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Activision QA worker warns OSHA about the devastating impact of crunch

Mandatory, extensive overtime hurts workers, and OSHA may be able to regulate it

GERMANY-GAMING-FAIR-GAMESCOM Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Amber La Macchia was prepared to deal with crunch before she even joined the video game industry — it’s something she heard over and over again while studying game design in college just five years ago.

The practice of crunch — a word that games industry workers use to describe brutal overtime — is well-documented across multiple video game studios. You’d be hard-pressed to find a developer who hasn’t encountered it at least once. The industry has started to reckon with crunch, to better understand just how badly it hurts both workers and video games; studios like Rockstar Games, Activision Blizzard, CD Projekt Red, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga developer TT Games, Epic Games, and plenty more have been criticized for the practice. But has the industry changed in response to this public scrutiny? It’s starting to, as workers push back against the practice, refusing to put their health and safety at risk for work.

La Macchia, a senior QA tester at Activision, is one of those workers. This week, she’s at the Department of Labor’s Workers’ Voice Summit in Washington, D.C., where she’s acting as a representative for the video game industry and, in particular, for Communications Workers of America’s efforts to make the industry more equitable for workers.

La Macchia is addressing government officials during the three-day conference, educating them about the health and safety risks associated with crunch.

“The video game industry is brand new, at least compared to many of the other industries in the United States,” La Macchia told Polygon. “OSHA is not very present when it comes to health and safety [in the video game industry]. One of the big things that I would like to see done is proper investigation, training for health and safety concerns, and regulations.”

Instead of taking on crunch shop by shop, industry regulation could make sweeping changes to how companies operate.

Workers from a ton of industries are present at the conference, and La Macchia said that their concerns are often very similar across industries — just different names for similar issues. The way workers are impacted by harsh working conditions is similar, too: There’s real risk to both physical and mental health attached to these issues, and La Macchia is emphasizing that to officials, too.

Of course, this isn’t the industry’s first brush with OSHA. In 2016, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) asked California regulators to investigate the industry’s treatment of voice actors, alleging that unsafe work damaged actors’ vocal cords. Soon, crunch could be investigated in a similar way.

“There’s this perception that crunch is necessary and unavoidable, or that complaining about crunch is odd in the face of other injustices — like it’s an insignificant issue — but crunch ruins lives,” La Macchia said. “This is something we don’t have to face as a very young industry, and because it’s a young industry, things are not locked in stone.”

She continued: “We barely have established standards. Obviously they have flaws, and it needs to be corrected. This is one of them. Crunch not only affects the livelihood of workers, but also affects the quality of the product and culture of a company. I don’t see why anyone would object to trying to eliminate crunch, no matter where they sit.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misnamed the Department of Labor and has since been updated.

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