CRF Blog

The Gaming Industry’s Greatest Adversary Is Just Getting Started

by Bill Hayes

In The Gaming Industry’s Greatest Adversary Is Just Getting Started, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek profiles Anita Sarkeesian, a leading critic of how women are portrayed in video games.

One night in October, before the media critic Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a speech at Utah State University, someone e-mailed the school, threatening to commit mass murder. “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” the message read. “I have at my disposal a semiautomatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” it went on. “I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.” The message mentioned Marc Lépine, a man who shot and killed 14 women at an engineering college in Montreal in 1989 before killing himself.

Sarkeesian had been invited by the university’s Center for Women and Gender to give a talk about sexism in the video game industry, which has lately become the kind of topic that generates death threats, in large part because of Sarkeesian’s work. As her plane made its way toward Salt Lake City, school officials quickly discussed the e-mail with police and decided it was safe for the talk to go on — it wasn’t the first time someone had promised to create havoc at one of her appearances, they reasoned, and nothing too terrible had happened before. The “terror threat,” as it was called, was reported in a local newspaper, and Sarkeesian learned about it after she got off the plane and checked Twitter. Her friends were e-mailing: “Are you OK?” She was too scared to leave the airport and called the school. After learning that the event staff couldn’t screen for weapons because of Utah’s concealed-carry laws, she canceled her talk, got back on a plane, and returned to California.

“Harassment is the background radiation of my life,” says Sarkeesian. “It is a factor in every decision I make. Any time I tweet something, or make a post, I’m always thinking about it. When I post our videos, it’s a consideration. It affects where I go, and how I behave, and how I feel walking down the street every day.”

The strange part is that Sarkeesian is essentially an academic who has spent the past two years putting together a scholarly criticism of video games as a medium, through a series called “Tropes vs Women in Video Games,” published on her website Feminist Frequency. She finds disturbing, recurring themes in the ways that women are depicted in games, from blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty to obscure titles such as Splatterhouse and MediEvil 2. [more]