Game developer Brianna Wu and her husband Frank have been forced to flee their home after Wu received violent rape and death threats from an anonymous Twitter user who posted her home address for the entire Internet to see.
Wu is head of development at Giant Spacekat, the independent gaming publisher behind sci-fi action puzzler "Revolution 60." She says she and her husband contacted law enforcement after receiving vitriolic death threats from a Twitter account named Death to Brianna, which has already been suspended by Twitter. Wu made it clear that the death threats were specifically related to her outspoken criticism of Gamergate, a movement that originated from the criticism of unethical gaming journalism that has spiraled out of control into a misogynistic online mob harassing female developers, journalists and even academic researchers.
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) Oct. 11, 2014
I want to be crystal clear - I am scared of the death threats I've gotten. I am terrified of the #gamergate blame-the-victim witch hunt. — Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) Oct. 11, 2014
In an interview with Kotaku, Wu says the death threats, which involved threats to kill her children and other very graphic threats, came after she posted a joke about Gamergate.
"I was literally watching 8chan go after me in their specific chatroom for Gamergate," she says. "They posted my address, and within moments I got that death threat."
Wu is not the first female game developer to experience such vitriolic hate from gamers. Gamergate started as a movement supposedly against questionable game journalism ethics, but numerous reports have cropped up of the continuous harassment of women from people who claim to be part of the Gamergate community.
The controversy all started when game developer Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni came out last August alleging his former lover of sleeping with Kotaku's Nathan Grayson and several other journalists to obtain positive reviews for her unconventional game "Depression Quest." Kotaku confirmed Quinn and Grayson had a relationship but that Grayson never wrote on Quinn's work following the start of their relationship.
This spurred the gamers on 4chan to speculate on the existence of a feminist conspiracy out to tear apart the gaming industry, whose flames were further fanned by the slew of articles claiming "gaming is dead" and feminist theorist Anita Sarkeesian's video series criticizing how women were depicted in most video games.
Quinn and Sarkeesian quickly became the targeted attacks of unspeakable threats of serious injury, rape and death from a group of furious, anonymous gamers. At one point, one person called Quinn's father telling him her daughter was a whore, and Sarkeesian told The New York Times that she had received Photoshopped images of her being raped. Like Wu, both had their personal information published online and eventually had to flee their homes due to the mounting threats against their lives.
Female journalists who covered Gamergate were also not exempt. Jenn Frank, a friend of Quinn, wrote that "the endgame is to frighten all women out of the video games industry - no matter what they write, film, create or produce - and to additionally frighten anyone who would support them." Frank and game designer Mattie Brice announced they were retreating from the game industry after seeing how savage some of its members have become.
Researcher Jennifer Allaway, who set out to take a demographic survey of the gaming industry, received hundreds of responses from 8chan, a 4chan spinoff that was created specifically to talk about Gamergate, that were as unrelated as they were hateful. Responses varied from "Suck my ****!" to "Kill yourself."
For the record, exactly who these people are or what fuels their rage against female game developers and their supporters, whom they have branded "social justice warriors" trying to use gaming as a venue to push their political agenda, is not known. Forbes published a comprehensive article speculating on the matter, which says that Gamergate could be driven by a sense of nostalgia for the gaming days of old, where gamers with a special set of technical skills took to games to escape from the complicated realities of everyday living and the point of gaming was simply to entertain and nothing else, as opposed to the wider adoption of gaming by other groups who don't share the same characteristics as the more traditional gamers - young, male, white and very tech-literate.
"Gamergate appeals to people who feel alienated by the changing face of gaming, people who feel criticized when they've been the minority, people who want to keep gaming the way it was, people who are already prone to assuming conspiracies, and people who feel as if they're being disenfranchised by the changes in society being carried out in gaming," writes Forbes.
However, some people who belong to Gamergate actively voice their condemnation of the harassment, saying that there is no excuse for sending anyone death threats. Still, others such as David Scott Jaffe admit Gamergate has gone too far to enjoy being associated with it.
"I can no longer tolerate someone thinking I am even a MODERATE supporter of #Gamergate," he says. "It's just got way too much toxicity and cruelty and mean-spiritedness embedded within and hovering around it. And I would just HATE for anyone to think I support ANY of the hateful, threatening and misogynistic views some of its more vocal members espouse."