Nolan Bushnell Atari pioneer award MeToo

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Game Developers Conference backtracks on award for Atari founder after #MeToo outcry

The GDC's reversal didn't take long.


Tiffanie Drayton

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 31, 2018   Updated on May 22, 2021, 2:37 am CDT

Atari‘s developer, Nolan Bushnell, will no longer be this year’s recipient of the Game Developers Conference’s Pioneer award after an outcry erupted over how he’s treated women in the past. Within moments of the conference making the announcement Tuesday that the award would be presented to Bushnell, the hashtag #notnolan started trending with horrific stories of past examples of Bushnell’s sexual harassment, prompting the GDC to take swift action.

Among the many women in the industry who spoke out against the nomination, gaming developer Brianna Wu (who took on Gamergate) expressed outrage over the choice to honor Bushnell. She also tweeted about Bushnell’s history of inappropriate behavior toward women.

According to Wu, the Atari founder held the company’s board meetings in a hot tub, and female employees who board members found attractive would be invited and pressured into stripping naked with the men—something Bushnell wrote about in his book The Ultimate History of Video Games. Wu also explained that Atari frequently found inspiration for its project’s titles based on the names of female employees who Bushnell found attractive.

Amid the outcry, organizers of the conference announced via Twitter that it chose to rescind its award to Bushnell and instead planned to use it “to honor all of the pioneering and unheard voices of the past.”

Bushnell also applauded the decision on Wednesday.

While the gaming industry is notorious for its misogyny and its failure to be inclusive of women (as best exemplified by the GDC’s male-dominated advisory board), this recent development underscores the power of the #MeToo movement. It also proves that there are many men willing to take a stand beside women to bring an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, even if it comes at the expense of men like Nolan.

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2018, 1:41 pm CST