Brianna Wu and her husband Frank temporarily fled their home on October 10 after she received threats of sexual assault and death via Twitter. The last tweet published their address, prompting her to call the police, who came to her home.
Wu is the head of development at Giant Spacekat, designer of the game Revolution 60. Wu believes she received the threats in response to her online activism on behalf of women in the tech industry. She told a Boston.com writer that she is “harassed on a daily basis,” often receiving rape threats and unwanted pornographic images, but that Friday night’s messages “crossed a line to the point [she] felt scared.”
Twitter has suspended the account used to issue the threats: screencaps of some of them can be viewed at Business Insider.
Brianna is well-known to File 770 readers as the cover artist of File 770 # 157 (2009), and an earlier cover collaboration with Frank Wu on File 770 #154 (2008). I feel it’s a crime and an outrage that she is having to endure a terrible ordeal simply to work in her chosen field.
Brianna has been getting threatening messages for many months. Last July she opened her article for Polygon, ”No skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry”, with the grim statement:
I haven’t been out to my car at night by myself since January 2nd.
My name is Brianna Wu. I lead a development studio that makes games. Sometimes, I write about issues in the games industry that relate to the equality of women. My reward is that I regularly have men threatening to rape and commit acts of violence against me.
Abuse reached a crescendo last week as a byproduct of her comments on GamerGate, a universe of social media messages with the #GamerGate hashtag. It is self-styled by proponents as an online movement criticizing journalistic ethics in the games industry, but the tag is frequently seen on traffic from people interested in justifying a predominantly male gamer identity or, in the worst cases, raining threats and abuse on specific women working in the industry such as Anita Sarkeesian. (See Gawker for a basic introduction.)
As Wu told Boston.com: “I am a target. My entire agenda in the industry is to make it possible for more women to pursue a career in the field…and that simple goal scares the hell out of these people.”
Wu has been defending herself by making the threats as public as possible. She’s lined up podcast and cable news appearances. On October 13 she was on MSNBC’s The Reid Report with host Joy-Ann Reid, where she was preceded by Eric Johnson, a journalist for Re/Code. Johnson began by explaining that users of the GamerGate hashtag are calling for a reform of journalism ethics, then admitted “But it has originated as and continued to be about undermining women in the game community.”
Wu’s heightened media profile has also turned her into a magnet for further attacks by attention-seekers like Vox Day and actor Adam Baldwin.
Wu tweeted on October 14, “Actor @AdamBaldwin defamed my character, publicized a libelous video about me and sent an angry mob of 200k people after me.” They have exchanged several verbal salvos through Twitter. Baldwin is best remembered by fans as part of the TV series Firefly and its continuation film Serenity. He has done voice work in many games. And lately he’s appeared in TNT’s post-apocalyptic drama The Last Ship. On Twitter, he issues a steady stream of political opinions.
Wu’s situation has even spilled over into the Wikipedia. A Brianna Wu entry was created on October 13. Various people immediately attempted to make edits to spin the article to suit themselves, and someone now has recommended the entry for deletion.
Though he did not address Brianna Wu’s situation, Cory Doctorow had things to say about GamerGate during an interview about his new book In Real Life, published this week in the LA Times.
HC: “In Real Life” stars a young female gamer whose mother is worried about her getting too involved in a community that isn’t particularly kind to female gamers. What are your feelings on the current gamergate and how it reflects those gender dynamics in the gamer community?
CD: It’s disheartening. My wife is a retired “Quake” player who played on the English national team, was a games professional. And I, because of her, have moved through a milieu where I’m surrounded by incredible women gamers. That kind of steamy, grotesque writhing underbelly of gamer culture — the rape threats and the violence and the reflexive hatred of Anita Sarkeesian — is really disheartening. And it’s not unique to gaming. I think it is an epiphenomenon of a wider social inequality. Gamers reflect that. [Gaming] is one of those places where it’s OK to say women get a [bad] deal. But even in the rest of the world where you’re no longer supposed to say that, it’s still OK to act like it.
We still allow employers to get away with paying their women less than they pay their men. We still allow cops to get away with sexually discriminating against victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. So long as they say, “I think it’s bad that women get discriminated against,” we let them actually practice discrimination. I have no apology and no excuse and no explanation for misogyny in culture, but if we were to make it socially acceptable to say, “You are a misogynist in gamer culture,” it would not be the end of our work. The important work is eliminating misogyny itself, not just the admission of misogyny.