Why I Love BioWare (and the Internet)

An image of a dragon, twisted around a scroll with the words 'BioWare Corp' written on it.


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.

About Allegra

Allegra Hawksmoor is a white, (broadly) cis-gendered, polysexual and polyamorous writer, anarchist and activist. For the past ten years, she has lived in North Wales with her partner, who suffers from clinical depression. She is a fiction editor for SteamPunk Magazine, edits and manages small-press printers Vagrants Among Ruins, occasionally maintains a blog, and generally has her fingers in more pies than she has time for.
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22 Responses to Why I Love BioWare (and the Internet)

  1. Quinnae says:

    It was indeed very heartwarming to see Bioware take that stand and use the opportunity to donate to an anti-bullying organisation. In so doing, they made the best out of a bad situation.

    There’s no doubt that many legitimate questions swirl around Bioware’s future after being bought by the biggest leviathan in gaming, but the manner in which many gamers are choosing to express it lately not only exceeds the bounds of good taste and sense– it becomes downright unjust. The misogynist savaging of Hepler was stunning in its ferocity and volume, but also stunning for the game of telephone played by the lemming-like people who followed along in it.

    Some comments from misogyny-apologists demanded that we “prove” to them that sexism occurred (despite it being self evident in many of the tweets and the excessive defensiveness against being accused of sexism). Yet their standards of evidence were clearly lacking when it came to talking about Hepler’s resume. Her legend grew with each retelling: first she destroyed DA2, then she single handedly destroyed ME3 (despite, you know, never actually working on it), now she’s moved on to destroying Bioware and all gaming ever. It’s like Ragnarok, apparently.

    Never once did these people seem interested in checking facts, they just wanted someone to hate, as well as a quick cover for their indulgence in misogyny. “Oh, uhh, no, I love women! She’s just a horrible writer! Look at ME3, that game that isn’t out yet!”

    Having played Old Republic, I found that I was committing cardinal heresy in some sectors of the gaming community by saying I -liked- it. A rather infantile reverse discourse is emerging around Bioware that seems to suggest that just because it’s popular now, it should be taken down a peg. Like hipsters turning on their favourite garage band who “sold out” once they got big. As I said earlier, it’s not that there aren’t legitimate questions– EA is a hugely problematic company on several levels– but that it’s long since morphed from discussion into all out hate-fest against anyone who says anything nice about Bioware et al.

    In flipping through the comments of various misogynist men, it’s not hard to find statements like “women aren’t real gamers” usually followed by something like “because they don’t play real games” and/or “only play games by big companies like Bioware.” It combines toxic nostalgia with misogyny for a cocktail of hate that has no place in our community. One man who tried to post to this website 7 times, demanded that I understand women did *nothing* to contribute to nerd culture, and thus it was rather rude of us to ask for anything from the menz.

    Yep, erasing a long history of women in geek culture, starting with Ada Lovelace. Not at all misogynist, nope.

    The hatred of women is, make no mistake, at the heart of a lot of this nonsense. The nostalgia is, at bottom, a gender neutral phenomenon that is violently exacerbated by other anxieties. A certain clique of white male gamers feel like women, LGBT people, and people of colour are taking something away from them– a perfect parallel to the anxieties of white het men in many western countries about the same groups (“they’re taking over” “they’re taking our jobs” “destroying the family” et cetera.) Fear of the loss of one’s historic privilege is a dangerous force.

    So, this comment may seem rather grim and depressing… But the reality of it is this: throughout this crisis we have seen people like Jim Sterling, Kotaku, and eventually Bioware itself call out this behaviour as disgusting, and untoward. We not only stood together as feminists, or even as women gamers, but as gamers regardless of background against an insidious force in our community. It was rough, but it gives me a lot of hope. We’re reaching a critical point where the adults in the room are speaking louder than ever and we are having a measurable impact.

    Allegra was right to celebrate Bioware’s statement. In a hyper-capitalist economy where the “customer is king”, it is very rare indeed that an employer stands by their employees against unwarranted abuse. But it is a reminder that the ferocity of this behaviour went well beyond the “passion for gaming” that Hepler herself praised about geek communities. And it’s a reminder that none of us here is alone in the fight against prejudice.

    I’d call it all a win. ;)

    • Dave Fried says:

      What Quinnae said, but also this:

      BioWare is not a big publishing company. BioWare is a studio – a community of several hundred people all working (and often effectively living) together to produce great art.

      We should not be surprised that these people act like a family and stand up for their own, from the lowest hourly employee to the studio head. We should also not be surprised that the progressive philosophy so evident in their games bleeds over into their public relations. When you have a positive business culture, it cannot help but color everything you do (the same goes, unfortunately, for a negative culture).

      I take this as a very positive sign that BioWare is still the master of its internal culture and creative agenda. Which is very, very reassuring considering they’re now owned by Electronic Arts, Destroyer of Worlds :)

      • Allegra says:

        I’m loathe to admit such a horrific degree of ignorance in the middle of an issue where a lot of misogynerds have been screaming that women don’t contribute to/know anything about gaming, but…

        Is there anything that’s specifically wrong with EA? Aside from the fact that they’re a massive, massive company–with all the issues and problems that entails?

