Multiple men in the games industry accused of sexual abuse or assault

A still from the promotional video for Soule Symphony No. 1.

A still from the promotional video for Soule Symphony No. 1. (Image credit: Soule Symphony No. 1)

Update: Late Wednesday, composer Jeremy Soule sent a message to Kotaku stating: "These 11 year old allegations are false. I am shocked and saddened that these outrageous claims have been made." Kotaku spoke to another woman who had worked with Soule in 2014, who stated that Soule sent her a video of him masturbating. When she told Soule that she wanted to keep their relationship professional, she said she was "blocked and removed from a project [she] was proposed to work on." Soule told Kotaku "I don’t agree with her point of view, and I’m not at liberty to discuss." Original story appears below.

Original story: On Monday, Tetrageddon developer Nathalie Lawhead published a blog post about her time working at an unnamed developer in Vancouver. Titled 'Calling out my rapist', it alleges that composer Jeremy Soule raped Lawhead after meeting her at a party and striking up a friendship. In the days since Lawhead made the allegation against Soule, more members of the industry have come forward to share their own experiences of abuse, accusing several industry men of unwanted advances and sexual assault.

Lawhead says she met Soule when she was struggling with burnout from her job and problems with immigration, and the composer was someone she was able to connect with as a fellow artist. She wanted a friend and they were not in a romantic relationship, but she says their conversations took a turn and he started to become misogynistic and sexist.

"He talked about the mystical power women hold over men with sex," she writes. "How men are helpless and they need sex. How he needs sex, and a relationship, so he can write his music. He talked about how composing is sexual, and how he will write about sex as inspiration in his music. He talked about how performing music is very sexual. He wrote songs about women that he had relationships with this way. What he does to women, is what inspires his music."

Lawhead alleges that Soule indirectly threatened her job, and his relationship with the company's CEO and others in the industry made her worried about jeopardising her position, so she tried to maintain the friendship while declining his advances.

"He made advances on me and I explained that I didn’t want this and wanted a friendship," she says. "He was very threatening, and didn’t listen. He made it clear that it's 'him or bust.' He raped me."

Lawhead's blog post also details her time working on an ARG and other projects, including emails between her and the companies she was working with at the time. They show her fighting to get paid for her work at a job where she felt exploited and pressured into staying. Eventually she was let go.

Since the blog post was published, other members of the industry have come forward and spoken publicly about alleged abusers. Goddess Mode writer Zoë Quinn tweeted out a post that accused Night in the Woods developer Alec Holowka of abuse, explaining that reading Lawhead's post inspired them to share something they've been silent about for almost their whole career.

Quinn accuses Holowka of abusing them and says he was "regularly mean and violent". They had been staying with him after he invited them to come to Winnipeg and start an indie house with friends, but say he convinced them to talk those friends out of sharing a place, leaving them isolated. 

"I was scared to leave," they say. "I was scared to tell anyone. He'd act normal when other people were around and lay into me as soon as we were alone, then apologise and say how much he needed and loves me." Their post alleges further instances of emotional and physical abuse, and they say they often had to hide from Holowka in the bathroom.

Eventually, another friend had to help them leave. Quinn alleges that not long after, Holowka banned them from an indie games community that he ran, before then banning himself. That was nearly a decade ago, but Quinn says they were too afraid to speak out and had to skip the last couple of GDCs because they "could risk being around him or seeing everyone clap for him on stage."

Holowka has left social media since Quinn published their post, but Scott Benson, who worked with Holowka on Nights in the Wood, made a statement on Twitter on behalf of the studio, saying they will no longer work with him going forward.

Night in the Woods' publisher, Finji, also made a statement, saying it was cancelling the signing event at PAX West and that it was still "processing" the accusations. I've also reached out to Quinn, Holowka, Lawhead and Soule, and will update the story with any responses.

The momentum generated by Lawhead's post has inspired others, beyond Quinn, to come forward about their experiences with various industry figures this week. Some of the allegations don't name names, while others call out specific individuals. The allegations share a lot of similarities, with stories of men taking advantage of vulnerable people who believed they were being helped by friends.

As far as we know, no criminal charges have been brought against any of the men accused in this week's posts. For their part, Quinn says they favour rehabilitation over punishment and doesn't "wish ill will on anyone." 

Fraser Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.