Leslee Sullivant curiously approaches the camera. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she is dressed in an olive green knot against a bar backdrop. “Are you one of the new employees?” she asks. “Oh, you are the intern!” She offers to secretly give you a drink if she finds out you are a minor and asks about your boyfriend. You’re not like her wife, she says. The woman doesn’t really understand the whole game. “If you are looking for a mentor, I am your husband”, she concludes. The caption to the TikTok video is ‘grooming’.
The gaming industry struggles with #MeToo-esque calculations every few months, and Sullivant’s video is a perfect portrayal of one of the many insidious ways those issues arise. On TikTok and Twitter, where she later shared the video, people can relate.
As one woman put it, “raise your hand if you’ve met this person.”
Sullivant’s TikToks are more than just a way to pass the time – they’re little renditions of digital activism and education. ‘I always try to find a way to make it [the industry] better, ”she says The edge, referring to stories of abuse and harassment endemic to the field. ‘I don’t know how to fix it. In the past, I have only raised issues internally in order to be punished for it. I’ve written an article about my time in games, and it’s not going to move the needle. It’s really hard for one person to do anything about it. Besides raising money to start my own studio, what’s what? Impact on 10 people in 10 years?
“I am desperate to change the industry for the better. This seemed like one of the ways it could possibly be far-reaching and impressive. ”
Through TikTok, Sullivant, a producer with a long career in games, has the chance to reach new audiences she would never find through other platforms. It takes less effort than a YouTube video, allowing her to edit in-app and get her point across in less than a minute. The app’s algorithm brings videos to users in a more organic way than a place like Twitter, where Sullivant will repost her content to her followers. And TikTok’s playfulness makes it easier to address these issues in a direct, albeit ironic, way.
In one video, Sullivant plays a pair of writers who are interrupted by a director with terrible advice and impossible standards. In another, she conducts performance reviews on two employees, Todd and Amy. Todd gets high marks and feedback. Amy not so much: “She says here you have a huge bi …” The video drops.
“I think a lot of these things are happening and there aren’t many good opportunities to talk about them,” Sullivant said. “I think a lot of these discussions are discouraged, or they should be conducted in secret.” That can make it difficult for people to say anything at all, let alone find each other for support.
“Many of these videos talk about stakeholders or rulers,” she says. “God forbid you bring that up at work, otherwise you’ll run into things like that. I hope this is an outlet for that kind of emotion and validation. ”
Sullivant’s early TikToks are fashion-oriented – they were a motivation for her to get dressed, even when working from home in a pandemic – but she was interested in making videos about the millennium’s work culture. It just took a little courage to put her face on the camera. “I want to do something that really reflects my actual work experience and the way I enjoy interacting with my experiences in games, and that’s by poking fun at things that happen in game development,” she says.
She strives for “self-deprecation and also tries to highlight the weird issues” that come with a career in game development. And while she says some of her content does have some inside baseball talk, it’s still accessible to someone who doesn’t work in the industry – and maybe even recognizable to someone who doesn’t. “People don’t need to be aware of how the gaming industry works to understand the impact of what’s being explored in those videos,” Sullivant said.
Her videos are not based on any specific experience, she says, but rather a kind of conglomerate from her eleven years in development. “At first I was very scared, and I always feel that regret right after publishing a video,” she says. “Is this the one kidding me?” Her goal is not to discuss players or the gaming community, but to keep it within her industry and what her peers – or future colleagues – experience. “The amount of people who said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize this was a problem’, or even the more experienced game developers who said, ‘I can absolutely see it now, but I didn’t when I was in my twenties and I want other young people to see this, ”was an eye-opener,” says Sullivant.
“We can do a little education and hopefully improve things for the better.”