Here we go again. Brianna Wu, developer of sci-fi action puzzler Revolution 60, left her home last night in fear of her life.
Wu has said on Twitter that she and her husband abandoned their home after threats on their life were made via a series of abusive Tweets attacking her for her outspoken stance on harassment of women in gaming. When the Tweets published the couple’s home address, they called the police and left to stay elsewhere. The Tweets are believed to have followed on from a war of words between Wu and pro-Gamergate message board 8chan earlier this week, where the Wus’ home address was first published.
Wu is the third high-profile woman to be forced to leave her home due to online harassment since the Gamergate controversy exploded in August. Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn and cultural commentator Anita Sarkeesian were forced to do the same after receiving similar threats, followed by Fez developer Phil Fish announcing his retirement from games development due to harassment he had himself experienced. That said, let’s not forget that there is a history for this kind of behaviour going back several years. Ex-Infinity Ward Creative Strategist Robert Bowling has openly spoken about receiving regular anonymous death threats while working on the Call of Duty games, including leaks of his home address and those of his loved ones, and receiving anonymous packages in the mail.
These type of threats have also been experienced by other developers working on Call of Duty, such as Black Ops 2 developer David Vonderhaar who received threats against himself and his family last July in ‘retaliation’ for changes to a couple of the game’s weapons in a patch. Writer Jennifer Hepler left BioWare after receiving threats to herself and her children regarding comments she made about not enjoying combat in some games, including the poorly-received Dragon Age 2, causing some to label her a ‘cancer’ that was killing the one-time fan favourite developer. BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk admitted last year that this kind of behaviour in the wake of Mass Effect 3‘s controversial ending was a factor in his and fellow founder Ray Muzyka’s decision leaving their own company in September 2012. Minecraft creator Notch also received death threats in response to a site giving out the game for free getting shut down, behaviour he directly linked to his decision to sell Mojang to Microsoft and leave the industry last month. Sometimes, even quitting your job doesn’t stop the hate train: just ask Stephen ‘Stepto’ Toulouse, who still receives death threats two years after leaving his longtime job heading Xbox Live’s policy and enforcement division.
You don’t even have to be a ‘celebrity’ developer or work for the bigshots to have this stuff happen to you. Chris Condon, developer of browser-based game The Last Stand, attracted the attention of this classy individual simply for making a Facebook game. I wonder if this 140-character warrior ever considered that his behaviour would give Condon’s Facebook game infinitely more attention than if he’d simply shut up?
That’s just a select few out of the many who have experienced this behaviour, which is not just making gamers look awful at a time when we should be celebrating the growth of the industry into a legitimate and multi-faceted part of culture, but is also creating a haemorrhage of talent that if not addressed, could take an awful toll on the industry’s future. Gamergate may have been a chaotic and confusing mess of several different issues reaching a head all at once, but the throughline is fairly clear: the culprits may be few, but the environment of hate and paranoia they are creating affects all of us. It affects the public perception of games and gamers; it affects the community, souring the atmosphere and potentially giving a maladjusted few an unhealthy level power over the whole; and worst of all, it directly threatens future generations of developers from entering the games industry, stifling innovation and creating a talent drought that could have terrible consequences for the medium. Those who constantly bemoan the supposed homogenization of gaming and the dominance of cookie-cutter product from AAA publishers should be especially worried about this one, because without new talent pushing the boundaries that dystopic production-line industry you talk about gets all the closer to actually coming true.
Oh, and those who get up in arms whenever the Government start talking about censoring and/or monitoring the Internet? You should be taking this stuff to heart too, because although the authorities have by and large have been fairly toothless against this harassment and other cases of cyberbullying in the past all it needs is one of these maniacs to take it one step further and actually hurt someone for the tune to start changing – and what better excuse to clamp down than violence perpetuated by those nasty gamers some publicity-minded politicians have had it in for, for decades? It’s something that may still be some ways off, but we could be turning onto the road that leads to it.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the response to Gamergate was the way some people took articles such as mine as an attack on them personally, or on gamers as a community, or on them being henpecked to take responsibility for things they hasn’t done. “Can’t we just talk about games?”, many exclaimed. But the fact is, the issue of people being undeservedly chased out of their homes, the issue of feminism in gaming, the issue of the relationship between developer and audience – all the many issues that have been festering for years and erupted under the ‘Gamergate’ banner, all of them are intrinsically linked with games and their future. A minority are making the industry inhospitable for talent both new and established, and by standing against the malevolent few we can make a statement that we, as gamers, refuse to allow them to threaten the future of our medium. It’s not about admitting personal guilt for anything, or submitting to some abstract conspiracy of political correctness, or proclaiming our embarrassment for the medium we choose to follow; it’s a statement of pride in gaming – where it started, where it’s come to and where it’s going. And while there is little we can do to directly address the problem at the gamer community level, it can be argued that direct action will only work with the understanding and support of the gaming population as a whole. Right now the battle of awareness is the right battle to fight.
And if there’s a better moment to end on a song I certainly can’t think of it: