Nolan Bushnell, a founding father of the video game industry, has had an upcoming award revoked following a public outcry.
Bushnell, who founded both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's (the latter of which is now based in Irving) in the '70s, was scheduled to receive the Pioneer Award at this year's Game Developer's Conference (GDC). That announcement, made on Tuesday, was quickly followed by controversy on social media. The hashtag #NotNolan started gaining traction on Twitter, often paired with the #MeToo hashag.
Critics pointed to repeated cases of Bushnell admitting in interviews to inappropriate workplace behavior at Atari. In a 2012 profile in Playboy, for example, he recalls the "wild environment" of the early Atari days, when company meetings were often held in the hot tub at Bushnell's home. During that time, the home TV version of Pong was code-named "Darlene" after an Atari employee that Bushnell says "was stacked and had the tiniest waist."
Game industry figures worldwide criticized the decision while still acknowledging the important role Bushnell played in the earliest days of video games. Australian video game designer Jennifer Scheurle told The Rolling Stone's video game vertical Glixel, "Bushnell has without doubt done a lot of interesting work in the field with his work on Pong, but we can't forget that his methods at Atari, and how he treated female staff, have been part of the difficult culture for women in the games industry we face today."
On Wednesday, the GDC officially canceled the Pioneer Award. In a statement on Twitter, they said, "The Game Developers Choice Awards Advisory Committee, who vote on the Special Award winners for each show, have made the decision not to give out a Pioneer Award for this year's event, following additional feedback from the community. They believe their picks should reflect the values of today's game industry and will dedicate this year's award to honor the pioneering and unheard voices of the past."
In a response posted publicly to Twitter on Wednesday, Bushnell said he supports the GDC's decision. "I applaud the GDC for ensuring that their institution reflects what is right, specifically with regards to how people should be treated in the workplace," he said. "And if that means an award is the price I have to pay personally so the whole industry may be more aware and sensitive to these issues, I applaud that, too."
He went on to say, "If my personal actions or the actions of anyone who ever worked with me offended or caused pain to anyone at our companies, then I apologize without reservation."