In a single day this week, three prominent men in the video game development industry were independently accused of sexual assault.
On Monday, Nathalie Lawhead, an independent video game designer from California, published a 6,800 word blog post. Lawhead alleged they were raped by Jeremy Soule, an acclaimed composer known for his work on The Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. Hours later, in a lengthy post on Twitter, indie developer Zoe Quinn accused Night in the Woods developer Alec Holowka of sexual abuse and imprisoning Quinn in Holowka's home in Winnipeg. A third accusation came from a woman named Adelaide Gardner against Luc Shelton of Splash Damage, who worked on Gears of War 4. Gardner told Motherboard Shelton assaulted her in 2018.
Soule, Holowka, and Shelton did not respond to requests for comment.
The accusations have started conversations about sexual assault in the video game industry, and about how powerful men can crush the careers of women and non-binary people trying to enter the industry. Late last week, Riot Games announced a settlement with two women who filed a gender discrimination suit against the Santa Monica-based League of Legends developer last year—which prompted a 100-employee walkout in May.
After more than a decade of silence, Lawhead, who uses they/them pronouns, published a blog post titled "calling out my rapist," in which they note they want to “prevent other women from being victimized by” Soule.
Lawhead wrote that they met Soule at a Christmas party in Vancouver in 2008, while contracting for an undisclosed studio early in their career. Lawhead said that they were “very clear” that they didn’t want a romantic relationship with Soule. But as the two grew closer, Lawhead wrote, Soule would frequently complain about women who “had wronged him” and “cheated on him.” He talked about how “men are helpless and they need sex, how he needs sex, and a relationship, so he can write his music,” Lawhead wrote. At the time, Lawhead worried about losing their job, one that they hoped would be their “big break.” Lawhead said that, eventually, Soule raped them.
In the aftermath of the alleged assault, Lawhead said they were fired by the Vancouver company’s CEO, who Lawhead said was a personal friend of Soule’s. Lawhead said they did not receive credit for two years of work on the project, and also alleged that the company never gave them their final paycheck and still owe them today.
Soule’s agency representative, Max Steiner, did not respond to a phone call or email request for comment. Soule's Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts have been deactivated in the last 48 hours, according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. No charges have been filed against him at this time.
The accusations have started conversations about sexual assault in the video game industry, and about how powerful men can crush the careers of women and non-binary people trying to enter the industry.
Within hours, Lawhead’s post prompted Zoe Quinn, who also uses they/them pronouns, to tweet a statement about their own alleged abuser, Night in the Woods developer Alec Holowka. “I’ve been so afraid for so long but felt so sick watching more people get hurt and too many colleagues watch, shrug & put him on stages,” Quinn wrote. “I read Nathalie Lawhead’s post about their rapist being an industry legend who took advantage of her and poisoned her career and it shook me to my core.”
Quinn wrote that, while paying an extended visit to Holowka in Winnipeg during a period early in Quinn's career, Holowka “absolutely degraded” them and held them captive in his home. Quinn alleges that Holowka refused to let them leave the apartment alone and would not give them the code to get into his house. At one point, he screamed at them “for over an hour” because of “the tone” of their voice when they greeted him, and was “mean and violent” during sex, Quinn writes. “He'd jam his fingers inside me and walk me around the house by them when I told him it hurt,” Quinn wrote.
On Tuesday, Scott Benson, who co-developed Night in the Woods with Holowka tweeted, “we were all unaware of the events described last night. It might take a day or so for a more complete response b/c some things need to be worked out, but steps are being taken.” Holowka and Benson did not return Motherboard’s requests for comment.
If you need someone to talk to about an experience with sexual assault or abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), where trained staff can provide you with support, information, advice, or a referral. You can also access 24/7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org.
Other prominent women in the industry have corroborated Quinn’s claims. On Tuesday, a senior editor at Polygon, Patricia Hernandez, and indie games developers Aura Triolo and Christine Love defended Quinn. Love said Quinn made her aware at the time of the alleged incidents.
A third person Adelaide Gardner, said seeing Quinn’s post emboldened her to share her own story. She told Motherboard “I’ve followed Quinn for ages. When I saw her post, I wrote mine out on Twitter.” Gardner said that Luc Shelton of games studio Splash Damage assaulted her in London last year. Shelton worked on Gears of War 4 and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.
Do you have a story to tell about sexual assault or harassment in the gaming industry? We'd like to hear from you and your friends. You can send Lauren an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At one point, he “handcuff[ed]” her “so tight” she lost feeling in her wrists for hours, and blamed things on his “dominant nature,” Gardner wrote. Shelton did not return Motherboard’s requests for comment. Splash Damage said in an email that it is "aware of the matter and take it very seriously … you should also know that the employee concerned denies any allegations of wrongdoing."
“No one has talked about this in the games industry and I don’t know why,” Gardner said. “Maybe because games development is seen as this really left wing thing. It’s a lot harder to go public.” Gardner previously tweeted her story about Luc Shelton in 2018 during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and received around 14 likes. This time, her tweet has received more than 3,400 likes.
Naturally, the cries of "The women are lying" have already started.
I expect this will basically turn into Gamergate Round 2 in short order.