Gamergate Takes Dark Turn From Online Bullying To Threats Of Mass Shootings

The increasingly violent threats that have brought attention to “Gamergate” resulted in game critic and feminist author Anita Sarkeesian cancelling a recent speaking engagement. Sarkeesian was supposed to appear at Utah State University on Tuesday, but declined when she learned of an email from an unknown source claimed to be behind Gamergate that promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” and threatened that Sarkeesian would “die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU.”

USU officials said that under state law concealed weapons could not be barred from the event, and so Sarkeesian, concerned about safety and the graphic threats, declined once she learned of the email.

Part of the conflict behind Gamergate – that video games are misogynistic – goes back years, but the current and growing argument began in August, when Sarkeesian released a video, called “Tropes vs. Women,” where she criticized video games for their continued portrayal of women as archetypes, such as that of the victim or being merely ornamental.

At about the same time, video game developer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend attacked her online, claiming that her career success was due to her having relations with a journalist from Kotaku, a gaming news site. Quinn denies the claim, and Kotaku never even reviewed Quinn’s game…yet Quinn found herself the subject of a horrendous online attack campaign and another target of Gamergate supporters.

And then female game developer Brianna Wu, who designed a game with all female lead characters, wrote about the harassment of women in the gaming industry and shared a meme poking fun at Gamergate on Twitter. She, too, quickly became the target on enraged Gamergate supporters. In fact, the threats against her was so violent and graphic that she was forced to evacuate her home out of fear of her own safety.

So, on one side of Gamergate are the “hardcore gamers” – many of whom are male – those who both design and engage in games like “Halo” and “Call of Duty.” These are games that have been subject to criticism due to the archetypal manner in which they portray female characters. And on the opposing side, the focus of Gamergate, is a growing number of a different sort of “hardcore gamer” – many of them women – who are designing and engaging in games that don’t involve women characters being used as only decorative backdrops or the victim that needs to be saved in a quest.

But for those who support Gamergate, their fear goes beyond the fact that women within the industry are simply trying to develop another facet in gaming and are speaking out against the sexism they feel is rampant in video games and the video game industry. It goes much deeper.

As The Washington Post reported, “There are, unsurprisingly, some socio-political overtones, as well: The hashtag only took off once it was tweeted by the conservative actor Adam Baldwin and blurbed on Breitbart. (Truly odd, fascinating headline there: ‘Feminist bullies tearing the video game industry apart.’) Since then, Gamergate supporters on 4chan and Twitter have been quick to sling around the acronym ‘SJW,’ for social justice warrior — a kind of shorthand insult for liberals and progressives. It’s not a ‘an apolitical consumer movement,’ Jon Stone argued in The Guardian Monday; it’s ‘a swelling of vicious right-wing sentiment.'”

There has been no legal action taken against any so-called Gamergate supporter who has posted threats, although a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association did release a statement saying “Threats of violence and harassment are wrong. They have to stop. There is no place in the video game community — or our society — for personal attacks and threats.”

Gamergate began on 4Chan, but has spread to other, more mainstream social media outlets. Twitter has suspended some accounts, such as the one which threatened Wu that they would choke her to death with her husband’s penis, but spokesperson for the company declined to say how many Gamergate accounts have actually been suspended for openly hostile remarks, or how many – if any – have been referred to law enforcement.

But when online bullying from anonymous internet cowboys who support Gamergate grows from hostility to graphic, violent threats that include mass shootings from Gamergate supporters, it seems apparent that something needs to be done.

For further reading on the threats involved in Gamergate, click here.

[Image via Mother Jones]