The online game trade sought to have fun considered one of its founders, Nolan Bushnell, with an award as a pioneer this week. However distinguished gaming girls, together with congressional candidate Brianna Wu, objected as a result of they felt it was inappropriate and tone-deaf to present such a person an award in a yr with so many #MeToo and Time’s Up incidents coming to the fore in so many industries.
Utilizing the hashtag #NotNolan, they identified his sexist conduct from the 1970s whereas working Atari. A day later, the award committee for the Game Developers Conference rescinded the award. It was gaming’s second to take care of the sins of the previous, and it has grow to be one more reason to have some essential conversations about the way forward for gaming.
The GDC is a revered establishment, however it drew numerous ire as a result of its flip-flop made no one joyful, and it put Bushnell himself right into a troublesome spot. I didn’t suppose it was honest to take his conduct out of historic context and choose him by at the moment’s requirements. It jogs my memory of cultural controversies round taking down statues of Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus. Some folks have completely different views.
Bushnell’s shaming makes me take into consideration Franklin Roosevelt, who led America by way of the Nice Despair and World Warfare II. He was a fantastic man, however he made a poor resolution when he determined to place my household into the Japanese American internment camps. Ought to we not have fun Roosevelt’s greatness, whereas acknowledging his flaws? I’ve met Bushnell quite a few occasions, and he has at all times struck me as charming. However he has said and done things prior to now that make us cringe at the moment. It jogs my memory of Steve Jobs, who additionally labored at Atari.
To say that I’m conflicted about this dilemma is an understatement. If the matter of the award is a black-and-white selection for you, congratulations. However for me, the extra I focus on it, the extra painful and troublesome it turns into to take a stand. I’ve mentioned it with my spouse, and with considered one of my daughters. I’m a author, recorder, and scholar of historical past. They aren’t, however they’re serving to me to see historical past as herstory.
Bushnell was a showman, a P.T. Barnum character who bought People on his online game circus. This week, he took the high road and said he applauded the GDC for insuring its establishment displays what is correct. He additionally apologized if he offended anybody throughout his profession. Through the years, he has brazenly talked about Atari’s wild tradition, principally in a context of the way it was a particular place. It had scorching tub events the place executives held conferences with girls in bikinis, and it did different issues that you just wouldn’t do at the moment.
After I learn or heard these tales prior to now, I laughed. However others cringed, and I didn’t discover, and so the objections to Bushnell’s award took me without warning. To girls like Wu, the sexism on the daybreak of the trade was a proof for why solely 22 p.c of the employees in gaming are girls.
“Nolan Bushnell deserves to be honored, however this isn’t the precise time for it. It’s straightforward to attract a line between the tradition he created at Atari and the structural sexism girls in tech face at the moment,” she mentioned.
But Atari’s affect on the route of the sport trade’s tradition has been minimal in some ways. Bushnell bought the corporate in 1984, and it has by no means actually been the identical, as different corporations like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have led the route of the trade. In one other manner, Bushnell didn’t need violent video games, and he felt that the trade took a unsuitable flip when it embraced them. In different phrases, Atari’s work tradition and philosophy of the 1970s didn’t grow to be the dominant tradition. Sport corporations are available many various kinds.
Some girls within the Atari Museum discussion board on Fb got here to Bushnell’s protection. They famous that this was no approach to deal with a founder, significantly one who was not accused of sexual harassment or abuse. They mentioned what Bushnell had mentioned in earlier interviews, that the sexist however consensual tradition was an artifact of free love, the drug tradition, and hippies. To girls exterior of Atari, they got here off as apologists, as if we have been joyful and happy that Bushnell wasn’t a monster like Harvey Weinstein.
My preliminary inclination was it was about time that Bushnell bought the pioneer award. He and cofounder Ted Dabney established Atari as the primary commercially profitable online game firm on the power of memorable titles comparable to Pong and Breakout. Because of their work, we’ve a $116 billion game industry at the moment, tens of millions of jobs, and gamers who quantity within the billions.
Those that wished Bushnell to get his award attacked Wu, noting that she was an opportunist taking part in politics. However Wu is taking stands, typically at nice private danger, and attempting to push the trade ahead. I’ve additionally shared a stage with Wu, and I’m not going to face towards her and say that it was OK to create a hostile work surroundings for ladies at Atari.
I’ll admit that I’ve blind spot right here, as a result of prior to now, I haven’t considered this trade from the view of herstory. I had not seen that the charming tales of Atari’s tradition weren’t so charming to girls who may need wished to get a job in video video games. Many have identified that within the past 18 years, neither the lifetime achievement award or the pioneer award have ever gone to a girl. I hadn’t seen. However I do know that ladies like former Atari and Activision recreation designer Carol Shaw have been a part of video video games because the starting. However, as within the tech trade, they’ve acquired too little recognition for it.
The ladies who opposed the award for Bushnell argued there’s a time and place for every part. Maybe Bushnell must be honored, however not in a yr of a lot anger round sexual harassment. They don’t deny his contributions, however they really feel that an award is black-and-white. To provide an award is to comb the herstory beneath the rug.
I’m conflicted right here as a result of I don’t need to use my appreciation for historical past as a defend towards change. I feel the sport trade ought to change, and I’ve condemned actions to carry again progress prior to now, like with the Gamergate controversy. I would like sexism and harassment to vanish from the trade, significantly as my very own daughters put together to enter the working life. And I’ll do my greatest to recollect the contributions, the errors, and the dilemma of Nolan Bushnell.