Some of the former female employees who worked at Atari during the 1970s and 1980s have made comments about the state of the gaming industry, which has prompted various media outlets from The Guardian to USA Today to label Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, as an unworthy recipient for the GDC Pioneer Award due to embracing the “free love” culture during the era of 1970s some 40 years ago.
For the record, Bushnell had no charges nor convictions against him for any kind of sexual misconduct, but feminists such as Brianna Wu and others within the social justice gaming community decided to attack Bushnell when they learned that the GDC had plans to give him a Pioneer Award at this year’s event set to take place in March.
A Facebook group known as the Atari Museum collected some comments from the former employees of Atari, mostly the females, who offered their views about Bushnell and what it was like to work under his leadership and work with him.
One former employee, Carol Kantor, mentioned in the public Facebook group…
“I stand by my previous post… there was much that would be considered inappropriate today but at the time it was mostly laughable and in poor taste sometimes but not to be categorized as sexual harassment or abusive to women at the time. We were all encouraged to be social and have fun in our work.”
Elaine Shirley, another former employee at Atari, spoke to RePlay Magazine about her experience with the culture of Atari during her 20 year tenure, but she also posted a comment in the Facebook group, writing…
“I worked for Atari from 73-99. I was there during the Nolan era.. It was the 70’s, we had fun. To my knowledge, no one ever did anything they did not want to do. At Atari, there was NO hostile work environment. The GDC should ask the women that actually worked there during that time. I support Nolan getting the award. Geez, next they will be pulling awards given to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the WHO.. It was a different time.”
The most outspoken of the group was obviously Loni Reeder, who had a very lengthy reproach for the ire directed at Nolan Bushnell from people such as Brianna Wu, and the ineptitude carried out by the Game Developers Conference when it came to at least verifying the claims and heralds from the feminists before rescinding the Pioneer Award from Bushnell. Journalist Ian Miles Cheong recently shared the comments on social media for the Twitter universe to read. It’s lengthy but worth it for those who want the full gist of Reeder’s thoughts…
“It started with a 38 year old disgruntled ‘uber feminist’ woman/game designer from Massachusetts running for Congress who had a less than stellar experience in the predominantly male-dominated video game space, resulting in what came to be known as ‘GamerGate.’
“Using the ‘MeToo’ movement and a moment in time for which she had no firsthand knowledge…………
“And with zero complaints lodged against Nolan or complaints about the work culture by employees working at Atari during that time………..
“And based on archival newspaper and magazine interviews with Nolan and others chatting about a work environment, time and culture that existed 40 years ago………
“A work environment everyone – men and women – happily worked in TOGETHER… and partied in TOGETHER (or didn’t party in – there was no pressure and no judgement)…. an environment that has resulted in decades-long friendships, marriages, ‘little Atarians,’ business partnerships and frequent reunions……… providing us with amazing memories, and for most of us, spending the rest of our work careers attempting to replicate the MAGIC of the Camelot that we were lucky enough to work at.
“By arming herself with a topical movement and being personally disgruntled and ‘offended’ by an environment existing 40 years ago which she played no part in – an environment she had ZERO first hand knowledge of………. and ‘intimating’ those of us who worked with or around Nolan, Al (Alcorn), the Gene’s (Lipkin and Landrum), Joe (Keenan), Steve (Bristow) and the rest of ‘Mahogany Row’ had been sexually assaulted, abused and disrespected by (in her estimation) abominations to the male species…….
“Yes, based on her political aspirations, personal assumptions and libelous accusations against a man where no complaints have been raised or filed – she made a big, unfounded noise against Nolan – and the ‘Pioneer Award’ honor was withdrawn.
“Atari was a large corporation with many facilities… but I worked in Corporate Headquarters, interfaced with every department in the company as a part of Communications, Security and Facilities groups……. and in being ‘adopted’ by the Coin-op and Industrial Design groups, I also spent a great deal of time in the Engineering (‘hot tub’) building, which would be the two locations where most of the fun and craziness occurred.
“From my vantage point and having a first-person perspective of this time and the Atari environment, what has been done to Nolan is falsely mischaracterizing him for a lifestyle that did no harm or wrong to anyone.
“Nolan created a company environment which opened the doors to many women into a field where they were never included before: HI TECH. Nolan never discriminated on any level and gave everyone a chance to prove on their own merits that they could be a part of Atari. From soldering boards to building arcade cabinets, drawing schematics and artwork to working on the assembly line.
“For me personally, Nolan was the final word in my being hired at Atari – my first full-time job after college… he continued his belief in me years later, when we cofounded uWink in Los Angeles where I became an ‘equally compensated’ Vice President.
“Nolan never profiled a person by their gender as to whether or not they were a fit for the job. He based his decision on the person’s skill, ability and passion for the job – because of that belief, we always rose to the occasion! We were a bonded teamship… AND A FAMILY.
“Atari also saw a woman – the amazing Carol Shaw – go on to fame!
“For me, and I’m sure for other women who will weigh in……. while this ‘feminazi congresswoman wanna-be’ may believe she is doing ‘Atari womankind’ a favor, in reality, she has done us a disservice by creating victims where there were none.
“Personally, I am extremely angered by her words and conduct in this matter… not just for Nolan, but for the women of Atari – all of us!
“We ALL were, and remain to this day extremely strong and intelligent women…… and there isn’t any ‘man’ who would dare take advantage of us (not if they intended to procreate in the future!).
“My other anger is the callous and unnecessary hurt I’m sure this matter has inflicted on Nancy and their kids and grandkids.
“Finally… by not doing their due diligence before terminating the honor, the GDC did a disservice to Nolan, to my fellow Atarians – and to the truth.
“Nolan was extremely gracious in this matter via his tweet… Hopefully the GDC will right this misstep on their part at some point in the future.”
Unfortunately, the GDC already rescinded the award to Bushnell and Bushnell apologized to anyone he may have offended, mostly ending the matter.