A talk by the feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian has been cancelled due to a threat of the deadliest school shooting in American history”.
Sarkeesian was scheduled to deliver a talk on the topic of harassment and abuse in video game culture at Utah State University before this threat was made. The university has officially stated that before the event was due to take place they received an email outlining the threat.
The part of the email which has been considered to be the most worrying was as follows; “Feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged… I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs.”
“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.” Initially Utah State had indicated that the event would go ahead with security measures throughout the campus being tightened.
The email is worryingly consistent with the responses that Sarkeesian has previously received at her public speaking engagements. Sarkeesian was targeted in a bomb threat in March at the Game Developers Choice Awards in San Francisco, where she was scheduled to receive an Ambassador’s Award.
Again an anonymous email was sent to the organisers of the event which stated, “A bomb will be detonated at the Game Developers Choice award ceremony tonight unless Anita Sarkeesian’s Ambassador Award is revoked. We estimate the bomb will kill at least a dozen people and injure dozens more. It would be in your best interest to accept our simple request. This is not a joke. You have been warned.” In this case after police had conducted a sweep of the area and found no trace of a bomb the event was able to go ahead; although Sarkeesian described the event as “a nerve-wracking evening, to say the least.”
On this occasion Sarkeesian cancelled the event, although not because of the threat, but because Utah State University confirmed that they would allow concealed firearms to be present at the event.
In a pair of tweets Sarkeesian states “To be clear: I didn’t cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate.” She would follow up this tweet with another stating “I’m safe. I will continue my work. I will continue speaking out. The whole game industry must stand up against the harassment of women.”
The school in their statement said that allowing the concealed firearms was an attempt to stay within the state laws of Utah. “Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue,” the school said.
Sarkeesian became controversial following her videos attacking the gaming industry for misogyny and the stereotypes of women in gaming. Whilst in some cases she is correct in her judgement of how some female characters are treated in games, it is not true of all female characters. In the case of the Last of Us Ellie is a formidable and strong character who is vital to the story as well as her male counterpart Joel. There is something of a mixed solution with Lara Croft who is a strong character but who may attract such a strong audience because of her sexualisation rather than her strength. The woman for this argument, although there are many more, is through Samus in Metroid Prime. A character who until the completion of the early platformer we as gamers did not know was a woman but who has since become an icon of the industry.
The threats that Sarkeesian has been receiving has been unjust. The criticism of her positions however is something she should welcome as an opportunity to defend herself and the role of women in games; yet she does not. She has disabled comments on her videos and does not address the cogent opposition to her own positions presented by fellow youtuber Thunderf00t.
The problem of course however is not that Sarkeesian is suggesting that gaming is misogynistic. The problem is that it feels almost as if we as gamers are being informed that our brand of entertainment is somehow dirty, that we should be ashamed of what it is.
Gamergate and its initial goal may well have been successful at having this discussion but it was taken over too quickly by those who under the guise of activism insulted feminist commentators. The change in gaming reporting means that we as gamers and the gaming industry must stand up to harsher scrutiny. But we should not be spoken to as if our pleasure were sinful. We should not be spoken down to as if this form of entertainment should be more socially conscious than music. Most of all we should not be told we cannot derive pleasure from this industry but can derive it from something which is no more objectifying than music or movies.
Sarkeesian has strong feminist opinions and an audience willing to listen. This threat appears only to increase the validity of her statement. Speaking on behalf of feminism has led her to receive far more ridicule than she deserves and the threats of violence towards her will only strengthen her resolve against what she sees as a corrupt industry. In that spirit let the threats stop. Let the conversation finally be heard.