Encore Presentation: Dangerous Game

Pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian had an idea. She wanted to produce a web series probing stereotypes that objectified women in video games. Anita appealed for donations toward her project through the popular crowd funding website Kickstarter. That’s when the harassment began.

“I got threats of death, threats of violence, threats of rape. It was really intense. And there was so much of it.”

Anita says she was bullied because she threatened video gaming’s established order.

“It’s very male dominated. And I think with that male domination comes a sense of entitlement, that these games are for men, by men and that women, if they’re going to participate, they need to shut up.”

The backlash against Anita hit a new low when a flash-based game dubbed “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” was made and posted by an Ontario gamer. The game encourages users to click repeatedly on an image of Anita that appears more ‘beaten up’ with each click.

Story continues below advertisement

We tracked down the man behind the game, Bendilin Spurr, but he declined our request for an interview. In an email to us Spurr claims the game he made has nothing to do with Anita being female but is a common response online whenever someone does something controversial. Spurr added that “the games are not meant as a threat” and “they are not meant to intimidate.”

But in the world of online gaming, there is much intimidation. Grace is the creator of “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty,” a website that re-posts obscenities read or heard in online gaming.

“As it turns out, from the reaction that the website had, a lot of people didn’t understand what women experience in the online games.”

Grace believes the existing mentality of ignoring bullies in games lessens our understanding of how harassment actually happens.

“If your friend is telling you don’t worry about it it’s just a troll, then you’re not going to be inclined to tell about the next death threat. So then you stop talking about it.”

But the video game industry is talking about harassment. James Portnow makes his living designing games and has been playing them since he was five years old.

“If your game is a highly competitive game, you should be able to include methods to curb some of these things or empower your community within the design itself.”

Story continues below advertisement

These methods range from muting verbally abusive players, rating behaviour and the ability to select specific people to play with.

Stephen Toulouse is the former Director of Policy and Enforcement for Microsoft’s Xbox Live and an example of the gaming industry curbing harassment from within. Stephen and his team policed games on Xbox Live and took action against players who violated the Xbox’s code of conduct.

“We had the ability to – again – suspend people from the system for egregious behaviour, all the way down to preventing their console from ever connecting to Xbox Live again.”

And while Stephen has shut some gamers down he admits that bullies in gaming still don’t face many consequences.

“Notice, it’s always the jerk who says it’s part of the game.”

For the full story watch 16×9 this Friday.