I’ll begin in the thick of it: a week ago, feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq), notable for her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series, left her home in fear for her safety in the wake of violent threats against her and her family. You probably already know this. You probably already know that Sarkeesian has long been the target of threats and harassment, including a 2012 game entitled Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian. I will not link to it, but suffice it to say that it is self-explanatory. She has documented some of it here. You may even know that this most recent bout of threats of violence, sexual and non, came from an individual who made it clear to Sarkeesian that they had acquired her address, and that of her parents. This individual declared their intent to murder them.
If there was any of that you did not know, please take a moment to sit, mouth agape, in rage and horror. However, if you’re barely surprised, no one could blame you. Not after thousands demanded that Carolyn Petit be fired for so much as suggesting that GTA V’s treatment of women is problematic, to say nothing of transphobic threats and harassment. Or after Miranda Pakozdi was harassed into quitting a video game tournament by her own team’s coach. You could probably name a million other incidents where someone in the gaming community has been abused, threatened, demeaned, or had their privacy invaded. All those events, recent and more distant, are tied together by the fact that the targeted persons dared to criticize or declare real the once-troubling-now-terrifying misogyny of “gamer culture”. Or they simply dared to be women in that culture.
In the past month, two well-known figures in the gaming industry have departed for apparently a similar reason, causing a noticeable disturbance in the force. At the end of July, the producer of the quirky indie game Fez, Phil Fish, halted production on the anticipated sequel, packed his bags, and left. Just like that. More recently (as in last week) one of Bioware’s senior writers, Jennifer Helper, left her position to pursue freelance work. While of course there are many differing aspects to the reasons why they left, I think it’s safe to assume that both occurrences, while not the reason in particular, share one unfortunate similarity: they were both being harassed by fans.
It’s really a double edged sword when an audience realizes how much power they have over content providers. The same audience that can let developers know when and where a game-breaking glitch occurs can also be the audience that tells the developers that their children should have been aborted and that the world would be much better if they killed themselves. But what causes such a disparity? What is it that allows people to think that this kind of negative activity is allowed? I think the problem is two-fold: anonymity and entitlement.