Cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian’s scheduled appearance at a Utah State University conference tomorrow has been cancelled due to terror threats. According to Ogden, Utah’s Standard-Examiner, an anonymous email sent to the school threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history” and a “Montreal Massacre style attack” if the school let a woman talk about videogames. USU’s official Twitter account announced the appearance was cancelled a few hours after the Standard-Examiner first reported the threat.
Sarkeesian analyzes videogames from a feminist perspective in her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, and the mere existence of her videos is so threatening to some self-avowed gamers that she’s been subjected to persistent threats and harassment for years. Sarkeesian’s latest harassment comes during a broader and long-running campaign against women in videogames that picked up steam in mid-August, snowballing into the so-called GamerGate movement. Authorities haven’t mentioned if today’s threat to USU specifically referenced GamerGate, but the threat arrives during a climate of fear among women in the industry fostered by supporters of GamerGate. Some of the same people who have long attacked Sarkeesian were among its earliest supporters and signal boosters. The terror threat also comes four days after game designer Brianna Wu fled her home after her address was listed in a GamerGate forum on the website 8chan and subsequently included in threats directed towards Wu on Twitter.
GamerGate proponents claim to be concerned about ethical standards in videogame journalism, but their movement started as a harassment campaign against a specific female game designer that quickly moved on to attacking any woman who spoke out against it. Yesterday social researcher and Jezebel contributor Jennifer Allaway argued that GamerGate fits the definition of a hate group, and that was before today’s threat of a school massacre. And all of this hate and fear is being dredged up over what is supposed to be entertainment.