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#Gamergate leads to death threats against women in the gaming industry

October 16, 2014 at 6:30 PM EDT
Members of the gaming community launched a campaign in August called Gamergate as a response to allegations of unethical journalism. But it has grown to include outright threats against women who work in or critique the industry. Hari Sreenivasan talks to one of the targets of the harassment, Brianna Wu of Giant Spacekat.

GWEN IFILL: Next: GamerGate. It’s a story about sexism in the world of video gaming, with all the elements of a Hollywood script, romance gone bad, alleged corruption and, ultimately, death threats against women who speak out.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

A warning:  Some of the images may be disturbing to some viewers.

ANITA SARKEESIAN, Feminist Frequency: These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing mature themes into gaming stories. But there is nothing mature about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In her video blog series, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian has condemned stereotypes and abuse of women in video games, such as “Dragon Age: Origins.”

ACTRESS: Let go of me. Stop, please.

ACTOR: It’s a party isn’t it? Grab a whore and have a good time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In other games, depictions of women are simply too graphic to show on television.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: It ends up sensationalizing an issue which is painfully familiar to a large percentage of women on this planet, while also normalizing and trivializing their experiences.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sarkeesian, in turn, has drawn heavy criticism from some gamers, and even threats of violence that led her to cancel a speech at Utah State University.

But Sarkeesian’s case is only one part of a broader online assault on women in the gaming industry in recent months. It goes back to August, when an ex-boyfriend of video game designer Zoe Quinn posted an online blog. In it, he accused Quinn of sleeping with a reporter to get a positive review on one of her games.

That sparked a campaign that came to be dubbed GamerGate, highlighting perceived corruption among video game journalists. From there, GamerGate has grown to include outright harassment of women like Quinn and Sarkeesian who work in or critique the industry. Threats on Twitter even forced Brianna Wu, another game developer, to leave her Boston area home after her address was made public.

Now another campaign, Stop GamerGate 2014, is trending. It calls for the harassment to end.

And Brianna Wu joins me now to talk about these issues and the problem of harassment. She is owner and head of development at Giant Spacekat, one of the country’s few female-owned video game studios.

Now, Brianna, our audience is not nearly as connected to gaming as you are, and it seems that GamerGate has different definitions for different people. How do you define it?

BRIANNA WU, Giant Spacekat: I think, very generally speaking, GamerGate is a war on women in this industry.

You know, ostensibly, it’s about journalistic corruption. But if you actually look at who’s being targeted, it is almost all women. They have gone after my friends in the industry one by one. They took out Samantha Allen by the exact same playbook. They took Zoe Quinn down by it.

They have gone after my friend Jenn Frank, Mattie Brice. They have gone after Leigh Alexander. They have gone after Anita Sarkeesian. And now they’re after me.

So it’s really reached a point where women — yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tell us about this playbook. What is the playbook and what have you been living through in the past few days?

BRIANNA WU: It’s — it’s literally been the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life.

The idea is to basically terrorize women in the game industry. So it doesn’t just stop with rape threats or death threats, which, sadly, being a woman in this field, I have been dealing with for a while now. You know, it’s literally escalated to the point that I have had to get the FBI involved. I have had to get local police involved to hunt these people down.

They have targeted my financial assets of my company. You know, they have set up fake accounts to impersonate me online, with me saying just horrible, horribly discriminating things against people in an effort to destroy my professional reputation.

You know, they have actually set up burner accounts with fake, you know, stories about my life and have sent them to prominent journalists, who, frankly, just slander me behind the scenes.

So it is every single tactic they can use to terrorize women in this field and get us to be quiet.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, is this a possibly maturing moment for the industry? I mean, what had been tolerated as puerile and juvenile behavior by a group of young boys playing on the Internet or as artistic expression, I mean, is this a moment where people start to rethink the impact?

BRIANNA WU: I deeply hope so.

You know, one of the most frustrating things about this entire ordeal is, the video game industry is overwhelmingly male. The developers are overwhelmingly male and game journalists are overwhelmingly male.

And what you have had is the overwhelmingly male games press has sat completely silent throughout much of this. So, the women I know in this field have been suffering because they just don’t want to get involved. But it’s really reached a boiling point this week.

And you saw Giant Bomb and Patrick Klepek finally come forward. I think people are finally starting to take notice that this isn’t something we can just ignore any longer.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One group that did take notice was Intel. Earlier in — they just announced that they are withdrawing their support for a particular gaming site.

Does that help or hurt getting visibility to this and having economic consequences occur?

BRIANNA WU: It devastates us.

They were going after my friend Leigh Alexander’s job with that. So what you have are these people that terrorize anyone that speaks out about what’s happening to women, just like Leigh did. And they tried to get her fired. They went after her employer’s advertisers. It’s a literal mob that will stop and do anything in their power to silence women in this field.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Brianna Wu, thanks so much for your time.