Sad to say, this is a familiar story: yet another woman working within the video game industry has been targeted by frightening online harassment and threats, and was chased from her home Friday night. It's all depressing as hell, and it highlights an increasingly unavoidable reality — the death threats against Brianna Wu show gaming's problem with sexist abuse, and the intensity of some gamers' hostility towards women within their cherished space. It also shows just how harrowing life can be for a well-known woman on social media within any field, to be sure. But given recent events, the unique misogynist ferocity in parts of the gaming community can't be glossed over.
Wu is the latest in a string of women to suffer a torrent of online abuse, particularly on Twitter, thanks to her criticism of the so-called #GamerGate movement. Rising to the forefront in August, this social media campaign allegedly about ethics in video games journalism — though some denizens of 4chan certainly think otherwise — has brought with it endlessly abusive and conspiratorial attitudes towards women in gaming from various backgrounds. Regardless of whether there are legitimate concerns some people within the hashtag feel moved by, this will likely be the lasting legacy of all this. (Trigger warning: The embedded tweet below contains violent rape and death threats.)
What's been particularly striking about the sexist abuse emanating from gamers on social media lately is that it isn't limited to any one sort of professional woman. The entire #GamerGate movement was essentially launched on the back of a series of invasive personal allegations about indie game developer Zoe Quinn, made by her ex, which lead a cabal of gamers and YouTube personalities to conclude (wrongly) that she had dated and/or slept with a games journalist in exchange for for positive coverage of her work. In spite of the movement's claimed goal of rooting out ill-defined "journalistic corruption," it's particularly glaring that the writer caught up in these allegations, Kotaku's Nathan Grayson, hasn't weathered nearly the worst of this ire and abuse — rather, it's the female developer who's suffered it.
Not even mere commentators about games are off-limits from this sort of thing either, not by a long shot. it's been well-documented over the last two years how feminist pop-cultural critic and gaming enthusiast Anita Sarkeesian has been constantly abused, threatened, and made the center of inane and hysterical conspiracy theories. She gave a very illuminating talk at the 2014 XOXO Festival in Portland last month on exactly this point, and speaking engagements themselves are no small feat for her, either — she tweeted Saturday that three different events she's spoken at this year have received bomb threats, including her current attendance at GeekGirlCon '14.
Even further, on Sunday morning, Sarkeesian received another series of death threats on Twitter, this time from someone who also seemed interested in also denying she'd been threatened to begin with.
Wu is chief of development and co-founder of Giant Spacekat, the studio which produced the mobile device game Revolution 60, a game both starring and produced by four women, Wu included. On Friday she tweeted out a meme that was mocking of the #GamerGate cause, which ostensibly fueled the hateful outbursts against her — she was soon met with counter-memes mocking her. And by the end of the night, there was a terrifying person tweeting at her, threatening to murder she and her husband, along with disgustedly graphic and racist remarks, as well as reference to her address.
Wu tweeted that she'd contacted the authorities, and left her home for someplace more safe. And fortunately, she hasn't allowed the experience to sway her determination to continue her career, or to change the culture in gaming to make things more hospitable to her fellow women.
It would make perfect sense if she did, obviously — nobody is obligated to brave this kind of harassment, and deciding to walk away (like longtime gaming writer Jenn Frank did in September) shows an attention and priority for self-care that should be lauded and respected. But it's nonetheless nice that Wu seems determined to see all this through, for a better tomorrow.
Image: Brianna Wu/Twitter