ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Over the past several months, a group of gamers on the Internet has become the center of a contentious debate about harassment and treatment of women.
Now Mike Morhaime, head of Activision's Blizzard Entertainment unit, says the harassment needs to end. In a statement during the opening of BlizzCon, a gathering here of Blizzard's most ardent fans, Morhaime said the way people have been acting online has been hurting the video game industry's community.
"Over the past couple of months, there has been a small group of people doing awful things," Morhaime said. "They're tarnishing our reputation as gamers. It's not right."
He asked the community to "redouble our efforts to be respectful."
Morhaime's comments carry weight. As head of Blizzard, he steers one of the most influential video game developers in the industry. World of Warcraft, a fantasy online game released a decade ago, is one of the most popular video games ever made.
His comments also mark a change for industry companies, which have remained largely silent about the marked increases in online harassment within the video game community over the past few months.
The harassment has led to a larger debate about the culture of the video game industry and how players interact with one another. On one side has been a group of gamers that claims journalists are writing too often about social issues and the way women are portrayed in video games and that rallies behind the hashtag and cause called GamerGate. On the other side have been developers and critics who say the industry is changing and that developers need to rethink the way their products portray women.
Some players have taken to the Internet to harass and threaten the lives of prominent critics and developers who have spoken out on the topic. Anita Sarkeesian, head of a blog called Feminist Frequency that's been creating a series of videos discussing the depiction of women in video games, received death threats that caused her to leave her home and to cancel a speech at a university.
The extreme reaction and harassment has drawn wider scrutiny of the actions of some on the GamerGate side. But individuals involved with GamerGate claim those actions were taken by a radical minority and don't reflect the beliefs of the wider movement.
Despite the ongoing debate, Blizzard said it is rethinking the way it portrays women in its own games. Chris Metzen, a developer at the company, said he wanted to makes sure all customers enjoy his games. "We're clear that we're in an age where gaming is for everybody," he said.
In developing Overwatch,Metzen said Blizzard's team wanted to make sure it didn't over-sexualize the women in the game. "There's a lot of room for growth," he added. "We want girls to feel kick-butt."