Anita Sarkeesian, known for her series of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games documentaries, has cancelled her talk at the Utah State University after the institution received a threat of a possible school shooting. The school refused to increase safety measures due to state laws, leading to the cancellation. Her feminist viewpoints were once again targeted with the reasons being quite disturbing and reminiscent of a recent Santa Barbara incident. Sadly, school shooting and death threats such as these are exactly the kind of abuse and violence against women Sarkeesian tries to caution against, inadvertently proving that her points may hold more truth than her staunch opponents like to admit. Just yesterday, Guardian Liberty Voice published an article about female game designers who became targets of slander and abuse, and today the trend takes on an even darker tone.
In June 2012, Sarkeesian successfully completed her Kickstarter campaign to create a series of short documentaries examining female representation in video games. She raised over $150,000 out of the pledged $6,000 goal, giving her more than enough breathing room to work on the films. Since then, she has released six different videos focusing on tropes such as Damsel in Distress or Women as Background. While praised by fellow feminists, Sarkeesian’s work was quickly criticized by many die-hard gaming fans. They pointed out the lower quality of her videos, occasional misrepresentation of games and the cherry-picking of the most gruesome parts. However, another vocal group skipped any form of level-headed debate and jumped straight to ad hominem insults that quickly escalated to personal attacks and death threats.
Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State University, but a letter from an alleged student threatening a massive school shooting led her to cancel. Sarkeesian requested metal detectors and pat-downs before her speech, but the school refused to comply due to the state’s open carry laws. They also explained the letter was sent to members of the Center for Women and Gender Studies and did not appear to actually come from one of their students. Seeing it as the “norm” for the kind of threats Sarkeesian has received before, they gave a go-ahead for the talk, but Sarkeesian refused. She tweeted her choice was not because of the threat itself, but the insufficient security measures which made her feel unsafe. Despite the school shooting threat, she plans on continuing to speak out to prove her arguments right.
In his letter, the disgruntled student claimed that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge.” He also stated he had an automatic rifle, several pistols and pipe bombs – enough material to cause significant harm. This, sadly, sounds very reminiscent of the Santa Barbara school shooting in May of this year, in which a student went on a rampage after recording a YouTube video blaming women for his being constantly rejected. As in this case, the shooting was a form of personal vendetta against the other gender.
Sarkeesian is not alone, however. Zoe Quinn was also a target of harassment and threats for releasing her game Depression Quest on Steam, the largest digital game distributor online. Rumors of her promiscuity and accusations that she slept with several game journalists further added flame to the issue and sparked the GamerGate debate on ethics in reporting. More recently, Brianna Wu, head of Giant Spacekat game studio, also spoke out about the discrimination and threats she faced when criticizing the supporters of the GamerGate movement. The UST school shooting is only the latest in a long chain of incidents against women in gaming.
The issue of women’s equality and harassment in the gaming industry has been a hot topic in the past several months, and incidents such as these serve as a harsh reminder why. Gamers may not agree with Sarkeesian’s viewpoints and are welcome to air their grievances, but violent threats leading to her having to leave her house or cancel a university talk are going too far. The opponents of her videos need to rethink their strategy. After all, one of her main talking points is the objectification and constant violence expressed towards women in the gaming industry and how it carries over into real life. Even if she really was wrong about the issue at first, the constant death and school shooting threats are only serving to prove her right.
Commentary by Jakub Kasztalski