Microsoft Developers Come Forward Against “Xbro” Falsely Representing The Company; Microsoft Itself Still Silent

This was written in a rush this morning, please excuse this mess.

For the uninitiated, GamerGate has been a 4 month long assault on people working in the video game industry under the dog-whistle tactic of “ethics in games journalism”, of which I was the first target of (in the interest of full disclosure). I’ve written previously that one of the defining characteristics of GamerGate has been it’s lack of understanding about not only what actual ethics in journalism look like, but it goes farther than that. They also have misconceptions of what the inside of the industry that is producing the media they have become so vitriolically entitled to every aspect of to the point of running multiple perceived outsiders out of their homes.

One of these aspects is the realities of working in the larger studios in the industry, and how much you are limited by doing so. One of the most common things I’ve heard from friends working at some of the biggest studios out there during this whole debacle is how much they wished they could talk about the issue but were legally forbidden to do so, in some cases, even on their own personal social networks. This is unsurprising to anyone who has worked in this sphere, but when I put the offer out on twitter to anonymously post anyone’s stories that they’ve been unable to get out for fear of reprisal from their employers or from GamerGate themselves, anyone outside the industry seemed to be shocked that this may be the case. Even if there’s not an explicit policy of gagging employees, its a common concern when speaking out on any subject that the fans may try and get you fired if you say something about games they may disagree with.

I understand the reasoning behind these policies — it’s common practice in a lot of industries for companies to want control over who is speaking for them.

However, that hasn’t stopped one pro-GamerGate developer from doing so explicitly.

“Xbro”, if you didn’t know, has been going to pro-GamerGate outlets and making wild claims about the company’s attitude towards GamerGate to bolster morale and offer support. One of the first and easily the most visible was this Escapist Article [Source], written by co-founder Alex Macris (though sneakily credited to “Escapist Staff” instead [Source]), which had been quickly re-edited in light of the multiple violations of their newly posted ethics policy revised in reaction to GamerGate (including Macris having financial ties to one of the developers covered [Source]). He makes unverifiable claims about a company of thousands of people being solidly in GamerGate’s camp, violating not only common sense but his company’s policies in the process.

Enter Sela Davis, developer at Xbox, and DEFINITELY not part of this mythical, unverifiable 95%. Below is her statement on this reprinted in full.

n.b. The statements I offer today represent my own personal views. I am speaking for myself and not on behalf of my employer, Microsoft Corporation.
This week marks the fourth published interview by “Xbro”, an anonymous developer claiming to be with Xbox. [1]
I speak only for myself — a software engineer inside Xbox Live — when I say that I refuse to be misrepresented by “Xbro”. I do not condone his statement implying that I, theoretically part of “above 95%” [2] of Xbox, support Gamergate. I do not understand where such a figure would come from, and I worry about what such a sweeping generalization says about me — especially coming from a voice of anonymity.
For myself, as someone who could be conceivably lumped into this “95%”, I must say this definitively: I do not support this movement born unquestionably of harassment [3] of women and their supporters in this industry. I have watched as they attacked my friends since August of this year, and this witch hunt has only continued. This is a movement that I truly believe is composed of a small core group of individuals (whether they are public-facing or not) whose goal it is to silence women and other marginalized people [4] or anyone with feminist or progressive values in this industry. Statements like those “Xbro” has made, whether he intends it or not, work in their interest. I continue to see his interviews passed around in the trenches of Gamergate, emboldening and legitimizing these harassers on the back of a company and product I am part of. Friends ask me if Xbox really stands behind this, or what can be done. It breaks my heart.
I have been incredibly uncomfortable about what “Xbro” has been saying since I first saw his interview in The Escapist. My first reaction was fear — how can somebody who I might work with on a daily basis support this movement that has me so frustrated, concerned, and afraid for my well-being? What would happen if these people — or worse, somebody I work with — decided to come after me next?
I went silent on social media for nearly two weeks, afraid to say anything at all, only coming back when Felicia Day spoke out [5] about her fears of being targeted, only to be targeted herself within hours. As I’ve lent support to more and more of my friends who have come under attack from this group, I have realized that I need to break my silence about this person speaking anonymously on behalf of my employer, my coworkers, and myself, in support of a movement that has affected me and my loved ones personally — no matter how terrifying it is to do so.
I am hesitant to say anything under my real name in fear of earning the ire of this group “Xbro” so proudly claims most of my coworkers support, a group in every way synonymous with gendered harassment in our industry. While “Xbro” may claim to oppose harassment, he and other passive supporters of this movement benefit from the actions of this “vocal minority” [6] who engages in such behavior. It is this “minority’s” terrorizing of marginalized and dissenting voices that allows people like him to say such things unchallenged, for fear that those like me — who want so badly to speak up — will end up in the crosshairs. Yet here I am — because I will no longer allow myself the indignity of this association. It is easy to dismiss Gamergate’s horrific track record when you do not live in fear of being their next target, or when the true cost of this campaign remains invisible to you. This fear is something I do not wish on him or anyone else.
My silence was a terrible privilege that people like “Xbro” enjoyed, and a privilege I am no longer willing to grant them. And I am willing to back my statements up with my real name and reputation.
Unlike “Xbro,” I will not speak for my coworkers and friends, nor will I stand idly by as he does the same. I am a software engineer at Xbox. I am a woman in games. And, on behalf of myself, and nobody else: I do not, and never will, support Gamergate.
[1] http://nichegamer.net/…/xbro-interview-igda-gamergate-blac…/
[2] http://www.escapistmagazine.com/…/12384-Xbro-GamerGate-Inte…
[3] https://storify.com/…/stopgamergate-it-has-always-been-a-sp…
[4] http://nymag.com/…/gamergate-should-stop-lying-to-itself.ht…
[5] http://thisfeliciaday.tumblr.com/…/the-only-thing-i-have-to…
[6] https://medium.com/…/how-all-of-gamergate-supports-and-bene…

