An Open Letter to Gamergate

One of the most important skills for a software engineer is the ability to examine your assumptions and verify that they are correct. I believe Gamergate’s underlying assumption that attacking me has tactical value for your cause is outdated and incorrect.

Why are you continuing to harangue me on Twitter, through email, though doxxing me, through spreading malicious rumors about me, and through hostile threads on KiA? What’s the point? What does this accomplish for you? 

It's a question worth thinking about, because it seems completely at odds with the things you state that you believe - such as developers should be free to ship games without censorship. It doesn’t seem logically consistent to rally to defend games like Dead or Alive from a few stray feminist Tweets, while organizing efforts to harass me and my employees.

I would probably use the word “hypocrisy”.

I’d like to tell you what my current career objectives and intentions are in regards to Gamergate. 

If you look at what I Tweet and speak on publicly, the vast majority of it is about working conditions within the tech industry. I believe there is obvious rampant sexual discrimination and unconscious bias. Generally speaking, Anita focuses on the output of our field, and I am more concerned with the input side.

A while back, I realized the futility of using my public presence to discuss Gamergate. It seemed to follow a pattern: I would post a terrible example of Gamergate behavior, and you would strike back at me. It became an endless war of attrition, where the cost was dignity, mental effort and happiness.

Plainly stated, discrediting Gamergate is a currently a tertiary mission objective at best. Building my company and improving diversity in the industry are my primary mission objectives. When I made my list of career objectives for 2016, none of them had anything to do with Gamergate.

I do not spend time attacking Gamergate figures, because it would have no tactical value. Mercades, Oliver, C.H. Summers, Ralph - I think they are spectacularly wrong, but it makes more sense to focus on other things. Yesterday, I saw a KiA thread I thought was spectacularly racist, but rather than drum up public anger about it - I spent the day doing engineering instead. 

Everyone at my company is terrified of the Gamergate harassment we know is inevitable when we release Revolution 60 in the coming weeks. When the game is reviewed, I expect lots of Gamergate personal attacks in the comments. I expect to be doxxed. I expect to have more malicious rumors happen. I expect a new wave of death and rape threats.

But what would the value be in doing this? Maybe you think my game sucks, maybe you don’t like the graphics, but what does it have to do with Gamergate? If you really believe that censorship is a problem, it’s time to demonstrate it with your actions. 

I have no wish to continue to be the Batman to your Joker.

I would love to spend the next month doing press for Revolution 60’s release like any developer releasing a game would. I fear that dealing with Gamergate attacks is going to derail that effort, and will become the story - rather than my game. This is not an outcome I desire. In fact, one of my biggest career fears is I will continue to be primarily known as a feminist and not a game developer.

Even if you don’t like me or my politics, my employees have nothing to do with any of that. I hope you'll leave them out of your actions in the coming weeks. 

Brianna Wu

PS: I’m not going to discuss this with you on Twitter. I will tentatively leave the comments open here. 



It's Not About Censorship, It's About Professional Standards

Last week, I attended PAX Dev and gave a well-received talk on flat organizational structure. It was a blast. But one of the best moments happened outside the conference, a dinner with other women that work in gamedev, where we shared some of our most recent horror stories of working in this male dominated field.

If there was any consistent theme, it was this - men that work in gamedev are dreamily oblivious to what the women here experience. And that manifests in ways that kill women’s careers, including:

- Management’s inability to understand its hiring biases

- HR’s unwillingness to protect women who speak out

- Organizational unwillingness to respond to blatant sexual harassment

- Women being assigned to roles based on unconscious gender stereotyping

- Failure to intervene with gendered team conflict that could have ended in violence

Yesterday, my friend Jessica Price wrote this blog about trying to communicate with DriveThru RPG about their choice to sell a game called “Tournament of Rapists,” where the players rape and murder whoever is weaker. 

The most disturbing part was their response, which basically amounted to a shrug, some false equivalencies to censoring the f-word and invocation of a slippery slope that all games could end up censored.

These two events might not seem related, but they are. They’re both part of the core problem with the game industry - which is a disturbing exclusion of perspectives that are not straight, white and male. The industry has been built to work for a very specific kind of person. It’s very comfortable for them, but frequently harrowing for the rest of us. 

From the beginning, I have had a single goal as a public figure in the game industry. It’s something that I think many people don’t understand when I read articles about how I want to censor all games, or ban all white men from being developers, or usher in a feminist totalitarian state. None of that is true. They have to misrepresent my position, because what I actually want is so eminently reasonable. So, here it is - my actual mission in bold:

My mission objective is to raise professional standards about diversity in the game industry.

I thought about making that text blink, but decided it would be over the top.

In any case, that’s it. I want the game industry to be a safer, fairer place for the rest of us to work, and I want our industry output to be less actively hostile to women, people of color, and LGBT people. Because I have to say, the culture in this field is poisonous in ways a lot of gamers don't seem to realize.

