Two women, an independent game developer and a vocalist, on Monday night accused famed video game composer Jeremy Soule, best known for his musical work on games like Guild Wars and Skyrim, of sexually predatory behaviour and, according to the game developer, rape.
Soule denied the game developer’s accusations, calling them “outrageous” in a message to Kotaku today, and when asked about the vocalist’s accusations, told Kotaku he does “not agree with her point of view.”
Both women described Soule pressuring them into romantic relationships while they were in vulnerable positions professionally, socially, and financially in their respective fields. They said they felt like Soule took advantage of them, offering advice and professional support. Yet when these women turned down his romantic advances, they told Kotaku, Soule thwarted their professional opportunities in what the women saw as retaliation.
Jeremy Soule is one of the most celebrated game soundtrack composers of all time, having helmed the soundtracks for The Elder Scrolls, Guild Wars, Stars Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and dozens of other games over the past two decades. In recent years, however, he’s been the subject of controversy. In March 2013, Soule raised $US121,277 ($180,071) from over 4,200 fans on Kickstarter for a new album, but over six years later, he has still not delivered it in full.
Yesterday, the album’s publisher, Materia Collective, announced they “terminated our working relationship with Jeremy Soule” and are “no longer involved in any aspect of” the album. Three women who spoke with Kotaku, including one of the accusers mentioned above, said they were offered work on that album, but that the deals fell through after they turned down romantic advances from Soule. Soule did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment about these specifics.
Nathalie Lawhead, a veteran developer best known for making small independent games like Tetrageddon, wrote a lengthy blog post on Monday night accusing Soule of sexual misconduct. “He made advances on me and I explained that I didn’t want this and wanted a friendship. He was very threatening, and didn’t listen,” she wrote. “He made it clear that it’s ‘him or bust.’ He raped me.”
Soule denied Lawhead’s allegations Tuesday in a text message to Kotaku: “These 11 year old allegations are false. I am shocked and saddened that these outrageous claims have been made.”
In an interview with Kotaku on Wednesday afternoon, Nathalie Lawhead described how she met Soule at a Christmas party in 2008 while working at Smoking Gun Interactive, a game studio in Vancouver, Canada. Having just started at the studio, Lawhead said, she was having trouble with her visa and struggling at her job, which she attributed to “poor management.”
The two bonded over art and their creative processes, and she said Soule immediately expressed his desire to help advance her career. Soon, they started seeing each other more often on the weekends, she said. “He acted like he was going to help me. He was something of a mentor.”
Lawhead said Soule began exhibiting behaviour that startled and upset her early in their friendship. In her blog post, she wrote:
“As things went on, he started to become more misogynistic and sexist.
He talked about the mystical power women hold over men with sex. How men are helpless and they need sex. How he needs sex, and a relationship, so he can write his music. He talked about how composing is sexual, and how he will write about sex as inspiration in his music. He talked about how performing music is very sexual. He wrote songs about women that he had relationships with this way. What he does to women, is what inspires his music. The work he composed for video games is based on this. . .
He made advances on me and I explained that I didn’t want this and wanted a friendship. He was very threatening, and didn’t listen. He made it clear that it’s ‘him or bust.’ He raped me. Throughout this time Jeremy acted like a victim, and blamed women he was in relationships with (or forced relationships on) for what he was doing.”
Lawhead said to Kotaku that Soule continually pushed her boundaries in his attempts to make their relationship physical, despite her saying she only wanted a friendship. She says the assault occurred one day in 2009.
Without any friends in Vancouver, and “afraid of consequences because of my visa situation,” Lawhead said she did not go to the police and immediately went back to work. Lawhead said she did not publicise what happened because she was “mortified of what would happen if this exploded and cost me this job. I was afraid. I tried very hard to ignore what happened and just keep going. I would go to the bathroom during work hours to cry, pull myself back together, and just keep working on this trashfire.”
Later, Lawhead would move to another studio with which Soule was affiliated called Interdimensional Interactive. She says that when the conditions of her job went downhill and her relationship with her colleagues atrophied, Soule was “involved in turning things against me.” (The co-founder of Interdimensional Interactive, Gregory MacMartin, denied this, telling Kotaku in a message, “That does not pertain to us. Jeremy’s only involvement with our studio has been composing some music for our games,” although Lawhead says they were “close friends.”)
