The fourth season premiere of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj shines a light on the dark side of the games industry.
Minhaj’s political and social commentary series addresses some of the industry’s major controversies such as crunch time, layoffs, harmful labor practices, microtransactions, and workplace harassment.
The documentary kicks off by explaining how a formerly small industry has grown to become one of the most profitable industries out there. Fortnite has blown up in a way that has made it bigger than Netflix and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption II broke sales records by making $725M in its launch weekend. None of this is really news anymore to people who have kept an eye on this industry. However, it comes at a price that is seldom brought up in mainstream discussions such as the one Minhaj has created with this episode. The people who developed that $60 copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 for you were ruthlessly exploited,burnt out, laid off with no severance package or health insurance, and mistreated by their higher-ups.
Targeting some of the drastic issues of the industry like workplace harassment, massive layoffs at companies like Telltale and Activision Blizzard, and industry turnover rates in response to crunch culture, Minhaj hits it all and with some help. To gather more details on sexual harassment, Minhaj sits down with senior Kotaku reporter Cecilia D’Anastasio who extensively covered the allegations of workplace harassment at League of Legends developer Riot Games. D’Anastasio explained that in her reporting she found that senior employees had formulated lists of women at the company they would want to sleep with to senior female employees being unable to hire other female peers to senior positions. “The culture at Riot was nuts, okay? People said they saw not just d**k pics, but their boss’s d**k pics,” she added. This is something that has been referred to as “bro culture.” Minhaj, visibly disgusted, commented that “Even men complain about the bro culture at Riot.”
The alarming detail about these troubling allegations is that even though there was evidence that Riot’s COO had been engaged in sexual harassment he was not terminated and is still presently at the company. He received a two-month suspension without pay.
Crunch, burnout, sexism, no safety net, no job security. It’s an unholy combination of things that many will argue should not happen or be part of the workplace. The majority of people don’t know any of this is happening, which Minhaj points out. “A lot of people outside the industry either don’t care or have no idea what is going on inside the company.” he said. When it comes to understanding the lack of job security it is best to talk with someone in the industry who has experienced being laid off by a game publisher or developer. Hasan was able to do that with former Telltale Games developer Emily Grace Buck, who was laid off in 2018 when the company shut its doors. Buck narrates a story of what it was like to be inside the crumbling Walking Dead developer as it laid off its entire staff. “To me, Telltale sounds like a really bad boyfriend who’s like ‘I’m telling you, this is great, we’re going to go the distance. “Then two weeks later it’s like ‘this is the end of our journey?’” Buck was quick to retort, “One of the things that are scary about games though is they’re all kind of bad boyfriends and you just need to pick which kind of bad you can live with.” She also points out that the turnover rate for gaming developers is exceptionally high. The average length for a developer to stay within the industry before burning out is five years.
It is sobering and definitely is asking for consumers to reflect on what goes into the things they’re consuming and blindly spending hundreds of dollars on annually. They may not know about crunch culture and how it causes PTSD or the industry’s appalling treatment of women right now, but when they found out they have to do something. Minhaj brings the episode to a close by saying, “The only way the industry can change is if players know how their games are made…”
What do you think of this news? Were you aware of the dark side of the industry? Let us know in the comments below!