Over the weekend, three different French media outlets reported on wide-ranging accusations of workplace misconduct at Quantic Dream, the Parisian game studio founded by controversial director David Cage and best known for PlayStation exclusives like Heavy Rain and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human. As translated by Eurogamer, the reports in Le Monde, Canard PC, and Mediapart depict the development house as a gross boys’ club ruled over by Cage, who sees the company as a “private, or semi-private space” and “feels he has the right to say whatever he wants,” according to Eurogamer’s translations of a former employee’s account. That allegedly includes making racist and homophobic jokes, having “a lack of consideration for female colleagues,” and making “inappropriate remarks about actresses in his games.” Meanwhile, Guillaume De Fondaumière, Quantic’s co-CEO, stands accused of “hitting on staff at parties” and making an inappropriate amount of contact when greeting employees with Parisian cheek kisses.
Recounting a specific instance of Cage busting out some “hilarious” racist humor, one source told Le Monde that after watching security footage of a burglary, Cage turned to an employee of Tunisian origin and asked if the robber was their cousin. Cage denied making such inappropriate remarks, calling the accusations “ridiculous, absurd, and grotesque.” He even pulled out the old “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” card by reminding Le Monde that he has worked with celebrities that also happen to be social activists. “You want to talk about homophobia? I work with Ellen Page, who fights for LGBT rights,” Cage said, referring to Page’s starring role in Beyond: Two Souls, a game that was released a year prior to Page coming out and becoming a prominent champion of the LGBTQ community. “You want to talk about racism? I work with Jesse Williams, who fights for civil rights in the USA … Judge me by my work.”
But critics have been judging Cage’s work for years, especially when it comes to his portrayals of women. In his most acclaimed game, Heavy Rain, the main female character is subjected to multiple scenes where the camera grossly lingers on her naked body and several scenes that threaten her with sexual violence, from sexual assault nightmares to stripteases at gunpoint. In Cage’s Indigo Prophecy, female lead Carla goes from a tough-as-nails New York cop to the characterless sexual conquest of the male lead, throwing herself at his reanimated corpse in the moments before the game’s climactic battle. According to Le Monde’s sources, several Quantic Dream employees tried to tell Cage about what they perceived to be sexist elements in the company’s next game, Detroit: Become Human, including the “misogynist” nature of a scene depicting violent child abuse. Cage didn’t listen, because, as one source told Le Monde, “David does not listen.” Sony debuted the scene last fall, and it became a magnet for controversy.
Former employees say the inappropriate actions of leaders Cage and De Fondaumière exemplify the generally toxic and abusive culture throughout the studio. All three reports center on a collection of 600 images of Quantic employees Photoshopped into degrading and/or sexual pictures, some of which were reportedly included on group emails sent around the company and date back to 2013. (While the whole story is behind a paywall, several of the pictures, including one that is clearly Cage’s face on the body of a man holding a dildo-tipped power tool, can be seen at Canard PC.) According to Eurogamer’s translation, an IT manager discovered the cache in February 2017, leading five employees to file complaints. Cage and De Fondaumière told Le Monde that while they had seen some images they deemed “funny or more or less amusing,” they were not aware of the more offensive images before the cache was unearthed.
The two executives have pushed back against the accusations. In one of the most stunning examples of human obliviousness ever put to print, Cage twice told Le Monde that, despite having a workforce that is reportedly 83 percent male, Quantic Dream “is not a rugby locker room.” He was sitting in front of a painting the newspaper described as “a penis with farting testicles” at the time.
De Fondaumière told our sister site, Kotaku, “I’m furious and outraged by these accusations, which I take very seriously. And I will take all possible legal actions to defend my honor.” He also offered this statement on Twitter:
Articles published today level various allegations against Quantic Dream, its management and employees. We categorically deny all of these allegations. Quantic Dream filed a complaint several months ago and further complaints will follow. We invite interested parties to read the responses of our Employee Representatives and Health & Security Committee to questions submitted by the journalists prior to publication. Inappropriate conduct or practices have no place at Quantic Dream. We have taken and always will take such grievances very seriously. We value every single person who works at Quantic Dream. It is of utmost important to us that we maintain a safe environment that allows us all to channel our shared passion for making video games.