        • JV says:

          EA is known for, among other things, buying out small developers and dropping them after a few years if they don’t generate profit at a high enough rate. I suspect that this is what Dave was referring to, given the “Destroyer of Worlds” part. Many people also dislike them for other reasons, such as interviews with former employees that describe horrible working conditions and policies that many feel infringe on consumer rights.

          Wikipedia has a surprisingly good summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Arts#Criticism

        • Dave Fried says:

          I was being partly facetious, but partly serious.

          I don’t have first-hand experience, but I did work with several former EA employees who talked about their time there. At least when I was in the industry, EA was known for a number of horrible workplace practices. You can read about some of them at the link JV posted below.

          I won’t go into detail because what I know is all hearsay, and out of date. The industry has allegedly cleaned up its act. But I am still going to be skeptical until I meet a developer from EA who says s/he thinks it’s a great place to work.

    • Allegra says:

      As ever, Quinnae, you have hit the nail squarely on the head, and expressed it far more eloquently than I could do.

      I’ve been thinking all day about what I can write back to you, and I can’t think of a single intelligent thing to say apart from the fact that you’re right and I agree with you absolutely.

      Every time I see a situation like this, I’m reminded of David Gaider’s response to the challenge that BioWare were ‘discriminating against straight white men’: “They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance.”

      That’s really one of the things that’s at the centre of what’s going on here. And it’s gotten knotted up with nostalgia, and the desire to be part of a clique, and a healthy dose of misogyny.

      • Augmenautus Arktaios Rex says:

        Is it wrong for people to try and keep their privileges? I suppose I fall under the category of straight white male and that I am supposedly benefiting the most from the current trend in the videogame industry, but am I really?

        I mean I am really just buying the games that I want to play. I give the company my money and they give me a game that I will hopefully enjoy playing. They then make the games that they hope will make them the most money in the future.

        The other day I bought Arkham City for $25.00 thanks to a $25.00 dollar gift card. I have been a big fan of Batman since I grew up watching the re runs of the 1992-1995 Batman the animated series, and unlike a lot of things from my childhood it grew up with me. I loved the new comics they were putting out like Batman R.I.P. and Time and the Batman and I loved Batman Arkham Asylum, and I will probably love Batman Arkham city, but from reading this sites article on Arkham City just buying the game is hurting women.

        That is where I disagree. I mean how are people buying and enjoying a game that they bought hurting others. I can understand if some groups feel marginalized by big gaming companies who don’t offer games that cater to their tastes, but will that change if you manage to take away my options for gaming purchases. It seems like taking videogames away from everyone, because the industry can’t manage to cater to every someone.

        • Cinnabar says:

          Really? You REALLY think this site’s purpose is about taking away your toys?

          Here, have some brain candy: http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

          • Augmenautus Arktaios Rex says:

            Eh, I read the guys article and I didn’t think much of it. I don’t give much credence to anyone who just blanket argues that x,y, and z are racist or misogynist despite the works being decades apart and by 3 different authors and some being in completely different mediums like television as opposed to a book and giving some cherry picked examples at best.

            If your going to go with that viewpoint every single work of film, art, and literature has racist or offensive elements to it, and you can’t comfortably read, watch or look at anything without someone being able to guilt you into doing what they want.

            If you let someone have that power over you you have turned them into a tyrant at best and a god at worst. I wan’t people to be able to make their own decisions on what is or isn’t offensive not have it told to them by someone with a website and some free time.

            In short isn’t my choice to wear fur or not so, shouldn’t it be my choice if I choose to read Game of Thrones or not and whether I see it as offensive or not.

            • Cinnabar says:

              I have to wonder why you’re on a feminist/social-justice site if you think the fundamental message itself is not worth anything.

              You don’t HAVE to believe it of course, and no one’s forcing you to do or not do whatever thing it is you want. Just don’t expect people to engage with you when you come at us with an attitude of, “Eh, I don’t think what you have to say has any value anyway.”

              We’ve spent years living and intensively studying this. It’s not “just a theory”. We’re not talking out of our asses. This is our life experience we’re speaking from. To dismiss that outright is ridiculous folly.

              You’re absolutely right that there is very little media out there that is NOT problematic in some way or the other. So what? That’s not news to *us*, we’ve known it for years! I’m guessing you have never had to live in a world which was hostile to your existence because of some natural characteristic that you couldn’t control. A lot of us here have been navigating varying degrees of that our whole lives and figuring out how to draw a balance between the kind of society we live in and trying to gain some measure of enjoyment within it. Media is just an extension of that same pattern.

              You don’t have to believe me when I say all this of course, but there it is.

              The problem here seems to be that you think feminism is attacking you personally and aiming to take away your choices. That is simply not true. The goal is to have enough choices so that everyone feels included and like they belong. Are you arguing against that? Yes? Then you’re in the wrong place. We’ve heard it all before and we’re stubborn as fuck about our views so you might as well give up now. No? Then I don’t see where the conflict arises.

