“We are here, and we will help you fight back," said game designer Elizabeth Sampat.
At the Game Developers Conference, industry professionals Sampat, Neha Nair, Donna Prior and Zoe Quinn spoke up about harassment — not just their personal experiences, but how to deal with it, prevent it and ultimately survive it.
In the talk, "Game Developer Harassment: How to Get Through," Sampat explained that harassment has always existed, even long before GamerGate; it happened to women like Jennifer Hepler and Jade Raymond. If you're marginalized and you speak out in any way, Sampat said, it's taken as a given that you've probably been harassed. And harassment doesn't just happen to one person, she continued; it affects everyone who sees it.
"It happened," Sampat said. "It happened to you, and it sucks. But we're gonna help you through it."
"It happened to you, and it sucks. But we're gonna help you through it."
All four women had stories to share on the hardships they've faced; death threats, rape threats, online harassment that persisted into the real world. Nair spoke about her experiences as a young Indian woman in the eSports community who went through years of abuse. Rather than dwelling on the negative, she strives to focus her energy into competing and creating content. Her advice was to build a strong support system and use it to get through the worst of times.
"Be your own knight, but also make sure you develop a strong support system," Nair said. "I don't think I'd be here if it weren't for my family."
She added that though people are going to try and put you down, they don't have to be successful.
"Try to use that as fuel," she said. "...These wounds have made the end result that much more worth it."
Prior, who works with online communities, echoed Nair's sentiments about a support system. For those working in moderator positions on online forums, she also emphasized the importance of using online handles.
"I also believe that most players ... want a positive home."
"Real-life names equal real-life abuse," Prior said.
For professionals working in the community space, there should be zero tolerance for staff abuse — that includes everyone from moderators to devs, Prior explained. Otherwise, abuse can bleed over from community spaces and into social media and even a person's real life.
"Even under — sometimes, the daily — abuse, I also believe that most players are passionate, friendly, and want a positive home where they can feel safe and welcome," Prior concluded. "With the support of management and proper procedures and policies in place, you can have a positive community."
Closing out the session was Quinn, who has suffered an ongoing, months-long campaign of harassment in the name of GamerGate.
"I could have been anybody," Quinn said. "All it took was one ex-boyfriend."
In the face of harassment, there is no wrong way to feel, Quinn said. Your feelings are valid, and how you deal with the stress of being harassed is unique to you. The slogan of "don't feed the trolls" is as tired as it is useless, she added — they want your silence.
The best thing you can do is be proactive. This is a principle her anti-harassment network Crash Override — which recently partnered with nonprofit organization The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative — practices. Quinn recommended two-factor authentication, using password services to improve your security and using Google on yourself to find old accounts. Other steps people can take include removing personal info from third-party sites, like Spokeo, and communicating with police if you believe you could be a victim of swatting.
"Harassment is not free speech."
Most importantly, however, is to to document everything with time stamps, URLs and any other information. And when dealing with harassment, good help is everything, Quinn said. Her advice was to find friends who can help monitor social media, support your work or just distract you from the situation at hand.
Moving forward, Quinn's advice was simple: publicly support vulnerable people, don't tolerate harassment on your platform and lead communities by example.
"Harassment is not free speech," Quinn said. "Tolerating abusive behavior actually limits other people's abilities to speak in that space out of fear, out of being terrorized. If you actually care about free speech in the abstract concept and not the dictionary definition, think of the voices you never get to hear in the first place because the environment is too toxic. It's not a good defense ...
"Games are awesome," Quinn said. "Stop letting jerks hijack them."