Threatened by GamerGate, Brianna Wu says she fears for her life but won’t back down

Brianna Wu is a developer at Giant Spacekat. (Image via Giant Spacekat)
Brianna Wu is a developer at Giant Spacekat. (Image via Giant Spacekat)

Brianna Wu, head of development at gaming company Giant Spacekat, became ensnared in the evolving drama that is GamerGate. This month, Wu and her family received death threats on Twitter and were forced to flee her house in Arlington. Wu spoke with BetaBoston about the issue, and said she still fears for her life, but she refuses to back down.

If you aren’t familiar with Wu or GamerGate, here is a quick review of some of the events over the past couple of years that have led to Wu, and many other women, being forced into hiding or out of gaming:

‘GamerGate’ is the name of a movement in the gaming world that professes to be for more ethics in video game journalism, but instead seems to exist only to attack outspoken women in the gaming world.

-Anita Sarkeesian, creator of an online video series called Feminist Frequency, critiques the portrayal of women in video games. Immediately, she gets death threats, rape threats, and is forced to go into hiding; the threats continue to this day. Recently, she refused to speak at a Utah college where security refused to check for concealed weapons (which is a right by Utah law) even after someone sends a message threatening a massacre at the event.

-This summer, in what many consider the official beginning of GamerGate, Boston game developer Zoe Quinn breaks up with her boyfriend, who then posts details of their relationship on the Internet. He says that Quinn had an affair with a game journalist. Quinn gets attacked with the same type of threats as Sarkeesian, under the false and fabricated implication that she traded sex for favorable game reviews.

-Two weeks ago, Wu, who has been outspoken about the harassment of women in the gaming world, sends out a “meme” mocking GamerGate’s supposed ethical mission. The next day, she receives vile, violent, and graphic death threats and rape threats, which also include her address. She calls the Arlington police, goes into hiding, but still tries to get the word out about what is happening to women who speak out against GamerGate.

On Friday, I spoke to Wu.

Do you feel safe?
No, I don’t even a little.

It’s not an exaggeration to read other writers who have said that it’s amazing that no one has actually gotten killed yet. I agree with that.

It’s literally gotten to this point where we talk about the war on terror here in the United States like it’s something that happens overseas, but right now, there is a war on terror for women who make and comment on video games.

What else can you call it? It’s an operation to intimidate women through tools of fear until we shut the [expletive] up. It’s absolutely got to stop.

What’s it like being a feminist in the gaming world?
Feminism is just women looking to be equal, that is it. If you look at me professionally and what I speak to, all I talk about is companies looking to hire women in measures commensurate with men.

All that I’ve done with my game, Revolution 60, is tell a story where women get to have an adventure in the way that men get to have an adventure in other games. They aren’t the bimbo, they aren’t the sexpot. Feminism isn’t really said, they are just equal.

I’ve dealt with so much bad stuff this year. The sad fact is that if you are a visible woman in this industry, you will get rape threats, you will be intimidated, you are a huge target. Sadly, rape threats and death threats have been a part of my job for a long time.

Are you numb to it now?
You never get numb to this stuff. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me every time it happens. It does.

I just love this industry so much, and I love my job so much, it’s a price that I feel I have to pay. I can live with the death threats, but I could not live with myself if I coward out and quit. It’s my personality.

How did you get into gaming?
I grew up in Mississippi, and Mississippi is a culture that’s very much about football, and who’s dating who, and beauty pageants, and church. From the very beginning, I didn’t feel like I fit into that.

My happiest memories from my childhood were playing video games, especially games like Final Fantasy, which was one of the earliest video games to have strong, powerful women. My whole life, I’ve really been drawn to video games. I think they tell a narrative like no other art form.

When I became an adult, and became a software engineer, it was a very natural fit for me to want to make games myself.

Did you teach yourself coding and design?
My parents would buy me anything I wanted if I could learn from it.

One of my very first memories, is sitting on the floor with my mom, who was very tech savvy, taking apart machines. From the go, my parents taught me this skill that if you want to learn something, go out there and learn to do it. It’s my personality that I would learn to code on my own rather than go and take a class.

So I am entirely self-taught with every one of my skills.

What’s wrong with GamerGate?
These people, who have harassed women, they say, this is all about journalistic ethics. But they don’t go after the journalist, they go after Zoe.

It’s just this fire.

And the reason why I am standing up and doing these interviews when I want to just crawl into a hole and die, and feel safe, when they are threatening to murder me, my family, everything, is that I am tired of them attacking my friends, destroying these women, who are my colleagues in the industry.

The pretext is ethics, but the subtext is taking out anyone speaking up for the equality of women. If you look at everyone who has been attacked, everyone except one person is a woman.

What happened when you received the most recent threats?
My hands started shaking so terribly at those particular rape threats. I’m not new to this, this is not my first trek to this rodeo.

Did you see what they posted? It’s so reprehensible. “Enjoy your last moments on earth.” “Do you have any kids, they are going to die too.” “Your mutilated corpse will be on the front of Jezebel tomorrow.” [Wu went through all of the Twitter threats, which are violent and NSFW.]

And then they posted my address. And my hands started shaking to the point where I dropped my iPhone. I looked at my husband, and I tried to speak through sobs, and I told him that this was the time we have to call the police, and get the police involved.

Have the threats continued?
What’s sad about this whole thing is that it didn’t stop there. This is a campaign of terror to intimidate me.

So they did that, and I didn’t back down. They threatened to kill me and I didn’t back down. So what have they done since then? They’ve tried to hack my company’s financial accounts, and more.

So for me, this is a swear to God war. They are doing absolutely everything they can in their power to destroy me, just because I am standing up and telling people about this.

And all for trying to do a job that you are passionate about.
I’m really good at my job. My game got rave reviews. I am very skilled at making video games. This is the job I was meant to do. But it’s literally this question of, if you want to do the thing on earth that you are best at then you have to deal with all this shit along the way. Men generally speaking don’t have the same components in their professional lives.

You said your world is upside down right now. When do you think that things will get back to normal?
I worry that this is the new normal for me.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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