The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has been criticised over its handling of a recent harassment controversy.
Last month, a report from GamesIndustry.biz emerged which claimed that the IGDA mishandled numerous formal complaints against its own Women in Games Special Interest Group chair, Jennifer Scheurle, who stepped down last year after allegations of abuse.
In 2019, a group of developers filed a complaint with the IGDA Foundation, the charitable wing of the organisation, which alleged a “history of deception, bullying, defamation, and abuse,” in a 16-page document describing Scheurle’s alleged behaviour. The IGDA said it had previously conducted an investigation into the claims, but concluded there wasn’t “compelling evidence of wrongdoing.”
Jen MacLean, executive director of both the IGDA and IGDA Foundation until April 2019, allegedly encouraged the group of 11 complainants to file the formal complaint, which they claim to have done in 2019, producing the 16-page document.
IGDA Logo. Credit: IGDA.
As noted by GamesIndustry.biz, the IGDA Foundation’s code of conduct explicitly states that unacceptable behaviour includes “intimidating, harassing, abusive, discriminatory, derogatory or demeaning conduct”. Based on what was described in the 2019 complaint, Scheurle allegedly engaged in intimidating and demeaning behaviour, including taking work for credit that wasn’t hers. However, the complaint was dismissed by the group, claiming there was not enough evidence.
Then in 2020, a group of 14 complainants and six allies filed a complaint against Scheurle specifically with the IGDA, then headed up by executive director Renee Gittins, this time with a 34-page document. This document alleged “multiple counts of personal abuse and professional breaches carried out by Scheurle between the period of 2017 and 2020.”
According to the IGDA Policy for Responding to Harassment Complaints, the organisation will investigate incidents “committed by, or to, an employee, staff member, board member, IGDA Chapter/SIG leader, volunteer, or general member of the IGDA,” or if “the incident took place at an IGDA-affiliated event, gathering, or workshop — online or in person.”
The policy also explains the process the IGDA should follow, which includes a seven step process. As allegations grew, Scheurle was removed from consideration for a 2020 Game Dev Hero award, as well as the inclusion in the Game Awards’ Future Class of 2021, before Scheurle eventually stepped down from her IGDA chair position in September 2021.
I’m sorry this took so long. I wanted to make adequate time to consider everyone affected by the situation. pic.twitter.com/4Rdd7xxtrS
— Jennifer Scheurle (@Gaohmee) September 16, 2021
When Scheurle stepped down from her position as chair in September, she released a statement on Twitter. “As part of what I believe in, I will act in accordance to the wishes of the people I have harmed,” wrote Scheurle at the time. “Regardless of their decision to dismiss the claims against me, I will step down as the IGDA WIG SIG chair immediately as I feel like I have lost too much of the trust of the community.” Scheurle also apologised for “any harm” she caused Noni, one of Scheurle’s accusers.
Complainants have claimed that they received no follow-up from the IGDA regarding their complaint, which is supposedly a violation of the steps outlined in its ‘Responding to Harassment Complaints’ policy. Months after the complaint was filed, the complainants claim they received a final email saying IGDA would not be taking actions, not explaining why it came to that decision.
A developer interviewed by GamesIndustry.biz for the report felt frustration at how the entire situation was handled, saying: “It’s frustrating because this group is the closest thing to a union or advocate that a lot of people have in the games industry, but they often don’t seem to be acting with the interest of individual, marginalised, at-risk developers at heart.”
Now, Santa Monica writer Alanah Pearce has released a YouTube video on her own channel putting out calls for more attention on the story, as well as a proper response from the IGDA. “I’m not trying to shut down the IGDA,” said Pearce. “I think what they do is important, but I do think that they need to be held accountable to make sure that they’re doing their job correctly.”
The IGDA did update its code of ethics in January of this year, and has also formed an ethics committee for investigating similar complaints in the future, but is still yet to properly respond to any of the complaints regarding Scheurle.
NME reached out to the IGDA for comment, and received the following response:
“In one of our recent ethics investigations, we reviewed materials submitted to us and conducted an interview with the accused before concluding there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing. This approach failed to adhere to the “IGDA Policy for Responding to Harassment Complaints” established in April of 2018, as we relied on written statements and did not conduct individual interviews of the named witnesses in the materials.
“We apologise for not providing proper support and communication to everyone with serious concerns. It is one of our top priorities that all of our members feel their concerns will be treated appropriately. As a leader of game industry standards, we must abide by our own policies to set a proper example.”
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