Nolan Bushnell’s past sexist behaviour has GDC reexamining his Pioneer Award

Never heard of Nolan Bushnell? He’s half the reason we enjoy video games today. He is the man who founded Atari and produced the hit classic, Pong. Since then his name has become synonymous with the term “father of video games”. Due to his extraordinary achievements, the GDC (Game Developers Choice Awards) panel has nominated him to receive the Pioneer Award, but it looks like his past behaviour might strip him of this award.

Unfortunately, the panel, made up of Halo developer Kiki Wolfkill, EA producer Jade Raymond and Valve’s Doug Lombardi among others, were not aware of his past behaviour and have since put his nomination on ice and will reexamine the #NotNolan outcry that took place on Twitter last night.

Brianna Wu, a game designer from Massachusetts currently running for a seat in US Congress, had this to say about the historical figure in this industry:

“Nolan Bushnell is clearly a deeply important person in video game history. He deserves to be honoured for a lifetime achievement award without question. But in the year that the #MeToo movement is going on and we’re having a reckoning about what women face in the workplace? It just seems really tone deaf by GDC.


“We need to understand that supporting this award for him potentially causes real pain among the women who had to endure him and it sends a difficult message to everybody who is currently enduring similar behaviour in our industry. It tells women who have been exposed to similar situations that their perpetrators can not only get away with that but [they] will also be recognised for their work, even if their behaviour along the way was unacceptable.

It’s hard to think that he was bragging about his past. In the book, The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon and Beyond Nolan quotes that Atari, in the early days, “seemed more like fraternity parties than business meetings”. The book continues to describe the following event:

“We had a board meeting in his tub. Nolan was saying how much money we were going to be worth, all these millions, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ll believe this when I see it.’ Nolan needed some papers and documents so he called his office and said, ‘Have Miss so and so bring them up.’ We were in this tub [when she arrived], so he proceeded to try to get her in the tub during the board meeting.”

We surely are grateful for him putting video games on the map, and one has to consider that the 70s were a completely different era, but that does not mean you should get away with your actions. The GDC Awards takes place on 21 March, so they have more than enough time to resolve this matter.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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