I’m going to make an admission: Yesterday, when I started the petition calling for BioWare to come out publicly in support of the beleaguered Jennifer Hepler, I didn’t expect them to listen. I’ve been involved in activism and the fight for social equality for a few years now, and the process has made me into a terribly cynical person.
It’s not that I thought that BioWare weren’t essentially good people—I did, and I still do—but I had nevertheless subconsciously presumed that the financial interests of a large games company would override their desire to take a stand on these issues, when push comes to shove. So when we started asking for a thousand signatures in support of Hepler, I wasn’t sure that we would get anywhere near that many.
A day later, and I’m absolutely delighted to have been proved wrong on both those counts.
Not only did we manage to get almost four hundred signatures in the eight hours that the petition was open, but I could then quite happily close it early—long before the droves of misogynists got wind of it and made moderating the comments into an increasingly depressing experience—when Ray Muzyka, one of BioWare’s co-founders, released the following statement on their forums, and through their official Twitter feed:
Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time.
At the same time, BioWare also announced that they would be donating $1000 in Jennifer’s name to Bullying Canada: A charity working to stop the physical and emotional bullying of young people.
This is an incredible example of what a community can do when it draws a line and says “This is not acceptable” and is a testament to BioWare as a company, regardless of what else we might think of them. It is also living proof that petition sites like Changes.org (who generated an email and sent it to BioWare every time someone put their name against the list—something which I suspect had some small influence over the speed of their response, if nothing else), and the communities that drive those sites, are most definitely capable of achieving real, measurable change.
Some of the comments we got in response to the petition were genuinely moving, and served to restore some of my faith in humanity, and the speed and unambiguity of BioWare’s response was a truly wonderful thing to see.
BioWare’s statement does not erase the magnitude of the wrong that has been done to a member of their staff, but that a company of their size would choose to come out and condemn that kind of behaviour has to be an important step along the road to making it a thing of the past. This is not to say that the world is fixed and everything is perfect and sunshine and flowers (I would, for example, strongly recommend not reading much past the first page of responses to BioWare’s statement), but it nevertheless makes me admire immensely what places like the Border House are achieving in showing women like Hepler that they are not alone, and I feel genuinely honoured to be a teeny-tiny part of this community.
As a final side-note, I would strongly suggest that anyone who is interested in the matter take a look at Quinnae’s article discussing the relative merits and flaws of what it was Jennifer Hepler actually said in the first place, which is pretty much what should have happened all along.