The legacy of Gamergate.
When Gamergate began, I was the head of
development for my game studio, Giant Spacekat. I watched for months as a mob of trolls harassed women in game development with death threats and rape threats, and violated their privacy until they quit or gave up their careers.
What follows are a selection of quotes detailingthreats and harassment claims from the FBI Gamergate report (2017).
Since industry leaders would not, I knew I had to act.
As a result, I was a primary target of Gamergate. They tried to hack my studio. They attempted to steal and publish my academic records. They shot videos wearing skull masks and showing viewers the knives they said they planned to murder me with. But I stood my ground; I didn’t back down and I told reporters the truth about what was happening.
I meticulously documented all of it — the death threats, the rape threats, the identity theft. And, along with other women who were being targeted, I waited for law enforcement to prosecute the men who had threatened to murder me and other women. I met with the F.B.I., with the White House and with members of Congress. I waited for justice. I am still waiting.
I wish I could tell you that it’s gotten better. It hasn’t. Gamergate gave birth to a new kind of celebrity troll, men who made money and built their careers by destroying women’s reputations. It poisoned our politics and our society. Attacks on journalists, disinformation campaigns, the online radicalization of young men — these are depressingly familiar symptoms of our current dysfunction.
What about in the gaming industry? Before those events in 2014, there was almost no discussion about the challenges women faced in game development. We build worlds of fantasy for men, by men. Gamergate should have been a time of reckoning for the gaming community, which had long been rife with sexism and misogyny. It wasn’t.
Since Gamergate, there is finally some awareness of these problems, but there has been little action. The number of women promoted to senior positions and studio heads is still dismally low. In the workplace, women have a persistent sense of being undervalued and unheard. Gamergate gave our industry an easy villain to blame for our problems. The perception was that women were leaving because of harassment. The reality was that we were leaving because we felt underpaid, underpromoted and unable to balance the demands of work and life.
We needed the men who sexually harassed us at work to be fired. What we got instead were catered luncheons for women in tech. Even today, game studios rarely stand by their employees who are targeted by online mobs who use exactly the same tactics they used during Gamergate. Everyone agrees sexism is a problem, yet no one admits to sexism.
Since Gamergate, many women I know are reluctant to speak publicly on gender issues, because they fear — rightly — that they will be targeted and harassed. One close friend told me she could not risk her young daughter being targeted or worse — growing up without a mother. Women who have been sexually harassed simply leave their companies out of fear of ending up in the press. Speaking up exerts a heavy price, as does being silent.
And yet, there are thousands of small victories that came as a result of Gamergate. I know women who were in college five years ago who saw the sisterly solidarity in the gaming industry and were inspired to follow their dreams and make video games. Women today are vastly more organized and better networked. When a game conference has an all-male lineup, you can be certain that the organizers are going to hear about it. When you look at the bylines of industry publications, there are many more women today than there were in 2014. This isn’t the revolution we wanted, but I now feel certain that revolution will come.
The main lesson I took from Gamergate is that asking the status quo to do the right thing doesn’t work. In a way, that is empowering. Instead of asking men to fix this field, women need the power to fix it ourselves. Increasingly, women are founding game studios, pushing for promotions and helping young women find their first jobs. The people who hate us are more organized, but so are we. And for myself, I decided to run for the House of Representatives, to give law enforcement the resources to prosecute online extremism. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Gamergate will not be prosecutions but the leaders who stepped up after the carnage.
Brianna Wu is a software engineer and Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in Massachusetts District 8.