Stand up for labor violations in the gaming industry

By Alex Osornio, May 10, 2022

On April 15, a complaint was filed against Nintendo of America with the National Labor Relations Board by an anonymous employee with allegations that Nintendo violated the employee’s right to organize.

In the wake of this report, gaming news site Kotaku received word from multiple current and former Nintendo employees sharing stories of, among other things, low wages, being denied health insurance and being uncredited for their work.

On May 3, IGN would release its own report which included statements from current and former contractors who worked with Nintendo of America. More experiences were shared that included contractors being afraid to leave their desks for any amount of time, a lack of opportunities for contractors to become full-time employees and being treated as “second-class citizens.”

While the exact details of the initial complaint are rather ambiguous, there is the added context that this news broke in the midst of a mass labor movement to which the games industry is no stranger.

It is hard to be surprised by this news after countless stories of toxic work environments across nearly every sector of the games industry, both big and small. Even Nintendo, the company that practically saved the games industry from its deathbed nearly 40 years ago, is not immune from criticism or wrongdoing.

The amount of sentimental value that Nintendo has in the hearts and minds of gamers is unmatched in the industry. How many companies can be a part of the childhood memories of so many people while continuing to hold a strong stake in the industry?

This is a company that has made games that have not only been part of my gaming history since I was a child, but that are also part of my life. Perhaps more so now than ever, I hold Nintendo games, both old and new, close to my heart. To think that the people who made these experiences possible were treated unjustly is unbelievably demoralizing, especially from a company with this level of prestige.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

This long-standing reputation is something every game company is aware of and strives for. Having the games your company makes be part of someone’s life is the first step toward creating a fanbase that will go to bat for you no matter what.

This recently occurred with games studio FromSoftware, developers of the critically lauded and multi-million seller Elden Ring, arguably the biggest game release of the year thus far. In the weeks after the game’s widely anticipated release, reports began surfacing from employee responses to job boards going as far back as 2012, describing familiar stories of unfair compensation, mistreatment towards women employees and extreme work hours.

Although I have yet to play Elden Ring, the wave of excitement surrounding its release was impossible to ignore. It seemed that everyone was either playing the game or couldn’t stop talking about it. However, as someone who is well aware of past labor issues in the games industry, my head was instinctively turned toward these reports.

It was then that I saw just how fast a fanbase was to defend its favorite company from criticism, even in the face of some frankly terrifying allegations. I saw fans trying to brush workplace violations under the rug just so they can enjoy their fancy new product in peace. It was an unsettling display, but not a shocking one.

This was not the first time I had seen it happen in recent memory. Polish developer CD Projekt Red experienced a similar controversy with its 2020 release, Cyberpunk 2077. Up until its release, it was basically another Elden Ring in terms of impact, complete with reports of labor injustices, mismanagement and a fanbase that was quick to shield its favorite developers from criticism.

One notorious example of this came from the reporting of former Game Informer editor Liana Ruppert who posted a public service announcement on the game after experiencing at least one seizure while playing the game. In response, her social media profiles were barraged with videos meant to induce photosensitive seizures.

The mere act of trying to keep other people from experiencing a serious medical emergency was enough to get droves of fans to try to put someone through that very hardship.

And for what? For a company whose relationship with you ends at the checkout counter? I could maybe understand why one would defend a company if it directly contributed to their livelihood in some way. But for a corporate body that would never know your name? It’s stupefying.

This phenomenon is particularly interesting with the recent news about Nintendo. Once Stephen Totilo of Axios reported on the initial complaint and more stories started coming in, I immediately expected to start seeing fans come out of the woodworks like good little consumers to downplay these reports.

Thankfully, it seems that more people are savvy to the realities of the industry. Many responses I’ve seen on Twitter have been more charitable toward the situation with many lamenting the fact that not even the mighty Nintendo is immune to the plague of labor violations.

This is a great sign, but the issues go further and deeper than any one company. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nintendo, Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft or any number of studios that face similar controversies. If even one employee faces mistreatment or abuse, that is one person too many.

If the company responsible for your favorite game turns out to have skeletons in its closet, nothing can be gained from turning a blind eye to it. Make the world aware of these offenses and most importantly, demand better.

Gaming is more popular than it has ever been. If you care about the industry and want it to improve, start acting like it.

Feature image by Sharon Wu. 

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