As survivors of abuse continue to come forward with stories of harassment and abuse in the game industry, more allegations of misconduct have surfaced.
A story in The Guardian cites a letter dated November 2018 that was detailed publicly for the first time today and addressed to leaders at London-based Batman: Arkham Knight developer Rocksteady.
In the letter, signed by 10 of 16 total women on staff at the time, the women accused Rocksteady management of lack of response as staff would openly demean the transgender community, discuss "a woman in a derogatory or sexual manner with other colleagues,” and various kinds of sexual harassment, from leering to inappropriate comments.
According to The Guardian, the letter wasn't revealed widely to staff, and the response was one training seminar. Multiple women who signed the letter are no longer with the studio.
Kim MacAskill, a senior writer at Rocksteady at the time of the letter’s signing and one of the longest-serving writers on Rocksteady’s upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, came forward on the record in a video corroborating further details of misconduct at the studio.
MacAskill, responding following the publication of The Guardian article, was key in organizing and drafting the letter and putting it in front of studio management. She said that the company was “inept” at dealing with harassment issues. MacAskill explained one instance of how she found a woman colleague at the studio crying in the bathroom because a male coworker had groped her repeatedly.
That woman confided in her, and reported various incidents with that male coworker to HR, which conducted a lengthy investigation, during which time she had to continue working closely with the alleged abuser.
“It was a horrible time,” MacAskill said. “No one asked if we were ok...You felt like the alien that no one wants to come near.” Speaking out as a woman made her and the victim feel ostracized from the rest of the male-dominated studio, she said.
On her own accord, MacAskill reached out to the women at the studio. She said every one of them had a story of harassment to share aside from one that she spoke with. Two women that she didn’t approach were in HR. Ten women independently signed the letter out of the 16 total. The studio at the time was 250-300 people.
MacAskill said top management and HR told her multiple times to stop reaching out to women as she would jeopardize her job at Rocksteady and potentially her career in games if she became known as a “troublemaker.” The company let her go soon after these warnings, claiming they couldn’t “afford” her, then according to MacAskill the studio within a month hired a writer to replace her.
MacAskill said three days before the Guardian story was published this week, Rocksteady had only just then told the rest of the company that such a letter existed and were putting plans in place to counter such abusive behavior.
A statement from Rocksteady to The Guardian read:
“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.”
But MacAskill said despite Rocksteady’s claims of making the studio a better and safer place to work, she easily heard stories that the culture there is the same as ever.
“It’s only taken a couple of phone calls for me to realize that this behavior is still happening. It’s like all of our effort is meant for nothing. And that makes me feel more than anger,” she said. “Proper humiliation.”
MacAskill went as far to ask for her credit to not be included in the upcoming Suicide Squad game, while acknowledging that there was a good chance that she wouldn’t have been included anyway despite writing on the game for years.
“Seeing that things haven’t improved, Rocksteady, I am formally asking you to take my name off of your game,” she said. “I don’t want to be associated with your game, I don’t want to be associated with your company.”
“You don’t deserve the devs you have…you’ll never deserve how good this game actually is,” MacAskill said.
“Most of the people, and I really do mean most—97 percent, 98 percent, it might even be 99 percent—of the devs in that studio are some of the nicest people that I really care about," she said. "They are kind, they are respectful, they are wonderful and talented and they made me feel so included.”
Allegations against Warner Brothers-owned Rocksteady come on the heels of rampant reports of harassment in the game industry over the past couple months, including a slew of complaints, resignations, and firings within France-based publisher Ubisoft.
Update: Rocksteady's official Twitter account posted the following message reportedly penned by women still working at the studio who say the culture has improved since that letter:
While working on our response to the recent news, we received the following unsolicited letter. pic.twitter.com/sozmsp6u3C— Rocksteady Studios (@RocksteadyGames) August 19, 2020
MacAskill responded as such:
In taking @RocksteadyGames 's response, I just want to add that I am whole heartedly apologetic to any female involved that feels their privacy was infringed. For me, it was important to speak. We all signed it, the stories ARE true and they take no accountability.— Kim MacAskill (@kimmacaskill1) August 19, 2020