On Oct. 14, Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a talk on women and video games at Utah State University due to death and shooting threats targeted at her and the attending students. While the university agreed to sweep the room for bombs prior to the talk, they would still allow those with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms into the room. Due to state law, the university denied Sarkeesian’s request of metal detectors and patdown searches, so she cancelled the talk entirely.
On Twitter, Sarkeesian wrote, “Requested pat downs or metal detectors after mass shooting threat but because of Utah’s open carry laws police wouldn’t do firearm searches.”
Sarkeesian is the creator of the blog Feminist Frequency, and advocates for feminist issues in pop culture. At least one of the threats against Sarkeesian was attributed to the “Gamergate” campaign. This threat comes after a slew of other violent death threats within the recent Gamergate backlash against Sarkeesian and others.
The Gamergate movement and hashtag had its beginnings last August, seemingly as a critique of ethics in video game journalism; but for some, the movement has turned into a wave of misogyny in video games and video game development.
“Ultimately, it’s about silencing women in the gaming community,” said David Leach, the director of the Technology and Society Minor at UVic. Leach believes that the controversy “was ultimately a cover for misogyny.”
The controversy started in August with the video game developer Zoe Quinn. After publishing her game, Depression Quest, Quinn became the target of online abuse and harassment after a blog post by Eron Gjoni, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend. The post accused Quinn of having an affair with Kotaku reporter Nathan Grayson. The affair supposedly led to a positive review of Quinn’s game on Kotaku, which led to the success and widespread media report of her game.
Though this is the most recent controversy, the Gamergate group has origins that reach back years. Janni Aragon, the director of technology and integrated learning at UVic, also teaches on feminist issues in pop culture. On the Gamergate controversy, she said, “It stems from when Anita Sarkeesian started her [Tropes Vs. Women in Gaming] project to look at sexist tropes within the gaming community. Immediately, she was vilified for this. People went so far as to put together games in which there was violence against her. There was a call of action—or violence rather—to harm, rape, and kill her.” In 2012, Sarkeesian received multiple death threats in response to her Kickstarter campaign to fund the “Tropes” project.
Asking what the result of this controversy would be, Aragon responded, “I think this is something that we are going to continue to discuss, but we can’t, with the wave of a wand, change misogyny, sexism, racism.”
When asked whether he agreed with journalists who have suggested that the Gamergate incident marks the end of the gamer culture as a hyper-male dominated and aggressive scene, Leach commented that he hoped this was the case. “Games can do so many different things,” he said. “They are not just entertainment. I hope [gamer culture shifts] because we’ll get better games, [and] more diverse games if more people are able to take part in that culture ”