The gaming industry’s widespread reckoning with sexual abuse continues.
On July 3, Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games planned a statement addressing the allegations of inappropriate behavior by lead designer Mike Zaimont. As of this writing, the statement has yet to be issued.
According to several employees, an internal investigation revealed a larger pattern of misconduct from Zaimont, which led to the resignation of at least three employees. In June, Zaimont was criticized after he referred to police brutality victims Eric Garner and George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe” when he made a joke on a live stream.
He later apologized, saying he wanted to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. Later that month, model and Twitch streamer Bunny shared DMs from Zaimont that she felt were “creepy” and “demeaning.” Writer and cosplayer Carbon Gray also weighed in, saying she wasn’t surprised by Bunny’s experience since Zaimont “has been making weird sexual comments at me in and out of cosplay at fighting game events for actual years.”
A day after Gray’s video aired, Skullgirls commentator and tournament organizer Sheila “DaPurpleSharpie” Moore joined a dozen other tournament organizers to ban Zaimont from Skullgirls competitions for two years, and from commentary indefinitely.
On Monday, former lead animator and art director Mariel “Kinuko” Cartwright resigned, saying that Zaimont had forbidden the release of a statement. Despite considering Zaimont “a close friend and coworker for ten years,” she said that she “tolerated years of sexual comments,” “uncomfortable jokes,” and “unwanted hugs.” She added that Zaimont blamed her for provoking his behavior by the way she dressed.
The investigation has allegedly revealed a “pattern of behavior” that included “hostility, insults, threats, lying, and harassment” towards other members of the staff. “It’s not ‘Well, Mike is kind of a jerk but he’s not a bad guy,’ anymore,” Cartwright said. “It’s ‘Mike is not the person we thought he was.'”
Animator Jonathan “Persona” Kim also resigned on Monday, stating that the investigation showed that “Mike’s behavior wasn’t just scattered incidents, but actually systemic signs of his overall behavior and attitude as an individual.” Kim added that Lab Zero employees had complained that Zaimont had a pattern of “frequently mentioning his genitals, forcing unwanted physical contact, making sexual comments about himself or about employee’s bodies, insulting coworkers privately or openly in front of other coworkers, or using very personal details to threaten or demean coworkers when they didn’t go along with what he wanted or act in a way he wished.”
Artist Brian “EU03” Jun also quit following unsuccessful attempts to get Zaimont to resign from the company. Zaimont, who owns the company, refused to leave, which left the employees with no alternative. “Instead of leaving Lab Zero peacefully, Mike refused to listen and has decided that everyone in the company, including people he’s victimized, are wrong,” Kim said. “His actions are insulting and unacceptable.”
Kim added that Zaimont was only intended to be sole owner temporarily, as the company was planning to become employee-owned – though it is unclear if that plan will now be followed. On Tuesday, Skullgirls IP owner and publisher Autumn Games and Skullgirls Mobile developer Hidden Variable Studios released a joint statement in support of the employees who had resigned, and vowed to no longer work with Lab Zero Games.
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