Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games creator Anita Sarkeesian believes that trolling and harassment in video game culture is prevalent because there is no regulation and no clear understanding of why it happens.
Speaking in a panel at the 2013 Game Developers Conference today, Sarkeesian said the industry needs to dig into the "cyber cesspool" that marginalizes women and minority communities in the industry, understand why these pockets of negativity exist, and from there form strategies to stop harassment.
After launching the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Kickstarter campaign, Sarkeesian was threatened on social media and harassed by dozens of anonymous individuals, who hacked into her personal online accounts and went so far as to create a fake Wikipedia page about her. Sarkeesian said these events led to her deleting most of her personal information off the internet, including photos of friends and family, and changing her gamer tags, saying she "no longer feels safe" connecting with people online.
Sarkeesian said her attackers essentially built a massively-multiplayer online game in which she was a villain attempting to "destroy" perceptions of video games.
"This is not a couple of bad seeds or a few people causing a stink," she said. "This is an organization of collective tactics and perpetrators working towards a common angle. It provides incentives for other to participate in the harassment. They have an audience."
Sarkeesian said it's important to understand why harassment is so prevalent in gaming culture because then we can form strategies to cope with it. She said the harassment has a "chilling" effect that discourages other women from participating in the industry.
"It sends the message of, 'Hey, if you speak up, we're going to come after you too,'" she said, noting this causes many women to mask their gender. "I don't have statistics, but I guarantee it's a very large number of women that stop or don't start to begin with. These harassment tactics work to normalize a culture of sexism."
In order to help and reduce the problem, Sarkeesian said we all must work together, men and women, to stop treating the harassment as a normal part of the industry. She said we need male allies, and people who have the platform to talk about the issues and implement helpful changes should utilize them and be proactive.
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