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