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What’s actually being done about workplace harassment in the video games industry | Games

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If you’ve followed gaming news over the past couple of years, it has been impossible to avoid the many appalling stories about workplace harassment and discrimination that have emerged as part of a long-overdue reckoning in the games industry. As a woman who’s worked in the games media for over 15 years, I can only say that I have been grimly unsurprised by the revelations. The consequences that women face for speaking out on these issues has meant that until recently, few were willing to do so publicly. Last month, however, marked a turning point, as Riot Games paid out $100m in a settlement to more than 2,000 women who brought a case against it for gender discrimination. Other scandal-hit publishers and developers will be quaking in their boots.

It is not an exaggeration to say that workplace harassment is endemic in the video games industry. Off-colour humour, boys’-club mentality and sexist or racist ‘banter’ might once have been written off as “studio culture” (I have heard this with my own ears), but companies are now facing consequences for failing to protect their employees from the harmful people who have unfortunately found a home in game development. At this point, few of the biggest companies in gaming remain entirely untouched by allegations and lawsuits. So what is it that can actually be done to ensure that the people making games can count on a decent working environment free of creeps and bullies, especially at huge studios comprised of hundreds or thousands of people?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is difficult to get executives at big video game companies to comment on this. But I spoke to EA’s Chris Bruzzo, who as the company’s chief experience officer was put in charge of creating a more positive culture both for EA’s employees and its players, and seems committed to the task. “It was about four years ago that we as a leadership team spoke very clearly to the whole company about not tolerating harassment, abuse or misconduct,” he says. “We have made significant investments and seriously stepped up consequences in our offices all over the world, to ensure that people who feel that they’ve been harassed or abused get heard … I myself have exited several people from the company in the past five years.”

EA has 11,000 employees globally, which of course increases the odds of someone, somewhere behaving inappropriately on any given day. Bruzzo acknowledges that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to ensure a safe and welcoming work environment for everyone, but believes that the biggest companies in games have the resources to combat harassment at the source. Unconscious bias training is now mandatory at EA, reporting tools allow anyone to flag issues they may be experiencing, and the company has also diversified its hiring; as of this year, EA is one of few companies to have closed its gender pay gap, according to its internal reporting. When somebody is told that they’re breaking the code of contact, he says, they will generally apologise and change their behaviour. “When you tell people about what they’re doing and the harm it’s causing others, intentionally or unintentionally, 9 times out of 10 that’s all you gotta do.”

Bruzzo tells me that he was previously himself the victim of a toxic working environment, involving a boss who was a bully, and so has first-hand experience of the toll it can take. “This person would call me late at night or on the weekends and scream and yell, threaten to fire me; in large meetings they would question why I was even at the company or why I was born,” he says. “I had to take anxiety medication, my health was deteriorating … it was pretty serious. When I resigned, people said, we didn’t know that you couldn’t take it. This is very personal to me.”

There are, in Bruzzo’s opinion, three things that the biggest companies in gaming need to prioritise if things are going to change for the better. “First we have to really set the expectation, be on the record, that we will no longer be bystanders; and second we need great tools for investigating and enforcing. Third and most importantly we have to take concrete steps towards improving diversity and inclusion, in our company and in our games … We’re not going to get the kind of real gains we need to get until we start to hire our employees in a way that eliminates more biases and creates diversity.”

I agree entirely that if actual, lasting change is going to be effected in the games industry, it needs to be a priority for every company that makes games. People known to be toxic can’t be allowed to simply bounce from studio to studio. Lip-service to diversity can’t take the place of actual investment of serious time, money and effort in rooting out problem people and solving hiring biases. It’s an expensive problem to solve – but given the legal, reputational and share-price cost to publishers and developers who have let these issues run riot, it’s going to be much more expensive to ignore it.

What to play

A screenshot of Wordle, the word going viral this month
Word of mouth … A screenshot of Wordle, the word going viral this month Photograph: powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle

It’s unlikely that you’ve escaped Wordle so far this year, a super-simple online word game that went from totally unknown to ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE in the last month, but if you’re still wondering what all those wee squares in your social media feeds are, this is it. It’s extremely simple: go to the Wordle website every day and try to guess a new five-letter word. You have five guesses and it’ll tell you which letters you got right. What’s particularly endearing about this puzzle game, as Simon Parkin explains in his review, is that it was made by a guy called Josh Wardle last year as a gift for his partner, and remains entirely unmonetised. Given how wantonly capitalistic the games industry mostly is, that makes for a nice change.

What to read

  • A few weeks ago this newsletter took a critical look at the sketchy economy behind Roblox, the wildly popular game platform that’s valued at over $40bn and used daily by tens of millions of kids. For the Observer, Simon Parkin uncovered several truly alarming stories of abuse, exploitation and grooming from the platform’s young developers, which only highlights the urgent need for more scrutiny of these platforms.

  • Speaking of kids and online safety, the UK’s data watchdog is “seeking talks” with Facebook owner Meta because a bunch of parents bought their kids an Oculus VR headset over Christmas and were shocked to discover that it has no parental controls, and apps like VRChat are basically unmoderated, resulting in a lot of inappropriate conversations with minors. I donned my Quest 2 headset and returned to VRChat after a couple of years’ absence to discover somewhere that reminded me of the wild west of the early internet: random, full of trolls and dominated by edgelord humour. So, pretty much like most other places online. Given what we all know about Facebook, and given how endemic toxicity is in all online worlds, at this stage I highly doubt that any big tech company has the will or the means to make the virtual world universally safe and pleasant.

  • E3 – the June event at which every company that makes video games traditionally whips up a frenzy of hype for whatever’s next – will again be digital-only this year. For me, that means three days of sitting in front of a laptop watching an overwhelming barrage of game trailers and trying to calibrate what’s most interesting, as opposed to three days of running around a big sweaty conference hall in LA watching an overwhelming barrage of game demos and trying to calibrate what’s most interesting. For the wider games industry, this raises questions about whether these huge in-person events will ever return, and whether they should.

  • The developers of forthcoming run-away-from-the-zombies game Dying Light 2 have proudly announced that it will take at least 500 hours to 100% complete it. The Internet has reacted to this news with either excitement or a kind of dead-eyed existential ennui, depending on the age and life circumstances of the player in question.

What to click

Question Block

This week’s question comes from Pat McGibbon, who asks: As a keen gamer and also a hobbyist language learner, I often change the settings to play games in a foreign language. Do any other readers do this, or am I the only one?

You’re definitely not the only one, Pat, because I am also a huge language nerd and I also do this! It’s how I learned one of the Japanese alphabets: in order to navigate the menus in the weird PS2 games I used to play on import as a teen, I had to be able to read katakana. I played the first Mass Effect with German subtitles to make myself feel better about playing it instead of studying for my German degree. The Yakuza games helped me keep up my Japanese for a while after living there. In Assassin’s Creed I switch to the “native” language of the game wherever possible. When you’re a native English speaker it can be really difficult to find films, TV or music to absorb in another language, because English is the global default – but plenty of games have full voicing in several languages, and I find that because you’re actually doing stuff in games rather than just watching, some of it actually sticks.

If you’ve got a question for Question Block or anything to say about the newsletter, email us on pushingbuttons@guardian.co.uk.

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Culture

‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.


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