[Source] Full disclosure: Sela Davis and I have become friends over the course of GamerGate.

As of this writing, GamerGate is already retaliating by trying to get her fired. The post has been up for an hour and a half. She did not tag GamerGate in her tweet about her statement.

She isn’t the only developer who feels this way, either. Another Xbox developer reached out to me after verifying their identity, because they were too afraid of GamerGate retaliation, or that the company may fire them for expressing the following:

I’m a developer at Microsoft, having worked on the Xbox One console, alongside many others, whom I got to know very well. I’ve been playing games since the mid-80's, from apple IIe’s, the NES, ancient PCs all the way through to current gen consoles and high-end PCs. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been playing games longer than a certain someone, who likes to claim we’re “colonialists” invaders, has even been alive. I’ve worked my butt off to get where I am, gamergate’s hilarious suggestion that their opponents are trust-fund kid could not be more wrong. Everything I have I’ve earned, but not without a helping dose of my share of privileges. I intend to pay it forward.
The actions of gamergate are reprehensible, there’s no doubt in my mind, and nothing I’ve seen in the past 3+ months has changed my mind. I can’t think of anyone I worked closely with on Xbox who would support the attacks on women in the industry; gamergate does not represent us, we don’t need defending by them. I know many higher ups also find the actions of that group disgusting, and some have expressed tacit approval of articles by polygon calling them out when the MSM finally picked up the story. I do wish they’d be more clear and come out more strongly against them, however, because this is a problem our entire industry needs to own up to creating and promoting.
Gamergate is a misogynistic harassment campaign, there is no other description for it. Their idea of ethics is a hilariously thin cover for anti-feminism, and it’s plainly obvious. Their methods are terroristic, and gross, designed to only punish the most vulnerable members of the industry. That their tantrum has gone on this long is pathetic, and they need to grow up. I’d love nothing more than for them to never ever get what they want, and for the industry to leave them behind. I intend to spend the rest of my life working to that effect as best as I can.
“Xbro”, whoever they are, are mistaken. The industry I’m a part of is not on gamergate’s side, and it is going to continue changing and improving, becoming more inclusive, and expanding to allow newer, awesome games that change the way we think about life.
The truth is, the fears of gamergate are laughable at best. There’s always going to be games that cater toward their infantile needs, and I’ll probably even play a bunch of them. But when someone like Anita calls them out for their misogynistic practices, I’m going to highlight the hell out of her work as well, and promoting the interesting indie stuff that’s finally made me hopeful for change in this industry.
And gamergate can never, will never, ever stop me. — Anonymous Xbox Employee

To make matters worse, Microsoft has done little as a company publicly to refute Xbro’s claims, despite being aware that he is out there making them. Sr. Communications Manager for Xbox and Editorial Overseer of Xbox Wire William Tuttle did comment to the Escapist on Twitter to the effect that Xbro doesn’t speak for them [Source], but that’s it.

