Report: Batman Developer Rocksteady Accused Of Failing To Address Sexual Harassment

Report: Batman Developer Rocksteady Accused Of Failing To Address Sexual Harassment
Image: Warner Bros.
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Female staffmembers at Rocksteady Studios, best known for the Batman: Arkham series, sent a letter to management back in 2018 complaining about sexual harassment, according to a new report by the Guardian.

The letter, reportedly signed by 10 of the 16 women on staff at the time, cited a number of persistant issues including transphobic slurs, derogatory and sexually explicit remarks about women, and sexual harassment that included “unwanted advances, leering at parts of a woman’s body, and inappropriate comments in the office,” the Guardian reports. This misconduct reportedly also filtered into Rocksteady’s games, which include hypersexualised versions of Batman characters like Poison Ivy and Catworman.

According to one of the Guardian’s sources, to address the issues raised in the letter Rocksteady held a single company-wide, hour-long training seminar. Employees had to sign a statement confirming they had participated in the training, but according to the source nothing else appeared to be done to address the problems. “It felt that it was a just way for them to cover their arses,” said the source.

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A spokesperson from Rocksteady told The Guardian in a statement, “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.” The statement went on:

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.

Rocksteady reportedly called an all-hands last Thursday to specifically respond to the 2018 letter for the first time after it was contacted about these issues by The Guardian. There, the studio reportedly pledged to take further steps. Rocksteady did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment.

The Guardian’s report comes after a wave of allegations about misconduct swept the gaming industry in late June, led in part by reports of widespread harassment and workplace toxicity at Ubisoft. Rocksteady is set to reveal its next game, Suicide Squad, this weekend at Warner Bros.’s online DC FanDome event.

Comments

  • I don’t understand this sentiment:

    “This misconduct reportedly also filtered into Rocksteady’s games, which include hypersexualised versions of Batman characters like Poison Ivy and Catworman (sic).”

    Sexuality always been a defining trait in these characters and while Rocksteady seems to have aimed to be true to the source material, I’d be hesitant to call their versions ‘hypersexualised’ (particularly in Knight, in Ivy’s case). This seems to infer that the characterisations are a result of the attitudes and misconduct behind the scenes, but that seems like a reach.

    Not wanting to take away from the fact that the overall situation seems super gross, though. I hope this coming to light again 2 years later will help push for real changes and not just a band-aid solution.

    • Yeah i was a bit confused by that as well, but it IS from guardian, i cant be too shocked those people havent read the comics or seen anything from those chars before.

      • For what it’s worth, it seems like that particular bit came directly from one of those aledging misconduct. As in, a person in particular claimed it was evident there was issues based on the content designed for the game.

        But it really doesn’t excuse both The Guardian and Kotaku here from not at all addressing the fact that Rocksteady were doing little more than keeping to source materials for the characters in that regard.

        Actually kind of pisses me off when authors blatantly gloss over facts like that, especially in situations as serious as this. It absolutely biases the situation further, and does so quite falsely.

        • I admit I hadn’t actually read the original Guardian article before I made my initial comment.

          So the context in the Guardian article is:
          The signatory said the dismissive attitude towards women had in the past carried over into the company’s output. “Rocksteady doesn’t have the best reputation for representing women,” she said, citing the highly sexualised design and costuming of characters such as Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in previous games. “Sometimes you could see the surprise on their face when you said that’s not how women dress.”

          I honestly think she may have a case regarding Harley Quinn’s design in Arkham Asylum, which is pretty overtly sexualised. I feel like the designs became less problematic as the series moved forward, though. It’s a shame that apparently many of the developers’ attitudes didn’t.

  • This is going to keep happening. The seal is broken on one of the biggest game development companies. Prepare to see a lot of other companies being held up to scrutiny for just ignoring this shit for years.

    • That ‘unsolicited’ letter is allegedly from a group of women who, like a massive number of people right now, don’t want to lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic in a nation wracked by massive unemployment, financial uncertainty and, well, people dying.

      In case numbers are an issue for you, they’d be doing this because it’s REALLY easy for their employer to work out who it was that participated in the original letter, back when a global virus outbreak was just a laughable notion.

      If this was 50 signatories, sure. But it’s not. And anyone who isn’t a gigantic moron knows that if the company wasn’t able to provide this fig leaf, then the women responsible for this PR disaster would be tracked down real fast and fired for * spins wheel * not putting staplers back in their correct location.

      The fact that instead of officially replying and dealing with these issues in detail the company has released a TOTALLY NOT COERCED statement from women who TOTALLY WERE NOT COERCED AND LOVE THEIR BOSSES SO MUCH THEY HAVE TOTES FORGOTTEN WHAT HAPPENED AND EVERYTHING IS SO GOOD NOW should kind of clue you in to what is happening here.

      I mean if these women were TOTALLY NOT COERCED AND TOTALLY HAPPY WITH HOW WONDERFUL EVERYTHING WAS then surely they’d be happy to put their names to this and do so as part of the official company statement about what a big happy family it is!

      It’s like you’re getting a letter from a concentration camp that says ‘WE APOLOGISE FOR THE EARLIER LIES WE TOLD, THE BEATINGS ARE IN FACT ENJOYABLE AND WE LOVE THE WARDENS FOR THEIR KINDNESS IN NOT KILLING US PLEASE DO NOT SEND HELP WE ARE AS HAPPY AS WE CAN BE’ and nodding along.

      Have you ever actually worked in a company? Like had a job?

      If you had, you’d know that if Rocksteady were on the straight and narrow, they would not have simply shat out a TOTALLY NOT COERCED letter as if that somehow protected them.

      Instead, their HR and PR people would have gone straight to these women, spoken with them, and together a clear joint statement would have been released – instead of, as you seem to be happy to imagine, Rocksteady management creeping silently around until a shadowy figure slides this TOTALLY NOT COERCED letter under their office door.

      People don’t want to lose their jobs. When it’s a near certainty that your boss now knows that a few years back you dobbed them in and now it’s creating a PR dumpster fire, you have a pretty simple choice in front of you.

      The only real question is whether Rocksteady are legitimately that stupid that they think this doesn’t look insanely dodgy or they know it does but rely on the inherent misogyny of large parts of the gamer community to gain support for this.

      Well, at least you’ve done your part.

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