To DriveThru RPG, this is a fun, hypothetical problem about theoretical censorship. What they don't understand is that the rest of us are dealing with an industry that does actual harm to women and other minorities. To be clear, my problem isn’t that there is a game about rape - it’s that DriveThru RPG doesn't hold themselves to reasonable professional standards in the content that they sell.

In an age of digital distribution, censorship is impossible. Anyone can release and sell a game. The question is, what kind of work do the adults that work here choose to support? What are the standards we hold ourselves to?

A videogame version of "Tournament of Rapists" would NEVER get sold on PSN, XBLA or the Nintendo eShop. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t worried about my games being censored for violent or sexual content for about two decades. There are professional institutions that say, “There is the adults table and the children’s table. If you want to sit with the adults, there are some rules of decorum you have to follow.”

I tweeted about DriveThru RPG yesterday and their disturbing response. And I’m happy to say, last night they did talk to the author and get Tournament of Rapists removed. But, in reading the response from the company, I’m unconvinced they understand what’s really going on, or the issue at play. It does no good to get someone to change their policy if they don’t understand the underlying reasoning behind it.

As the CEO of GSX, my values are reflected every single day with the choices I make. It’s reflected in who I hire, in what my policies are, the press that I agree to do and the people I work with. What the public doesn’t see is all the things I say no to behind the scenes. For example: 

- I regularly veto stories on Isometric and Rocket because they don’t meet my professional standards.

- I regularly choose not to do media appearances with some people because they don’t meet my professional standards.

- I regularly have delayed ship dates of our games because they haven’t yet met our professional standards.

- I regularly have fired people because they don’t meet our professional standards.

- I regularly say no to advice to be silent about industry institutions that hurt women, because they need to be held to professional standards.

Your company does reflect who you are as a person and the standards you hold yourself to. Until last night, DriveThru RPGs standards were so low that they didn’t think twice about selling a game glorifying rape. In fact, their initial response was to defend it. I hope that’s something they'll think seriously about.

How can I stay Neutral?

I get a lot of letters sent to me, most of which I can't respond to. This one I did. Steve is frustrated because he feels straight white men are under attack. I wrote him this lengthy response.

Ms. Wu, 

Up until recently, I was completely out of the loop in regards to a certain kind of politics. I lived under a rock. If I was not working, I was home sleeping or spending time with my girlfriend. I was not involved until opposing viewpoints started to appear on my facebook statuses. I don't like not knowing, so I did some research. As my understanding of the politics increased, so did the number of reasons I wish I stayed out of it. Gamergate says they are all about ethics in journalism, but reliable sources compare them to terrorism. 

In contrast, anti-gamergate seems to represent a sense of social justice which constitutes the redefinition of harassment to a much looser context. However, I have witnessed my friends and myself come under personal attack simply because I am a straight white man in my late twenties. My life has been threatened for that. I am not afraid of threats against my life. The point is, where does it start and where does it end? It could just be a bad apple representing the whole basket, but I do my best to be open minded. 

My question to you, as you seem to be a figurehead in all of this, is how am I supposed to make everyone happy. How can I remain neutral without my life being threatened, being identified as a terrorist or pedophile or any other wild accusations that might appear. Given the realm of the situation, any of those are possible.

Thank you for your time,

Hey Steve,

Thanks for writing me. I wanted to respond directly to your feeling about white men in their 20s being under attack right now. 

While I can’t speak to your experience, I do know what it’s like to be white in a year that’s seen Fergurson, Baltimore and Sandra Bland. Every day, I hear from black people expressing anger and frustration at white people over the systems that are literally killing them. What I’ve come to understand is that black people aren’t angry about white people for being white - they’re angry at the unconscious privilege we consistently display. They are frustrated at being 40 percent of prison inmates. They’re angry about police violence. They’re angry about unconscious discrimination.

And yet, when black people try to talk to white people about our privilege - we get defensive instantly. It upsets our idea that we’re a good person. We don’t want to think about the privilege we enjoy. We don’t want to consider the ways we dehumanize black people. We shut down emotionally. Academics have coined a term for it, white fragility.

While I could certainly tell myself, “I’m a good person!” and just shut out the critiques of white behavior. But, the truth is, really being a good person means hearing the critique. It means using my privilege to educate other white people about how we unconsciously hurt black people. 

Similarly, women in the tech industry aren’t angry at white straight men. We are frustrated about the unconscious privilege that white straight men consistently show that hurts us. The absence of privilege is not oppression, yet it seems that way to a group of people that don’t understand just how many social and economic advantages they have.

Sexism is not a problem for women to solve. Frankly, it’s a male behavior problem. And if you’re trying to stay neutral, what you’re really doing is saying yes to the status quo. As Anita Sarkeesian recently so brilliantly said, “You can’t stay neutral on a moving train.” 

Reading your email, it’s clear you want “my side” to stop making you feel uncomfortable. What I need you to understand is, this cannot get better without making you uncomfortable. 

The odds are high that you’ll read this and shut it out, responding with “male fragility.” My challenge is to push past that discomfort, and realize my equality is not about your feelings. 

All the best,


PS - Threats of violence are never okay.