A report from Kotaku Reports that ZeniMax employees in many US studios are frustrated with what appears to be a slow and inadequate response from company management in response to US Supreme Court ruling overthrow of Roe v. Wade†
While employee complaints range from a sluggish public response to deaf comments in internal posts, the most egregious is a clear lack of effort to promise medical benefits to employees who may need to travel to other states to have an abortion. These benefits are especially needed for the company’s Texas offices, including Arkane Austin, the developers of redfall†
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, many publishers and studios promised employees they would receive financial aid if they needed to plan medical trips. However, ZeniMax has only stated that it is seeking “ongoing conversations with our US health care provider about improving our benefits for those who may need to travel for medical services.”
You might read that sentence and think, “Wait a minute, Microsoft was one of the companies that… promised employee support for such tripsand Microsoft owns ZeniMax MediaYou would be right. But an employee confirmed to Kotaku that ZeniMax employees do not receive the same benefits as their colleagues at Microsoft, which apparently has prompted many employees to quit.
ZeniMax’s lack of resolution for employees who might need travel support for reproductive care would seem less blatant if an internal women’s staff group hadn’t previously sent a letter to company management asking them to provide support to people who need such travel. .
The company’s only action (public or not) was to release a tweet on the Bethesda Softworks account stating that “we believe the ability to make choices about one’s body and lifestyle is a human right.”
As Kotaku points out, “lifestyle” is a word that can be delegitimizing for LGBTQ people. This is a slight shift of topic, but since the overthrow of Roe v. Wade comes with threats to same-sex marriage, gay rights and transgender rightsthis attempt to talk to those communities seems to have blown back to say that one’s sexuality or gender identity is a matter of choice.
Outrage from LGBTQ employees at ZeniMax over the use of the word “lifestyle” apparently sparked an apology from Chief Operations Officer Jamie Leder. Leder was also the executive who informed employees that it was still negotiating medical travel benefits for employees.
The new reality is on its way
Kotaku’s report also points to an uneasy reality for many game developers: There are some in their ranks who support the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. An employee “caused significant controversy” on the company’s Slack channel when he posted an eight-paragraph anti-abortion diatribe that included 11 biblical quotes.
The employee added that “human rights are not violated in the overthrow of Roe vs. Wade, they are reinstated for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
It is worth pointing out again that a personal religious objection to abortion and the belief that such objection should extend to the law are two different points of view† One is a religious preference, the other affects people’s human and civil rights.
In the past month, multiple game developers have talked about how allowing such attitudes in the workplace means working with people who are willing to verbally denigrate their rights and identity.
The ripple effects of that attitude have far-reaching consequences. Last year, we talked to developers who pointed out that such beliefs may directly overlap with a long tradition of sexual harassment and discrimination in video game companies. This takes on a new dark undertone in Texas, where the state’s anti-abortion law rewards individuals for bringing lawsuits against those seeking an abortion.
It seems those who warned about the law’s impact on marginalized groups in game development were rightly concerned.
We have reached out to Microsoft and ZeniMax for comment on this story and will update as each company responds.