The toxic leadership blog

Sexual misconduct allegations, Examining Blizzard/ activision

Learning from the impact of toxic workplace environments, investigating Blizzard Activision Allegations.

“Essential question

What can we learn from the impact of sexual misconduct and gaslighting in the videogame industry?


Toxicity in DEI

When we walk into a game store, most of us are focused on the game staring at us in the face. Yet, very few of us think about the people behind the scenes making these video games come to life. On July 20th, Activision Blizzard, an American video game holding company, had a lawsuit filed against them. The content of the lawsuit? Sexual misconduct. Over 50 employees have been fired or consequences due to this, and some had even expressed that they  “got told [by other co-workers] that it was not a big deal, or that we were overreacting or that it was a compliment.” There were also reports of taking this to HR which had not resulted in anything productive either. 

These allegations are not reported by one person, nor was this the first report. Some of the most common questions asked in situations of consistent abuse is, “Why didn’t you say anything?” Or, “Why didn’t you just leave?” 

In cases such as these, whether at work or at home, oftentimes, that escape route isn’t so clear cut. Many times, there is a bond or tie that prevents someone from making that seemingly “easy” choice. 

In marital or romantic partnerships, where domestic violence is most commonly known for- the couple may have all of the same friends and by ending the relationship, they could easily lose all of their friends as well. Perhaps children are involved, making everything more complicated. Many times, the abusive partner will isolate the victim/survivor. They may have all of their friends “turn” on that one person, instilling the idea that they have no one without them. Leslie Steiner, a renowned author and survivor, speaks on a Ted Talk about her husband holding a loaded gun to her head. Many times they may threaten to hurt or even kill the victim’s loved ones. You may end up feeling trapped, isolated, traumatized and in many cases, develop a sort of attachment to this relationship and even develop psychological disorders. On average, people in these relationships will leave and come back 7 times before they leave for good. Oftentimes, people who have had abusive parents will subconsciously seek out romantic partners to mimic these behaviors. Why? Psychologically, we are always trying to process past relationships, so it is our subconscious effort to “master” a healthy relationship with a romantic partner, if we feel we “failed” the one with our abusive parent. 

You may say now, “But a workplace is nothing like a marital relationship!” Both of these have elements of gaslighting. Both of these have elements of psychological distress and many of the women who landed in these workplaces spoke about believing it was their “dream job” until they were rudely awakened by the exact opposite, just like many abusive relationships. 

The articles that speak about Activision Blizzard mention women being the targets, however, I do want to acknowledge that men also experience sexual harassment. The ratio of men to women who are victims of sexual harassment are lower, however, so it the inclination to “admit” when you have been sexually harassed as a man. 

Exploring Gaslighting

Gaslighting is where the bully or abuser makes the target question their judgments and reality. The goal is for the victim/survivor to question their sanity, believe they are overreacting and it is a way to train the person, so to speak, to believe their feelings are invalid. There are a couple types of gaslighting, and sometimes they have multiple types in one

  • Lying– As the title suggests, they will lie and generally not back down or change their stories, even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. They may tell you, “You’re making things up. That never happened.”
  • Discrediting – This is when they spread rumors and gossip about you to others. They may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or “crazy.” 
  • Distracting– This is defined as change the subject if you call them out for something they did or said.
  • Minimizing thoughts/feelings– Instead of validating your feelings, they will react to your feelings as if they are over the top. They might make statements like: “Calm down,” “You’re overreacting,” or “Why are you so sensitive?” 
  • Shifting Blame– Whatever the conversation is about, the person may twist it to blame you.
  • Denying Wrongdoing– This is avoiding taking responsibility for their poor choices. Just like what had happened at Activision Blizzard, talking about sexual misconduct and getting a response such as “it’s not a big deal,” or “Take it as a compliment.”
  • Using compassionate words as weapons- This is making the person feel like you’re on their side, when you’re not, such as saying- ”I’m saying this because I really care about you as a friend…”
  • Rewriting History- A gaslighter may constantly retell stories in ways that are in their favor. For instance, if your partner shoved you against the wall and you are discussing it later, they may twist the story and say you stumbled and they tried to steady you, which is what caused you to fall into the wall.

When someone is working in a toxic work environment, there are a range of stressors, mental health disorders and changes that may occur in someone’s psyche. In addition to the effects listed in the last blog, if part of the toxic work culture includes sexual misconduct, there are a few others that may take place, (but are not limited to): 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Flashbacks
  • Self-loathing
  • Decreased self-worth
  • Feelings of unsafety with people who may remind the person of their abuser, and this may even be as generalized as someone with the same gender as the abuser
  • Increased timidness
  • Dissociation
  • Not wanting to be touched, even by loved ones
  • Withdrawing from a significant other or keeping more “secrets” from this person

What Should Employees Do?

So, what now? The first step is to work your way to leaving this company, in whichever way you are able to. Oftentimes, restriction to leaving a company may look like the fear of not having financial stability, of feeling as if you can “cope” with this and to just push through because it is your dream job or having someone within the company who is a friend. In some cases, it may also be the idea that this job “saved” you and you feel like you “owe” something to the company. Perhaps you were unemployed and on the verge of homelessness and a breakdown, and this job gave you financial security, for example. 

Whatever the situation was, know that this company is no longer the place for you. Have a backup plan for your financial situation before you put in your notice, and if this means downgrading to renting out someone’s basement, then so be it. 

Recognize the red flags and trust your gut, your intuition. Leave the company before they begin to rent a space in your head and affect your mental health. No place of employment is worth your mental wellbeing!

And please remember that no sexual assault is “not bad enough.”

 If you don’t have a voice within your company, know that you do have a voice elsewhere and there are resources available. 

For those of you in America, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is (where you can either call or text) also run by RAINN or the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network





What can we learn from alleged sexual misconduct and gaslighting from Blizzard Activision?


Organizations need to be proactive about identifying toxic work environments. 

Employees should recognize the signs of gaslighting. Have a backup plan for your financial situation.


Check Out The Toxic Leadership Podcast

  The Toxic Leadership podcast shares with listeners practical resources so that they too can begin to detoxify themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Lastly, we interview key leaders and experts as they share their insights regarding how to detoxify organizations — to improve retention, increase productivity, and bottom-line profitability.

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