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FBI working with game developer association to combat online harassment

The International Game Developers Association is working with the FBI and bullying experts to help game developers deal with what they see as an increase in online harassment, Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, told Polygon.

The association plans to create an online resource on its official site in the coming months to outline what developers can do to minimize harassment and how best to deal with it when it happens.

Edwards said she was approached by the FBI in July during a visit to San Diego for Comic-Con to discuss the harassment of developers online.

"I had a meeting with the FBI in July regarding harassment," she said. "They noted a rise in activity. They themselves monitor this activity, but they're focused more on cybercrime issues like hacking and very malicious harassment."

A spokeswoman with the San Diego office of the FBI told Polygon that the July discussion was a proactive meeting.

"We wanted to let Ms. Edwards know the FBI's capability," FBI spokeswoman Emily Yeh said.

Yeh said all 56 field offices of the FBI help investigate a variety of cybercrimes, including harassment, adding that those who feel like they are being threatened should either contact their local police department or the FBI.

"Whichever they feel more comfortable with," she said.

Yeh was unable to verify Edward's comment that the July meeting was driven by an increase in online harassment of developers, saying only that she didn't know why the meeting occurred when it did.

Online harassment of game developers has been a rising topic of conversation since last summer, when a number of high-profile incidents brought attention to the issue. Those incidents included threats against people like former BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler and former Microsoft developer Adam Orth. The topic made international news again last month when developer Zoe Quinn and critic Anita Sarkeesian said they each received death threats that drove them from their homes, and a Twitter bomb threat diverted a plane carrying Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley to San Diego.

Last week, the board of directors for the International Game Developers Association condemned the harassment of developers in a public statement on their website.

"Over the last several weeks, game developers and affiliates have been the subject of harassment and 'doxxing' attacks, including threats and posting of home addresses," the statement read. "While we support diverse viewpoints and healthy debate on the issues within our industry, we condemn personal attacks such as these which are not only morally reprehensible, but also illegal in many countries. We call on the entire game community to stand together against this abhorrent behavior."

Earlier in the month, prior to this latest spate of attacks, Edwards told Polygon that anecdotal evidence indicated that harassment of developers remains an issue but that the organization hadn't "seen a marked increase, or decrease, in the behavior."

At the time, she said that the association was in the process of creating a Mental Health Special Interest Group that would encompass issues around harassment.

This week Edwards told Polygon that the association "remains resolute with our plan."

"If we see that an issue is getting worse or that there is a greater need then we will serve that purpose," she said. "Obviously, given the recent events, that may be the case.

"We are actually setting up an online resource on our IGDA site and we hope to have it up pretty soon."

Edwards said the association is also still working to create the special interest group, which will not just be about harassment but "all kinds of issues that affect the mental well-being of game developers."

The creation of a resource to help harassed developers was sparked by a request by members of the association, Edwards said.

"We have had our own membership approach us," she said. "But it hasn't been an avalanche of people screaming, 'Hey, we need help.'

"It's certainly been over the last week or so, with people saying that we need something in place. We were working already on it, but we totally agree."

In creating the resource, association members and special interest groups are talking to external organizations who specialize in online harassment and bullying. They are also, Edwards said, continuing to stay in touch with the FBI.

"What [the FBI] wanted from me was an interface for developers so they can share preventative measures they want to get out to us," she said. "We met, discussed the issue and said, 'Let's collaborate.'"

The FBI, Edwards said, seemed mostly concerned with the security of video game companies, its IP and the developers.

"They said if you have an online presence as a game developer you need to think about security issues," Edwards said. "That was the basis of the meeting."