On July 21, 2021, Bloomberg News delivered a report about a lawsuit from the State of California on behalf of former Activision Blizzard employees, detailing years of alleged harassment and professional discrimination. Multiple women were included as part of the report. Dozens more have since come forward on social media and other platforms. One woman allegedly lost her life to suicide following the abuse she received at the company. This is a Diablo II Open Beta preview.
I’m a long-time fan of Diablo II. The game came into my life at a point where I had little else going on. My Mom and Dad had just kicked me out for the third time. I had half a year left to finish high school. I lived with two 26-year old guys who were friends with my skeevy boyfriend, dudes who kept the liquor cabinet stocked and had a steady supply of anime and videogames. I found my love of computer games in that dingy little trailer, playing hours of Baldur’s Gate II and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to cope with both a part-time job and the pressures of graduating from high school without a parent to help me. Sometimes when I play Diablo II I can still taste the cheap margarita jello I’d eat by the bowlful in that tiny dairy farm shack.
The wild thing at the time, something I can hardly believe now, is that there were female characters in videogames, and no one made a huge deal out of it. I remember the relief and excitement of being introduced to Baldur’s Gate and Diablo and realizing there were women in the game and nobody was trying to make me feel weird or bad about it. It was so refreshing that I had that option. I remember feeling as though it wasn’t necessarily something I ever realized I needed until I had it. It felt in some small way that the developers behind these games were simply letting me exist. It did not feel conspicuous or try-hard. I got to enjoy it. I felt invisible in the virtual world in a way that real-life did not afford me. I came to love Diablo II so much that it became the one game I always had a copy of, no matter how outdated or crappy my computer was or what dump I was living in at the time. When I met my future husband, we bonded for a straight weekend over copies of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction that we purchased from Best Buy, first playing in separate rooms of his one-bedroom apartment on our respective computers, but later, “together,” he by my side as I controlled the mouse and keyboard, content to listen to me talk about the game for hours.
The open beta was held over the past two weekends. If the other players had the lawsuit on their minds, the numbers didn’t seem to show it. My multiplayer games were always full. I wonder if anyone felt as conflicted about playing the game as I did. Obviously, playing Diablo II isn’t an endorsement of Blizzard’s behavior. But it feels obscene to praise them for anything, even something as unrelated as a re-release, when it could distract from what we should be talking about: their employees’ abuse of women. It’s not uncommon for publishers who are in the media doghouse to hide behind good reviews or positive press. And anyone with a platform has the power to persuade. So what is my job, as a games critic? To be honest about how I feel about the beta, in doing so, getting us back to “business as usual”? To ignore the game, weakening its relevance but removing necessary critical pushback from the dialogue? Or write about it, and hope that somehow I can cram artistic, social, and technological critique into a single review?
How do you even preview an open beta, anyway? It’s not for critique or discussing a game’s merit in-depth; it’s a technical rundown that helps people decide if they’ll buy it on launch day. And as far as that goes, Diablo II: Resurrected is satisfactory. The visuals are modern, the gemstone and rune drops are more frequent, and the chat system is easier to use.
But as I played the open beta, I thought a lot about how I would cover Activision Blizzard games in the future. Or if I’d cover them at all. I don’t like contributing to the fame that facilitated the abuse, and to a certain extent, the wound feels personal. Not just as someone who went through something similar, but as a person who respected the people who made those games and now realizes how many of them were incapable of respecting her back. And while the audience is not the victim here, I admit I’m exhausted and resentful, not just from the sheer scope of the sexual and gender-based harassment in games but from having to come to terms with it over and over again.
Despite what some gamers believe, it is not easy to remaster a game. Blizzard got lucky—they had the full source code from Diablo II to work with and all of the technical advancement of Diablo III to apply. Old framework. Modern sensibilities. So far, it seems to work for Diablo II: Resurrected. Can the same be said for a publisher and developer whose problems run so deep?
To be honest, I don’t know. Every time there’s a scandal at a big publisher, fans and the press are in a rush to redeem them. “Those incidents were years ago! They happened on other teams! Most of the company didn’t know! They fired everyone involved!” And I know that Blizzard games are made by a lot more people than just the jerks who sexually harassed everyone. But I don’t subscribe to the idea that Blizzard games should be covered and reviewed on the basis that some of the people who made them didn’t do anything wrong. For one, it suggests that critiquing a game can be a reward or a punishment and that by withholding it, you’re hurting individual developers—in an industry where successful creators are often laid off from their teams the moment a project is released, I find that hard to believe (not to mention the thousands of streamers who accept money to promote games criticism-free). And neither is games criticism a charity. I do not think a developer’s personal feelings should be considered, nor do I write games criticism to validate strangers. It’s not my responsibility to mitigate the damage Activision Blizzard has done or play both sides. And I’m indignant to see more hand wringing on whether or not it’s okay to cover or play Blizzard games than I do over the company’s actual offenses.
Can Blizzard be trusted to implement meaningful changes? Given their apparent lack of contrition, is rehabilitation even possible? And more importantly, are we only asking these questions so we can get back to enjoying Blizzard games as soon as possible?
The expectation of positivity in the games community is a problem. You can’t build an audience here without the authority that being an enthusiast implies. As a result, we spend a lot of time waxing poetic about the positive impact that games have had on us, but we’re not given as broad a platform to talk about how they (or the culture surrounding them) might hurt us. No one likes to hear the bad stuff. And I get it, it’s an escapist hobby, and a lot of us are used to defending it. But in our rush to highlight the good, we gloss over a lot of the bad. It is not uncommon to see people rail against Ubisoft or Activision Blizzard and then praise one of their games with their next breath. We know, on some level, that the celebrity status we give games developers contributes to the imbalance of power that perpetuates abuse. We know that an enthusiast press is poorly equipped to push back or question it. So why haven’t we learned to dial it back a notch?
It’s said that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. And I agree, in the sense that there’s very little a person can do to avoid giving their money to assholes. But as a consumer, I do have a choice whether or not to buy a videogame, and in a capitalist culture, that may be one of the only ways to affect change. What’s my job here as a games critic, though? Surely it can’t be to extol a game’s virtues despite its developers’ flaws. That would be to suggest that whatever a person achieves culturally is more important than their direct individual impact, and I don’t believe that at all. And nor do I want to admit that Diablo II: Resurrected plays well out of one side of my mouth while reminding you of Blizzard’s victims out the other. A woman died. Many others were humiliated and mistreated. We don’t need another game critique or open beta preview, we need a labor movement.
Diablo II: Resurrected will come out on September 23, 2021. It is the same game I remember. But it’s not the same game at all.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.