In the world of video games, it was a minor year for releases and a major year for reckonings. In July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit alleging that Activision Blizzard, the American publisher of the Call of Duty series, had fostered a “frat boy” workplace culture that enabled gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment across the company. Then, in November, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal reported that Activision’s C.E.O., Bobby Kotick, was not only long aware of these allegations, which include rape, but also withheld them from the company’s board of directors. The report claimed that Kotick himself was the subject of complaints, and that he left one former assistant a voice-mail message threatening to have her killed. A brief employee walkout has matured into an indefinite one; the board has vowed to stand by Kotick, who, if fired, stands to receive a senselessly vast severance package of two hundred and fifty million dollars.
2021 in Review
New Yorker writers reflect on the year’s highs and lows.
The Activision case wasn’t unusual. It followed a trade-union investigation, in Singapore, of the French giant Ubisoft, after reports of sexual harassment, racial pay disparities, and bullying by managers. In January, the C.E.O. of Riot Games, which publishes League of Legends, was accused of creating a “hostile work environment,” often by making sexual advances to his employees. (In March, the company’s board determined that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and cleared him.) Such incidents revive the old question of whether we can, or should, separate the art from the artist. In video games, where the art is typically made by battalions of developers, the question is reframed in collective terms: Can one divorce a game from the culture in which it was made? Do abuses of power in that culture manifest in the game’s ideas? And how should a player support the work without condoning the wrongdoing?
These issues have cast a shadow on the industry, which would otherwise be well positioned for a pandemic in which everyone spends time indoors. There are also the challenges of building vast, complex worlds, in lockdown conditions, using multidisciplinary, often international teams. Numerous big-budget releases have faced delays, and the vacuum has been filled by smaller, independent games of more manageable scope. But fresh, startling, and brilliant titles continue to be produced. In no special order, here are a few of the year’s best.
Radiohead: Kid A Mnesia Exhibition (PC, PlayStation 5)
When you enter this virtual museum, which celebrates the re-release of the band’s classic albums “Kid …….