GamerGate: Women in the $100b video game industry under fire with threats of murder and rape

Whether or not you are a gamer with RSI-riddled thumbs, there is no denying the video game industry is huge.

According to US tech research firm Gartner, the global video game industry is worth over $100 billion but has recently been rocked by a scandal known as GamerGate.

It began in August this year as an allegation of sexual favours for positive game reviews and exploded into an online culture war, sparking debates about journalistic ethics and the role and treatment of women in the video game industry.

Some of those engaged in the debate have became the targets of extreme bullying and death threats.

Stephanie Bendixsen, host of the ABC's long-running video games program Good Game, said GamerGate initially targeted one female video game developer.

"It all kind of began when an indie game developer by the name of Zoe Quinn was accused by an angry ex-boyfriend of sleeping with someone in order to get good reviews for her game," Bendixsen said.

"Despite the fact that she was able to refute these allegations, it kind of stirred up quite an online backlash towards her.

"GamerGate sort of became an issue where people wanted to discuss ethics within games journalism, but because of the reaction towards her it also became an issue about misogyny and the way women are treated in games."

It quickly exploded into an online culture war. Many of those engaged in the debate online are using the hashtag GamerGate.

Women threatened with murder, rape for supporting Zoe Quinn

Things fired up further when other women, like game developer Brianna Wu, came out in support of Ms Quinn, the woman at the centre of this revenge attack.

Ms Wu said she was harassed and abused online.

"They threatened to murder me, to rape me," she said.

"They threatened to sever my husband's genitals and choke me to death with them.

"They threatened to murder any of my children that I might have because they would grow up to, you know, want women to be equal."

Ms Wu was forced to flee her home after her personal details and address were posted online in an attack known as "doxxing".

American actor and video gamer, Felicia Day, who is known for her roles in sci-fi series Supernatural and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, was also doxxed just minutes after speaking publicly about GamerGate.

In her post she expressed fear about saying anything at all, in case she was targeted – and that is exactly what happened.

FBI cybercrimes division investigating GamerGate threats

The FBI cybercrimes division was now involved, and Ms Wu has said she believes GamerGate was a campaign to scare women out of the games industry.

"The video game industry's changing very rapidly, and what you basically have are some people that are very, very, very upset about that," she said.

"They kind of want things the way that they are, they kind of don't want girls in their clubhouse."

Independent game developer and journalist, Leigh Harris, thinks women are copping it in the games community.

"It's been a really difficult and sort of protractedly heinous time to be a woman in games," he said.

"Numerous women have been run out of their homes or have decided to stop writing about games or making them as a result of this."

The online attacks have shone a light on what some people believe to be a deep-seated misogyny saturating video games.

Feminist pop culture critic, Anita Sarkeesian, known for her YouTube series Tropes vs Women in Video Games about the portrayal of women in games, was also attacked online.

Ms Sarkeesian said she was forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University after threats of a shooting.

Women under-represented in video game industry

A recent survey shows nearly half of all gamers are women.

But female characters and game developers are still underrepresented. According to the International Game Developers Association, 22 per cent of games industry members are female although in Australia that is only 10.45 per cent of full-time staff.

Rebecca Fernandez, chapter leader of the International Game Developers Association Sydney, said it is a catch 22 situation.

"We'd find more girls in the industry if there were games that included them a lot more. I'd really get that games would include women a lot more if they were making them, so it kind of is that circular dependency there," she said.

While a lot of the conversation online surrounding GamerGate has been pretty vile, game reviewer Alice Clarke believes it does not speak for all gamers.

She ran the diversity lounge recently at one of Australia's largest games conferences, PAX Australia.

"It's a space where people can come and make friends and see games that tell more than the regular narrative of straight white guy shoots people because his girlfriend died," she said.

"I think on the internet people feel a lot freer to just be a jerk.

"There is 35,000 people here or something like that and there's not a single problem. Everyone's been really great, really accepting."

Industry hopes for more diversity in games after scandal

Ben O'Brien, host of 2RRR radio gaming program Big Head Mode, said diversity has come to games.

"You look around here and you can already see all the different games made by all different kinds of people," he said.

"I think in the long run GamerGate is going to go away and women and are going to stay around so it's easy to see who's going to win."

Bendixsen hoped something positive could come out of the GamerGate controversy.

"People want this to be a safe place and a happy place and a positive place where we can all talk about games because we love them so much," she said.

"Whether it be about women or misogyny or ethics and games journalism these are all things that were kind of brewing within the industry and it's kind of all brought it to a head.

"How we come out the other side of it will really determine sort of the future of our community and what we want the gaming community and the gaming industry to be."