CW: accounts of harassment, sexual coercion. If you are a victim of any kind of harassment or abuse and don’t know where to get help, here is a great resource which hopefully can connect you with someone who can help: https://www.betterhelp.com/gethelpnow/
I first encountered Nick Robinson when he was a part of the now defunct Rev3Gaming as part of a fun little team with veteran Adam Sessler at the helm with Robinson and Tara Long. He wasn’t my favorite person on that channel (hi Tara!) but he was fine at what he did and he had a gentle, approachable nerdy nature about him. After Rev3 Nick and Tara would both take a front seat in some of the audio/visual content that I really enjoyed from Polygon. Nick in particular was a part Cool Games Inc., a podcast he does with Griffin McElroy where they take listener ideas and create video games out of them. It’s a fun show with two likable, amiable geeky hosts. Except it has come to light over the last week that Nick Robinson is in fact a serial harasser of women and it’s been kept quiet out of respect for the victims for a while now. Now knowing that Polygon has let Robinson go we have to ask what are the long term consequences for all involved?
The video game industry as a whole be it in the creation of games or covering it as part of news media is woefully behind the times when it comes to representation for minorities and women. Women who are too outspoken, such as Anita Sarkeesian, are doxed, harassed and threatened with bodily harm to the point that they have to move and get the FBI involved. A lot of men have made it very, very difficult for women to feel welcome in the discourse around video games let alone those who work within the creation of the medium. Many more of us sit in silence and watch from afar. It’s been nearly ten years already since the Something Awful/Jade Raymond debacle and it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made in the decade following. There is no one “face” of harassment online or anywhere else and someone who has a geeky man-child persona like Nick Robinson can just as easily be prepared to take advantage of his position as anyone.
The issue here is that many women are hesitant to be too public or to cause too much of a stir lest they incur the wrath of angry cowards on the Internet. It is also a great risk for those who wish to get into the industry to burn any bridges with insiders, who are usually men. This only contributes to the culture that scumbags like Nick Robinson have taken advantage of by being given free reign to “flirt” online. Robinson’s behavior had been something of an open secret within certain circles for what seems like a long time but the pot has been threatening to boil over. Many point to the surprising amount of pushback to Robinson after he posted this stupid tweet as possible proof of this:
no offense but anyone who acts like they didn't jack off to Krystal from Star Fox Adventures is lying to you— Nick Robinson (@Babylonian) March 27, 2017
This tweet about an anthropomorphized animal character from a years old game was dumb but the subtweeting and hostility that it caused was apparently not coincidental. Months passed with little incident until August 2nd when Nick Robinson created an overwrought fuss on Twitter about the Nintendo Switch port of the game Overcooked. Unfortunately that port has numerous bugs and poor performance and the developers asked gamers if they could share with them clips or descriptions of what issues they were having. His rage over was extremely over the top and things got very heated including him telling at least one responder to “shut the fuck up.” Things exploded when this tweet dropped:
And so it began. A poster over at NeoGAF http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1415751 has been assembling all of the information and tweets about this and it’s worth taking a look. There are tweets from a young woman describing herself as a fan of his. When she was 18 he asked her to send him nudes and to come over to perform sex acts. In some cases messages have been supplied but there are perhaps not enough “receipts” to satisfy the skeptical. Outsiders to the situation demanding “proof” is concerning because accusations of harassment should always be taken seriously. There is so much bad history surrounding video games and their coverage there’s just too much of this behavior to dismiss what women have been saying. Their stories are nevertheless compelling and didn’t feel like something slapped together to try and hastily frame an innocent man. He manipulated women to get what he wanted knowing full well that his position in the industry was going to protect him because of the “good” he could do by working for a progressive media outlet. How can you not feel a knot in your stomach when you read something like this?
Tweets rang out and they spoke of people torn apart from what they knew vs what they felt they could do and say
when you know things, when you keep hearing new things, when every new woman who meets him has a story, frustrations slip— ali ***BIG THE CAT RESPECT ZONE*** (@ali_west) August 4, 2017
Which is fucking awful—to get hurt and get treated poorly and have to keep quiet because a person in a position of influence looms over them— Erica ▵ June (@aurahack) August 4, 2017
Things escalated quickly once the accusations and statements from victims started to come forward. Editor in chief at Polygon Chris Grant announced on the 4th that Robinson had been suspended pending an investigation. Griffin McElroy tweeted his anger and disgust over the situation and asked that consideration was given to the privacy of those involved. Matt Kessler, a co-host of Podburglers with Robinson angrily and publicly quit the podcast. He apologized for any co-incidental affect he might have had based on his association with Robinson. These are not the actions of people who had no idea what was going on.