On Twitter, Lawhead said she decided to come forward after searching Soule’s name and “seeing person after person gushing over his music.”
A second woman, vocalist Aeralie Brighton, who is credited on games like Minecraft, Ori and the Blind Forest and LawBreakers, wrote a post on Facebook Monday night saying that she had “personally fallen prey to Jeremy Soule as well back in 2014.” She said Soule sent her a video of him masturbating and that when she told him she “only wanted a professional relationship I was blocked and removed from a project I was proposed to work on.”
She said that nothing physical had happened. When sent a copy of Brighton’s post by Kotaku, Soule responded, “I don’t agree with her point of view, and I’m not at liberty to discuss.”
Brighton said she met Soule in 2014 when she had just moved to Los Angeles in hopes of launching her vocalist career. She was living in her car and searching for contacts, Brighton said, when a mutual friend introduced her to Soule.
“I had my heart broken. I idolised this guy. It felt like a fairy tale,” Brighton told Kotaku in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I looked up to him. My goodness — this is the Skyrim composer and it shaped my early gaming days!”
Brighton says she and Soule developed a professional relationship, and that Soule said he believed in her ability to make it as a vocalist and offered her gigs in a music video and in his Northern Lights symphony. “He said I can be someone in the industry, but I needed to lose weight. He was giving me diet tips,” she says. “I believed him. I was in awe he was paying attention to me.” Once, she says, Soule invited her to his apartment late at night to test microphones.
Transcripts of text conversations between Soule and Brighton that Brighton shared with Kotaku paint a complicated picture of their relationship. In these conversations, Soule and Brighton both exchanged flirty and sometimes sexually explicit messages. Soule appeared romantically interested in Brighton, and at times, Brighton appeared to reciprocate.
However, she said, after accepting his invitation to do vocal work in his recording studio after hours one night, “I wasn’t liking what I was seeing.” She added: “He was bashing other vocalists and talking about how everyone wants to sleep with him. It was uncomfortable.” Shortly afterward, she says, Soule sent her a video of him masturbating, which she says she found “disgusting.”
Brighton says she later compared notes with another vocalist, who she says told her that Soule attempted to get involved with her romantically, too. After that, Brighton says, she realised that she wanted nothing to do with him. The other vocalist also wrote on Facebook that Soule “wanted to send me this video as well,” adding that “he was pushing both our boundaries beyond what’s acceptable.” That vocalist declined to speak on the record when reached by Kotaku.
“He made it clear that he had the power to make or break people’s careers,” said Brighton, “so I was like, ‘Well shit, I’m never gonna work again.’”
In the wake of these accusations, several other women in the games industry have come forward this week with their own allegations against people who they say abused them in some capacity. Kotaku is dedicated to investigating any allegations against powerful people or companies in the world of video games and can be contacted securely and confidentially here or via SecureDrop here.
Editor’s Note - January 20, 2020: Last week, Nathalie Lawhead contacted us to say that a four-sentence quote from her in the article describing events from the evening of her alleged assault was fuelling harassment against her and were inaccurate. She also said that the quote had been obtained in a follow-up call with our reporter that she had understood to be for the purpose of fact-checking and legal vetting, not for publication.
Our own review of the reporting process for this article indicates that the quote in question was in fact provided on the record in Lawhead’s initial interview with Kotaku. The reporter’s recording of the call backs this up. The reporter for this story, Cecilia D’Anastasio, followed standard journalistic protocol when reporting about sexual violence in being clear about what was and wasn’t for publication. No details from the off-the-record fact-checking call were used in the article. D’Anastasio, as always, strove to be fair, understanding and transparent. She has described her reporting for this story in a lengthy post on Twitter.
Kotaku reporters take very seriously the trust sources put in us and the bravery involved in coming forward about abuse. We stand by our reporting. I am also sympathetic to the pain that the presence of the quote has caused Lawhead. I recognise the unusual nature of the issue at hand and have decided to remove the quote, in part because Lawhead now says that what she had shared didn’t fully paint an accurate picture of what happened. She does not recant her allegation against Soule.
— Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief