GDC 2024: Dealing with Antisemitism in the Games Industry - Sam Glassenberg

GDC 2024: Dealing with Antisemitism in the Games Industry

“The Thing” – one of several Jewish characters in the Marvel universe

The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) Jewish Special Interest Group was founded in 2013. That year, the Game Developers Conference organizers (apparently missing Passover on their diversity calendar) scheduled that year’s GDC right on top of seder night… compelling a group of us to organize the first (“and hopefully the last”) GDC seder.

The group meets annually at GDC, but this year was really something else. The focus was on antisemitism in the games industry and it was… disturbing.

I hadn’t realized the prevalence of antisemitism in the video games industry had gotten this bad. I knew that many online games were thronged by antisemitic gamers, but antisemitic game developers? Oy.

Marginalized groups are often plagued by unconscious bias, but the examples here (and just about everyone in the room had them) were very conscious. Almost everyone in that full room had experienced some form of overt antisemitism – and this was at major game companies and publishers. And it all got way more overt following October 7th. Name-calling, bullying, and outright discrimination.

I had experienced a minor example at a GDC party the night before, where a South American game company exec referred to “The Jews”, driving her point home by making the with money gesture with her fingers (she didn’t realize I was Jewish). Replace “Jews” with any other ethnic group, and this kind of behavior wouldn’t be considered anywhere close to socially acceptable.

And of course there was plenty of the usual stuff.  Stories of company HR teams refusing to acknowledge Jewish History Month or Jewish holidays or Jewish Marvel characters for fear of heaven-knows-what. DEI leaders that subtly (or explicitly) admit that they don’t see Jews as any sort of class worthy of protection. Side note: Jews are the target of 83% of religiously-motivated hate crimes.

For those who couldn’t attend, here are some of the recommendations from the group:

  1. If you are early in your career, think hard about whether you want to list Jewish affiliations or IDF service on your LinkedIn profile. Before you even get to an interview, you never know who is responsible for ‘résumé filtering’ and what biases they have.
  2. When you encounter antisemitism, tell HR. If they sweep it under the rug, as a last step before you ‘let it go’, be explicit in writing that you don’t feel your concerns are being addressed. 
  3. When filling out HR forms (and GDC forms for that matter) – don’t list yourself as Caucasian under “race” or “ethnicity” unless you actually are. Almost all Jews aren’t Caucasian. Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews and all Jews of color – they aren’t Caucasian. As an Ashkenazi Jew, my genome is much closer to that of a Syrian Druze or a Jordanian Arab than it is to any of the Caucasian peoples that my ancestors lived alongside for over a thousand years. Don’t let people force you to identify as ‘white/Caucasian’ because that fits their inaccurate world-view. 
  4. Call up your alma mater and offer to visit campus and speak to students about careers in the video games industry. When you do, make it clear that you’d also like to visit Jewish organization(s) on campus. When you speak to students – start with your experience as a student on campus (classes, projects, etc.) – and be clear about your Jewish identity by talking about your involvement in Jewish campus activities. This sends a message of support to Jewish students. It also makes it clear to the administration that, as an alumnus/hiring manager/potential future donor – you care about how Jewish students are being treated on campus. 

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