Since then, “Xbro” has gone on to give more interviews to pro-GamerGate outlets [Source], and until Sela’s post, remained the only developer in Xbox other than Will to say anything publicly about this issue. Sela is also the person with the most to lose by doing what the company as a whole should — not only does she have to fear the group who have spent months threatening people in the industry, not only have the women who have spoken out become some of the targets they attack the most aggressively, but she also has to worry that her employer may take action against her despite the fact that she has made it clear in her statement that she does not speak for them (something “Xbro” is unwilling to do).

This is a major issue — the widespread silence of major companies unwilling to make themselves clear or transparent about the industry or any practices within, even including issues that directly affect that company, paired with occasionally far-reaching policies on what employees can talk about in their free time is making it harder to speak out against shit like this. This is not just happening at the developer level — the Defy Media, the parent company of the Escapist also gagged everyone under them from speaking about GamerGate after the last Pro-GamerGate article published by the Escapist.

If you want to talk journalistic ethics, let’s talk about this: a news site is being forbidden by corporate from covering a major topic in gaming, and both site and parent company have come away thinking that all controversial content is bad. This is what happens when people can’t tell a just fight from an unjust one — they forbid both. — Source: Ian Danskin, former contractor for The Escapist

It is my honest belief that this culture of over-cautious silence has contributed to how toxic the last 4 months have become. Too often, those in the safest positions to decry a movement that has been destroying the lives of their colleagues offload the responsibility of fighting it to those who have the most to lose from doing so — employees, indies, and people without the resources of large companies with legal and PR departments who are trained in handling this. They are raising the drawbridge while leaving the rest of us outside, inadvertently enabling harassment by making the cost to fight it quite high.

In this sense, the very strategies chosen to mitigate risk are actually perpetuating it by offloading it to those who have the most to lose. We have created an environment that is so afraid of not catering to every whim of it’s loudest and most hate-filled consumers by being silent when people are hurt by it. We have encouraged entitlement in our fanbase that has gotten so out of hand it now extends to the private lives and safety of those who create the goods they consume. We have let down the most at-risk members of our industry by refusing to stand beside them when it might result in angry emails from a hate group.

Especially considering there’s little precedent for online outrage to translate into much more than temper tantrums against major companies and games. An online petition against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was launched in response to the game’s lack of dedicated servers, calling for a full on boycott that ended up garnering a petition with over 200,000 signatures [Source]. However, the developer never folded to the claims and posted on their message board the following:

“The PC version of Modern Warfare 2 has actually outsold the PC version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in it’s first week, making it the most successful PC version.” — Robert Bowling [Source]

Compare that to the treatment of Phil Fish during Gamergate. Phil had stood up for me in the early days of GamerGate, before any major companies or news outlets had said much about the harassment that had been taking place. As a result, the Polytron website and twitter account were hacked, replaced with a statement by the hacker condeming him for standing up for me and a download to Phil’s sensitive information, including bank records, personal information, and worse. [Source]

He has since vanished off the internet.

When Brianna Wu stood up to GamerGate by posting a simple meme joke, she had her personal information compromised and recieved death threats that made her leave her home. [Source]

The harassment against her hasn’t stopped. GamerGate has been harassing her over the death of her dog just this week. [Source]

Randi Harper created a blocker for people trying to avoid this harassment, and was repaid with someone stalking her, taking pictures of himself outside of her workplace to impress GamerGate. [Source] She is now going to the police because he is talking about returning with a friend. [Source]

Providing quality content is a primary goal of those who make anything — but the well-being and safety of the people creating it is a too high a cost to pay for potential sales. It’s time for the bigger players in the industry to step up it’s game and start looking out for the people working in it. It’s time they stop letting that fight fall to those of us who have way higher stakes in fighting against them.

This is the first part in an ongoing piece about worker’s rights in the games industry— if you are a developer or member of press who have been gagged about gamergate please get in touch with me at zoe@beesgo.biz.