          • Allegra says:

            The thing you have to remember is that it’s not a case of “you can have your space and we can have ours”. If nothing else, it is far more difficult for women to get into games design in the first place. It’s called a ‘male dominated’ industry for a reason.

            Also, ‘censorship’ is a tricky issue. When you’re in a minority group, you tend to get shouted down and silenced every time you try and talk about issues that are important to you, and certainly when you try and talk about discrimination. I am far, far from being a shrinking violet, but I don’t bother having these arguments on most websites because I will be so thoroughly outnumbered by men (and women) who don’t understand how systems of oppression work that the entire experience is tiring and futile. Therefore it’s important for women and other minority groups to have safe and semi-safe spaces where they can be heard, and where they don’t have to deal with the degree of rage and vitriol that they get elsewhere on the internet.

            That’s why places like The Border House are important.

            I approved your first comment not because you changed your name (I could see your IP address, and knew you were using different handles) but because it was polite and reasonable and part of a discussion rather than sarcastic and non-constructive.

            I’m glad you aren’t filled with so much rage any more.

            In time, I hope your apathy will give way to a greater appreciation of these issues and maybe even a desire to learn more about them.

  2. Laurentius says:

    It was commendable of Muzyka to act the way he did, though I hope that one day we will call it just a normal behavior. Still I love no game company especially that big, one day this heart warming resolve, second day cash grab with day one DLC for ME3, box of chocolates indeed

  3. Lynn says:

    Speaking of drawing the line in their own community, I really wish they’d moderate more.

    I went into BSN before any of this just to get some info on ME3 and was amazed at how homophobia was derailing 100% of the character threads I’d clicked on.

    I would think, even if the moderators didn’t find the sentiments intolerable, the constant derailing would have been nipped. It was much easier to google than go to bioware’s own site.

    • Allegra says:

      Yeah, the BSN is a horrible, monstrous mess.

      Even if I had the inclination to keep up with the fact that every single thread seems to get about a million posts a minute, there’s no way I’d want to wade through all the horrible acts of hate and violence that you find in there.

  4. Charlie says:

    $1000? That’s such an insignificant amount for a business on that scale it makes me furious. Ita like me putting a penny in a charity box.

    The way Hepler was treated was monstrous, but Bioware are still a soulless machine designed to make profit.

    • Nathan of Perth says:

      That is your complaint? That the company didn’t pay up enough money when a bunch of misogynerds went on a misbegotten crusade? Bloody hell, Charlie, the frothing misogynerds should be the ones paying up to begin with, not Bioware, so its a great gesture from the studio.

      • Kasey says:

        You don’t really have to choose an issue to be upset about! Charlie’s comment doesn’t exclude his having feelings or complaints about the harassment.

        I have to admit I thought the same thing, though – $1000 is a pittance when you consider how much they’re expending on advertising right now, and how much they’ll be earning when ME3 releases in the near future.

        That money probably came right out of the developer’s pockets though, so this is more likely a case of people around the office pitching in rather than EA trying to make a gesture for show.

        • Nathan of Perth says:

          Didn’t say he wasn’t upset about the harassment.

          I’m saying how complaining about the amount that Bioware put up is like transferring the responsibility from those running the harassment campaign onto the studio. This was not Bioware’s doing or fault, so trying to complain about the amount they decided to donate like that just strikes me as utterly wrong. This isn’t blood-gild they’re paying up, its a good will gesture.

        • Tim says:

          I’ll admit I had the same impression, but it only lasted a few seconds.

          I asked myself, “Would I be upset if I hadn’t read about them donating at all?” On finding that I wouldn’t have been upset if they had donated $0, I found that I had no reason to be upset about them donating $1000 more than $0.

          It was a gesture of goodwill. No, them posting about donating doesn’t mean it’s a publicity stunt. The way I interpreted it, they mentioned their donation in order to spread awareness about the organization they donated to, and to tell others that they could donate as well. I’d rather not make BioWare ashamed of admitting to having donated, because that’s just counterproductive on all levels.

    • Keely says:

      As others have pointed out, Charlie, if they had donated $0 you wouldn’t even have thought to be upset.

      BioWare is a relatively small company. It’s not like they have millions of dollars collecting dust in a coffer that they can afford to whip out and toss away (albeit toward a wonderful cause) whenever they feel like it. EA, the bajillion-dollar interactive media conglomorate that now *owns* them, could probably afford to do so, but EA doesn’t give two shits about what’s happening. BioWare–far from the soulless machine you describe it as–has a precedent of sticking up for their employers and (with the exception of, er, the marketing department) going out of their way to accommodate “non-traditional” gamers and learn from the mistakes they do make. You have every right to get upset about BioWare donating “only” $1,000, granted, but I also have every right to think you’re being a bit ridiculous.

      • Laurentius says:

        Thing is, EA doesn’t own Bioware, the same way Activision doesn’t own Blizzard, they are the same now: EA/Bioware, Activision/Blizzard, for good or bad that’s how it is, they stated this numerous times.

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