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Swedish devs speak out against GamerGate and harassment: It 'has to go away'

Sweden's video game industry will continue to show no tolerance for harassment in video games or attacks associated with the GamerGate movement, several Swedish developers told Polygon.

Their comments come on the heels of a joint statement posted in daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet last week from more than 45 academics and developers in Sweden. Speaking out against ongoing harassment in the gaming industry — specifically against women — the statement pointed to those whose "physical safety and security in their homes can not be guaranteed.

"We declare our support to the women affected. We want to defend everyone's right to be and act in the game [industry] without being treated worse because of background, affiliation or gender. Threats should always be taken very seriously."

The original statement did not mention GamerGate by name, but linked to a detailed explanation of it. In emails with Polygon, many of the individuals and companies who signed their name to the statement reiterated the importance of taking a stand against harassment; several pointed specifically to GamerGate as the catalyst for the declaration.

The GamerGate movement and Twitter hashtag is a social campaign defined by most supporters as a call to effect change in video game journalism and to defend the "gamer" identity. The movement is difficult to define because what it has come to represent has no central leadership or agreed-upon manifesto. The hashtag was first used by actor Adam Baldwin in August after intimate details of a personal relationship between a video game developer and a video game journalist were made public and led some to allege cronyism between press and developers. The campaign is now also linked to ongoing and well-established harassment of women in video games, including Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn, Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian and Giant Spacekat head Brianna Wu, though many of GamerGate's supporters deny the campaign should be blamed for harassment.

"We find it baffling and unacceptable that women are targeted in this way..."

Many within Sweden's gaming industry, however, disagree with that sentiment. Speaking to Polygon, Image & Form CEO Brjánn Sigurgeirsson said that harassment, gender-based or otherwise, has no place in the gaming industry.

"GamerGate is the root cause of all public harassment discussions we've seen lately," Sigurgeirsson told Polygon. "While the root of this is ugly, we think it's positive that the issue is brought up to the surface and discussed openly. It has to go away."

Harassment of any form, whether related to GamerGate or not, has no place in video games or any other industry, Sigurgeirsson continued.

"We find it baffling and unacceptable that women are targeted in this way, but maybe we're being very Swedish and naive. Swedes can't abide by this behavior, and had it been in Sweden, this would have caused a massive shit storm much faster."

Matti Larsson, CEO of Zordix, agreed that GamerGate is one of the main reasons the article in Svenska Dagbladet surfaced.

"The game industry needs to always stand up for women's rights," Larsson said. "There is an even bigger need now that there are more women entering the industry. It's important to send the right signals to all staff in the companies. That's why so many CEOs signed the petition."

Larsson expects there will be more to come from Sweden on the matter.

"I've now worked in the [video game] industry for 17 years, and I've seen and heard a lot," Larsson said. "I think this is happening now because we're actually hiring more women than before. A trend that is most likely to continue."

Speaking on behalf of The Game Assembly, an advanced vocational education organization for game developers, director of studies Ann-Sofie Sydow and educator Jacob Lind reiterated their stand against harassment.

"We need to listen and learn more about equality and sexism."

Sydow said that all are equal, and no one should be afraid to speak their mind. However, there is a line between valuable feedback and harassment.

"It is our duty to take a firm stand against hate and harassment towards anybody in any context," Sydow said. "If feedback you are about to give is not necessary, developing and thoughtful to the receiver, you should be silent."

Calling GamerGate a "non-subject," but a "trigger," Lind described the culture as one in need of some serious change.

"But this is not an isolated problem connected only to the makers and players of games," Lind said. "Nor the case of semi-organized offenders trying to destroy people's lives. Change and betterment has to operate beyond the infected discussion where trolls and provocateurs are controlling the topics. But yes, harassment in general, and the sad result of GamerGate, is a big part of the problem.

"I strongly believe that equality among fellow gamers and developers is the only way to move towards a modern and progressive culture. As a teacher at The Game Assembly, I am encouraging my students to embrace the fact that we need to listen and learn more about equality and sexism."

Companies such as Paradox Interactive and Ubisoft Massive expressed similar sentiments. Paradox chief operating officer Susana Meza Graham said that the developer's stance should "come as no surprise" to anyone familiar with the company.

"For more than a decade we've worked hard to enforce the behavior we want to see in our communities, both from us but also from our players and between our players," Graham said.

"Working in our industry, one is, of course, always influenced by what is happening around us. Without speaking for the others involved, I imagine that many, like us, felt the need to make our respective stance even clearer to the general public based on recent events."

A spokesperson for Massive said that the developer supports recent comments made by trade associations worldwide, including the Entertainment Software Association and Swedish Games Industry.

"The behavior of the GamerGate movement clearly has crossed these lines"

"Harassment, bullying and threats are wrong and have to stop," the Massive spokesperson said. "There should be no place in the video game community for personal attacks of any kind."

The ESA spoke out against threats of violence earlier this month. Shortly afterward, The New York Times ran a front-page story discussing GamerGate and threats leveled against Sarkeesian. Most recently, the feminist critic canceled a talk at Utah State University following a threat promising "the deadliest school shooting in American history."

Tarsier Studios CEO Ola Holmdahl, who spoke on behalf of the company, said that the developer is not addressing GamerGate as a specific phenomenon, but hopes to make a broader statement about sexism and harassment being intolerable.

"I would like to add to this that the behavior of the GamerGate movement clearly has crossed these lines numerous times recently," Holmdahl said. "Harassing press and developers, throwing baseless accusations around and generally favoring a polemic division of '(true) gamers' and 'others' are all unacceptable behaviors that Tarsier Studios condemns."

Holmdahl added that Tarsier Studios "cannot sit back passively" while people are receiving threats to their lives and livelihoods.

"We want to build a game development and game playing culture that is open minded, inclusive and safe: a place where critical thoughts and divergent opinions are welcomed and accepted," Holmdahl said. "We see this as the only sustainable way forward."

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