The anti-harassment “Me Too movement“, since its inception in October 2017, has had multiple high-profile impacts across media, politics, Hollywood and other industries. In its wake, a number of men have lost their careers and reputation as both men and women have stepped forward to confront their alleged harassers. The game industry, for the most part, hasn’t been heavily affected. In fact, only a few days ago, a writer at The Guardian speculated in an op-ed that the game industry was not ready for its #MeToo moment.
Nonetheless, the social media-fueled #MeToo movement has come to the 2018 Game Developers Conference.
Immediately after GDC organizers announced that they were awarding indie developer Rami Ismail with an Ambassador Award, Double Fine Founder Tim Schafer with a Lifetime Achievement Award and Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell with a Pioneer Award, there was an online-driven discussion about Nolan Bushnell’s history in the game industry in light of the #MeToo movement. The Pioneer Award is given to a recipient who was behind a “breakthrough technology, game concept, or gameplay design at a crucial juncture video game history – paving the way for the myriads who followed them”.
Nolan Bushnell, 74, has had a well-publicized and storied history as the co-founder of Atari in 1972, before entrenching Atari as an iconic brand in the games industry. Part of Bushnell’s history includes numerous and well-circulated stories of Bushnell’s approach to women and sexual harassment during the heyday of Atari.
In less than a day, a number of voices from within the game industry on Twitter began circulating #NotNolan in their tweets in a push for having the Pioneer Award to Nolan Bushnell rescinded, at least in 2018, or extended to a woman instead. To date, the Pioneer Award has not been awarded to any woman from the game industry.
As a result of the furor, GDC organizers announced their decision to retract the award to any one recipient for 2018. Here is the official GDC statement posted on Twitter:
— Official_GDC (@Official_GDC) January 31, 2018
Nolan Bushnell followed-up with a Twitter statement of apology (below):
A statement from me pic.twitter.com/OfsrgaCmgW
— Nolan K Bushnell (@NolanBushnell) January 31, 2018