Update, January 31: Nolan Bushnell has made a public statement following the GDC’s decision to revoke this year’s Pioneer Award.
“I applaud the GDC for ensuring their institution reflects what is right,” Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell says via Twitter, “specifically with regards to how people should be treated in the workplace. 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. 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.”
Original story, January 31: In addition to honours for specific games, the Game Developers Choice Awards recognize a number of individuals each year for their contributions to the game industry. The Pioneer Award is given to “individuals who developed a breakthrough technology, game concept, or gameplay design at a crucial juncture in video game history.” This year, the honour was to be awarded to Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, but following concerns from the gaming community, GDC organizers have decided not to follow through with the award.
Interviews and historical accounts with Bushnell and others from the early days of Atari suggest that the company’s co-founder helped to foster a fraternity-like atmosphere. In particular, an anecdote from Atari designer Al Alcorn in the book The Ultimate History of Video Games describes an incident where Bushnell tried to convince a female employee to join a hot tub board meeting. Bushnell himself said in a Playboy interview that Darlene, the codename for Pong, was taken from another female employee who “was stacked and had the tiniest waist.” He told the San Francisco Chronicle that “I find the aura of power and money is very intimidating to an awful number of girls.”
After Bushnell was announced yesterday as the Pioneer Award recipient, observers brought up these quotes on social media and questioned whether he should be honoured, especially in light of the Me Too movement, protesting the choice with the NotNolan hashtag. Today, GDC officially rescinded the Pioneer Award with the following statement on Twitter.
— Official_GDC (@Official_GDC) January 31, 2018
It’s not yet clear what form the award will take in light of the announcement. Indie developer and Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail is scheduled to receive the Ambassador Award at the ceremony, and LucasArts veteran and Double Fine founder Tim Schafer is set to receive the Lifetime Achievement award.