The Industry Refuses To Hold Itself Accountable And THQ Nordic Proves It
Earlier this week, THQ Nordic held an Ask Me Anything on an image board of ill-repute, answering questions from a community that feels rules of any kind are shackles. It was a site that was blacklisted by Google due to reports of child pornography and, within the AMA itself, featured links to drawn underage pornography, homophobic slurs, racial slurs, anti-semitic slurs, and basically any kind of slur you can get your mind around. THQ Nordic’s head of PR, Philipp Brock, happily matched the tone and tenor of the questions being asked with his answers before professing ignorance of what the site was about.
If you take Brock at his word, and there is absolutely no reason to do so, he was the sole arbiter of this AMA and it came from a position of ignorance. Brock apologized for the issue, saying that no one else was involved at THQ Nordic. Despite this, THQ Nordic left the tweets linking directly to a website and specific page with underage depictions of naked minors engaging in sexual activities with adults up for 15 hours. It was not until Microsoft’s general manager of Xbox studios Shannon Loftis called them out over Twitter did they even delete the link.
And then we all forgot. We moved on. We talked about how Halo Infinite is a soft reboot for the series. The community began discussing and dissecting Devil May Cry trailers. Twitter started dubbing over the new female Pokemon trainer with a Scottish accent. It has not even been a week since THQ Nordic came up with this preposterous PR disaster, and then equally preposterously feigned ignorance about their knowledge of the subject, and everyone just sort of let it go to talk about something else.
Over the years that I have been reporting on video game news, I have always observed the ebbs and flows of the news cycle and when you can expect dead times and when news stories come one after another. One of the worst things that can happen to your company is when you have bad news in a slow cycle, because it means you are the story of the day and sometimes even multiple days, but it will eventually become someone else. There will be a new main character of the next news cycle. Mirroring the modern news landscape outside of video games, news within the industry eventually fades into the ether, and is brought up occasionally as a joke on a subreddit or podcast.
This is what people like Philipp Brock count on. It is what his boss, Reinhard Pollice, counted on when he seemingly participated in the AMA but let Brock take all the blame. It is how THQ Nordic CEO Lars Wingefors likely knew that no one would care if he avoided commenting on the subject. Eventually people will get bored, or tired, and whatever thing that went wrong will be forgotten. The video game industry is poor at self-policing and the news cycle we engage in is complicit in that lack of introspection.
Even if you believe THQ Nordic that they did not know what they were getting into, which I do not for a second, the crime of legitimizing communities like that by celebrating their engagement is something we need to talk about. It should be a discussion that takes place beyond the halls of demo rooms and preview events as quick jokes before real work begins. We need to talk about whether embracing the toxicity shoved into the corner of the room is as simple as money being just as good wherever it comes from. Is it ethically or even morally permissible for a major video game publisher, one with an exclusive deal with child entertainment companies like Nickelodeon, to host discussions on websites where photos of lynchings, of nazi rallies, depictions of children being raped, boards focused on sexualizing toddlers, are held and welcomed? On a video game board with a banner link to art of big-breasted children? Does that seem normal or okay to the rest of the industry?
If your answer is "No," then why aren't we talking about it?
Over the past week, I have received a number of DMs and emails from developers who work for THQ Nordic or their parent company also named THQ Nordic. They range from embarrassed to shocked at the lack of a proper response. One email relayed a story about a conversation with their Human Resources representative in a non-official capacity over lunch as they discussed the issue. The HR representative remarked that they did not receive any official guidance about it, but that they expect the whole thing to blow over. They’re right, it did, and that should speak poorly of the industry as a whole.
I keep thinking about how Loftis called out THQ Nordic for having the tweet still up for so long after they claimed remorse for it. I cannot pretend to know what she was thinking when she did it, but shaming the company into removing it probably saved their own developers a lot of the embarrassment and disgust they were feeling having to go into work the next day, even if no one could prevent it. When the industry does bad things, the industry needs to call it out – this includes the powerful people who work in it, the media that covers it, and the community. We also need to not let it go. That’s my challenge for all of us, following through however we can.
Despite multiple inquiries, THQ Nordic’s PR has not responded to my questions this week. I expect they are waiting for this whole thing to blow over. I intend to keep following up.