Thanks to movements like #MeToo, sexism in the entertainment industry, including the video game industry, is being called out by consumers, creators, and the media. However, in Seoul, South Korea where gaming is a key entertainment market there are reports that a modern-day witch hunt is waging against women video game developers who align themselves with feminism.
According to a report by AFP News Agency, a controversy was kicked off in South Korea recently at Seoul-based video game company IMC Games. The company reportedly launched a probe into a female employee for supposedly holding "anti-social ideology." The accusation came after Twitter users found the female developer, Sung Hye-jin, followed several feminist groups on Twitter and retweeted a post which had a slang term for sexist men.
Twitter users called on the company to fire her, and called her a "cancer-like creature" that "followed a dirty ideology." It apparently was enough that IMC Games CEO Kim Hak-kyu addressed the complaints.
Sung apologized and vowed to unfollow the feminist groups. "I am so sorry that my reckless behavior caused such problems," Sung wrote on Twitter. Kim also announced that Sung will keep her job but he would "remain endlessly vigilant," against similar instances.
This kicked off a mass of condemnation from South Korean rights groups and the nation's top labor union against Kim and the investigation into Sung's Twitter activities. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions announced that, "This misogynistic action... has left many women in shock and fear." The organization also accused Kim and other game development studios of "thought policing" women employees.
Kim issued an apology for his actions after the trade unions called him out on his decision to investigate the female employee.
However this is not the first instance of what critics are referring to as a witch hunt in the South Korean video game industry. In 2016 Nexon fired a voice actress after she posted a photo of herself wearing a T-shirt that read "Girls do not need a prince," a T-shirt sold by the online feminist group Megalia.
Another studio in South Korea, Smilegate, declared last month that the company will remove images by female illustrators who are accused by gamers as being linked to women's rights groups.
Gamers are reportedly monitoring female developers to see whether any of their social media activities are about feminism or women's rights, and then threaten boycotts against the studio if they find anything.
One senior manager at an online game studio told AFT, "These gamers relentlessly attack whoever posts anything slightly related to women's rights issues, and label the person a Megalia supporter who should be sacked immediately." She added, "Game sales could go down very quickly if we don't cave in."
The games industry in the US has also been dealing with sexism rampant among the industry. At a DICE keynote this year, Microsoft head Phil Spencer declared that toxicity is a threat to the entire games industry.
It's not uncommon to hear about rape and abuse threats levied at women in the games industry. The situation exploded with gamergate in 2014 whose members took a hostile stance against supposed ethics in the games industry, but whose actions largely translated to threats against perceived enemies of gaming culture. And those targets were largely women.
The countering of sexual harassment in the games industry can be seen from several reports of various accusations of sexual harassment in several game related companies to varying results. Everywhere from French game studio Quantic Dream to US games media outlet IGN have been hit by allegations of misconduct.
But in South Korea the fight appears to be much tougher. One female CEO of a gaming company told AFP that Nexon's 2016 decision emboldened the "witch-hunt." She says, "It's common sense that one should not be punished at the workplace for personal beliefs that have nothing to do with work... But that common sense is not accepted at all in this industry right now, especially for women."
Header Image Source: IMC Games