This isn’t to suggest guilt or complicitness in what happened but considering the standing Polygon.com has as a progressive website which is welcoming to non-cis white men, where does Robinson fit into this? There were far too many people that either experienced his harassment or knew someone who did for this to be a total shock to the rest of the Polygon staff. Was this a case where he had been warned about this before and told there would be consequences if it continued? If Polygon knew he was doing this but was just biding their time until victims started coming forward then it’s going to be a nightmare for them. Claims of harassment always have to be taken seriously until they can be proven to be false or exaggerated. Nick Robinson, with his cutesy man-child nerd persona, not to mention his milky whiteness, is just the kind of person who would be given the benefit of the doubt or given chances to clean up his act. What makes me wonder about the motivations of Polygon is that they announced his suspension after this matter became public. Polygon didn’t get ahead of the story, make it public themselves and then suspend Robinson. While it was right that those who experienced Robinson’s creepiness should be the ones to tell their story Polygon didn’t really need to go through all of that just to suspend him. Hell, Gamespot fired a guy for writing a bad review of a game that was sponsoring the site.
So when I was getting ready to post the first version of this article the silence was broken:
Update: We're parting ways with Nick Robinson, effective immediately. I wish him the best.— chris grant (@chrisgrant) August 10, 2017
Nick Robinson himself released a statement which, while I am not a psychic who can tell you what is going through his head, seems contrite but in a way that suggests he doesn’t have a full grasp of what he did:
His apology seems sincere but he describes what he did as flirting that got out of control. Asking for nudes isn’t flirting, nor is asking a girl to come over and give you a blowjob. In a real life situation you don’t just ask someone for those things unless there is a relationship there or at least an understanding of what is going on. Remember this tweet from earlier?
Those aren’t the words of someone who just didn’t respond well to having a guy slide into her DMs to flirt. Try and diminish his actions and defend him if you must. These aren’t the words of someone who would potentially put their career in trouble by making baseless accusations against a prominent white man in the video game press. Furthermore Nick doesn’t spare much time for the women actually affected by his flirting, apologizing “for anyone I made uncomfortable with my advances.” In the same account he speaks on the “power” that he gained and him not understanding the increased responsibility he now held because of it. This doesn’t ring true, so he was oblivious to the fact that his new status would make it easier for him to get away with harassing women? That he had greater access to women in the industry thanks to his ties to Polygon? Ties to a website that tried to be a safe space for women and minorities, a cover for him that would make exposing his actions even more difficult. There was no way he could be oblivious to the additional sheen of progressivism from which he benefitted. He also did far more than just make people “uncomfortable”, it’s far deeper than that. He made these women feel less than, that they couldn’t speak up because of who he was, that they were going to be hounded for proof. It’s also really difficult to have to go back and relive a bad experience like that, another fact that many abusers are all too aware of. Screw brevity in this case, if I am making a true apology and want to express that I have sincerely gained an understanding of the magnitude of what I’m done I’m going to make sure all of that is in there.
It is uniquely galling to know that this man used his place of influence within gaming media to get his rocks off while representing a website that is trying to provide safe spaces for women and minorities. While this is a terrible thing to do to a person no matter whether you work for IGN, The Escapist, Destructoid and so on but to work for Polygon and do this? It’s a lot of extra salt in the wound. There really was no question of where this was ultimately going and while many will be satisfied by Robinson’s firing and his official statement on the matter but there are still questions. As a young white man how long is Nick really going to be a pariah? Probably not very long, we get chance after chance to make amends and to get the benefit of the doubt. Can we really trust that he is going to stop doing everything he was doing to women and how can he even prove it? It’s difficult to prove the absence of something like this and as we’ve seen before his victims are either too embarrassed or afraid of reprisal to come forward. How much did his colleagues know? Will we ever know? Is this over for Polygon or are more heads to roll?
Damn Nick, you really made a huge mess didn’t you?