Feminist video-games talk cancelled after massacre threat

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

image copyrightFeminist Frequency
image captionAnita Sarkeesian has published a series of videos criticising the depiction of women in games

A feminist video-games critic has cancelled a speech after receiving the latest in a series of death threats.

Anita Sarkeesian had been invited to an event organised by the Center for Women and Gender at Utah State University.

But on Tuesday, the director of the centre and others received an email threatening a "massacre style attack" if the talk proceeded.

Several threats of violence have been made against feminists working in the games industry over recent weeks.

Ms Sarkeesian tweeted that she had not cancelled her lecture because of the email itself, but rather because she had not felt that the security measures would be adequate.

"Requested pat downs or metal detectors after mass shooting threat - but because of Utah's open-carry laws, police wouldn't do firearm searches," she wrote.

image copyrightUSU
image captionThe author of the email gave the university 24 hours to cancel the talk

A copy of the threatening email published by a local newspaper, the Standard Examiner, attacked feminism in general, rather than specifically its role in critiquing and creating video games.

However, Ms Sarkeesian has linked the intimidation attempt with a wider controversy dubbed GamerGate.

"Multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me and feminists at USU. For the record, one threat did claim affiliation with #gamergate," she tweeted.

"At this point supporting #gamergate is implicitly supporting the harassment of women in the gaming industry."

Users of the GamerGate hashtag have denied that their campaign is "about harassment or misogyny", insisting it is instead "a consumer boycott and a call for ethics reform in game industry media" after allegations about potentially compromising relationships between developers and journalists.

The users have also criticised news sites for spreading negative stereotypes about gamers and highlighting suggestions of sexism in their reviews and other coverage.

However, some people who identify with the term have also posted abuse and violent threats against women who have spoken out about the topic. This has been criticised by others.

Almost four in 10 console gamers are female, and a higher proportion of mobile gamers are, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex.

image copyrightTwitter
image captionActor Adam Baldwin coined the term GamerGate and continues to promote it

Guns and bombs

Ms Sarkeesian runs the Feminist Frequency website, and has created a series of videos highlighting examples of what she says is the sexist depiction of women in video games.

Last month she reported that she had felt compelled to leave her home after receiving numerous threats after releasing a fresh episode.

Later more than 2,000 others involved in the industry signed an open letter calling for a public stand against such harassment and threats.

Despite the latest email - purportedly from a USU student - containing claims that the author had several guns and pipe bombs, the university denied anyone had been put at risk.

"USU police, in conjunction with several teams of state and federal law enforcement experts, determined that there was no threat to students, staff or the speaker, so no alert was issued," it said in a statement.

"The speaker, Anita Sarkeesian, cancelled the presentation. She was concerned about the fact that state law prevented the university from keeping people with a legal concealed firearm permit from entering the event.

"University police were prepared and had a plan in place to provide extra security measures at the presentation."

Twitter row

The talk's cancellation came four days after feminist video-games developer Brianna Wu fled her home after graphic sexual threats were made against her.

She later shared screenshots of tweets from one user who had threatened to murder her and her family, and had posted her home address to prove they knew where she lived.

image copyrightGiant Spacekat
image captionMs Wu is the developer of the recently released video game Revolution 60

Ms Wu subsequently contacted Adam Baldwin, the actor who had coined the term GamerGate, suggesting they meet to discuss changing the "tone" of the debate.

Mr Baldwin initially agreed in principle but called on her to apologise for "implicating" the GamerGate campaign in the threats that had been made against her and suggested she should have kept "silent" about the incident in line with law enforcement guidelines.

The conversation between the two later deteriorated, ultimately resulting in Ms Wu attacking Mr Baldwin's behaviour and him insulting her in turn and telling her to "cease all communication" with him.

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