A report in the Guardian (opens in new tab) today paints a sorry picture of Rocksteady's company culture. In 2018 more than half of the women working at the studio signed a letter describing a pattern of misogynistic harassment including claims of groping, unwanted advances, "slurs regarding the [transgender] community" and inappropriate comments in the office.
Reportedly the company tried to remedy this with one hour-long seminar, but one of the letter's signatories, who remains anonymous, passed the letter to the Guardian claiming that the culture at Rocksteady has not changed in the intervening years. The signatory pointed to Rocksteady's output as an indication of the problematic attitudes present within the studio.
She mentions the hypersexualised design of women in the Arkham games, most notably Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. Those comments resurrect a debate that took place around the launch of Arkham City when critics highlighted the gendered insults of male NPCs towards Catwoman. Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku (opens in new tab) highlighted a few choice phrases, and I can't sum up the debate better than Film Crit Hulk (opens in new tab), who has been loudly yelling sensible opinions at the internet for years.
The Guardian's inquiries apparently triggered a moment of introspection for Rocksteady, which often tends to happen when internal company problems are about to go very public.
In response to the Guardian story, Rocksteady offered the following comment: "Over the subsequent two years we have carefully listened to and learned from our employees, working to ensure every person on the team feels supported. In 2020 we are more passionate than ever to continue to develop our inclusive culture, and we are determined to stand up for all of our staff."
This arrives amid a storm at Ubisoft that has seen many top figures booted (opens in new tab) from the company over claims of sexual misconduct. Comments saying that gaming is having a #MeToo moment seem reductive, but going public with concerns like this ought to encourage other developers and publishers to hold themselves to account knowing that, in 2020, not everything that happens inside a studio stays inside the studio.