One Feminist Critic's Battle With Gaming's Darker Side This week, Anita Sarkeesian, known for her series critiquing the portrayal of women in video games, canceled a talk at Utah State University after the school received a threat of a mass shooting.
NPR logo

One Feminist Critic's Battle With Gaming's Darker Side

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/357194775/357233550" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
One Feminist Critic's Battle With Gaming's Darker Side

One Feminist Critic's Battle With Gaming's Darker Side

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/357194775/357233550" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

You can carry a gun just about anywhere in Utah if you have a permit. And the state's Right-to-Carry law was back in the news this past week. Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist cultural critic. Ever since she started hosting a web series calling attention to women's portrayals in the videogame industry, she's received vicious threats. Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at Utah State University on Wednesday. The University received anonymous death threats, massacre threats actually. That's never swayed Sarkeesian before. This time though, she canceled the event because police said they wouldn't stop people from bringing their guns, citing the state's concealed carry laws. Anita Sarkeesian found out about the threats when she landed in Salt Lake City.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: I eventually got on the phone with the police at Utah State University and they informed me that they were going to check - not allow for backpacks and have additional security there. And when I asked them about Utah's concealed weapon laws, they informed me that they couldn't do any kind of screening for weapons, which was a little mind-boggling to me because the threat received was very reminiscent of sort of copycat killers of these - you know misogynist massacres that had been done previously.

And so they said - you know, I was like well, can you at least have metal detectors or pat downs? And they refused to do that. So I declined and cancelled the event because I felt like that was too high of a risk to put me and the students in.

RATH: Now, this is not the first time you've been threatened. Can you talk about how you've been receiving threats recently?

SARKEESIAN: Yeah. Well, since I announced that I was going to be doing a video series specifically looking at the representations of women in video games, I have been attacked and ultimately terrorized for two years because of this series. So everything from, you know, my social media accounts flooded with misogynist and racist slurs to trying to hack into my - you know, my social media and e-mail.

RATH: And people can go online if they want to get a sense of this because these threats are really - I mean, they're vile. They're specific. They're the things - we couldn't read them on the radio - couldn't even come close.

SARKEESIAN: Yes. Oftentimes, there are very specific rape threats, which are a highly illustrative that are also connected to like my home address or, you know, like attacks on my parents and my colleagues and their families, as well.

And, you know, I am not the only woman being attacked right now in games. There have been a number of other women who are fearing for their lives and leaving their homes because they're receiving threats as well. So this is actually a larger problem within the gaming community right now.

RATH: So what is it with the gaming community that, you know, gets to this level of nastiness and misogyny online?

SARKEESIAN: Yeah, I get asked that a lot.

RATH: I'm sure.

SARKEESIAN: And it's a really good question that I think is pretty complicated. But, you know, one of the things is that in some ways, you know, there are some men who have gravitated towards gaming culture because they've been rejected by sort of this larger alpha-male culture. But the problem with that is that gaming allows them to sort of fulfill that role of the alpha-male role, right - the macho testosterone kind of posturing that you get in a lot of these sort of big AAA games.

And so they're actually kind of re-perpetuating that alpha-male culture by attacking people that they perceive to be weaker than them. So they're going after women. They're going after queer folks. They're are going after trans folks and especially anyone who speaks up and is critical in any way, you know, about gaming.

RATH: Can you give us a little bit of your - the critique as you've made it of videogames?

SARKEESIAN: Often women are framed as helpless. Or they're prizes to be won. Or they're highly sexualized sort of male fantasies. The other piece of this too, is that there is an enormous amount of violence against women that's used in these games, often times just a sort of set dressing, just like in the background. These women are hurt or beaten up just to make the world seem more gritty. These representations are really harmful to women. And so, you know, we're asking for better representations and better stories having more female protagonists that are like full and complete characters.

RATH: Anita Sarkeesian created the media criticism site Feminist Frequency. She joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Anita, thanks so much.

SARKEESIAN: Thank you.

RATH: We also reached out to Tim Vitale. He's the Executive Director of PR and marketing at Utah State University. He explained the University's response.

TIM VITALE: When we got the threat, we started adding extra security measures. We were going to sweep the rooms for explosive devices and any other weapons and enclose it. We added police officers who were going to come to the event. We were not going to allow backpacks or large packs that could carry the weaponry that the person alleged to have in the e-mail - large caliber rifles and pipe bombs and other explosive devices. We thought we had, and we still think we had, everything in place to ensure a safe environment.

RATH: Would people have been allowed though to bring guns to the event?

VITALE: Yes. Utah state law says that if a person has a legal concealed carry permit, they are allowed to attend public events. And we are not allowed to restrict the lawful possession or carrying of a firearm.

RATH: Anita Sarkeesian was going to be giving a speech. There had been threats which you also considered serious. Can you understand her fear and not wanting to come to the event knowing that people would be allowed to bring firearms there?

VITALE: Absolutely. There is some debate going on now and this is starting to get some air time in the state - what should our state laws say? But that's a debate to be had. Maybe this will spur that debate to happen more quickly. We're certainly looking at that. This is important to us, too.

RATH: That's Tim Vitale from Utah State University. He says that local law enforcement and the FBI are still looking into the matter.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.