Jennifer Brandes Hepler, a writer for video-game studio BioWare, is again in the news today—but this time, her defenders, not her detractors, are making waves.
Old comments Hepler made about the importance of storyline and narrative in modern video games made her the target of widespread Internet hate. But now people who believe her comments were taken out of context, and that she was singled out largely because of her gender, have launched a petition calling on her employer to make a public statement of support.
Hepler’s admission that she didn’t enjoy playing video games—and suggestion that video-game makers should let players skip or automate combat—didn’t go over well with hardcore, traditionalist gamers. Some didn’t stop at leaving hateful messages about Hepler online; they also turned up her phone number and left harassing voicemail messages.
The Change.org petition, started today, asks for BioWare to make a public statement against “prejudice and discrimination” regarding Hepler, as well as “take a stand against the idea that sexism, homophobia, and misogyny are acceptable within the gaming community.”
A writer on the Border House, a video game blog “for those who are feminist, queer, disabled, people of color, transgender, poor, gay, lesbian, and others who belong to marginalized groups, as well as allies” began the petition this morning with a blog post.
BioWare Ray Muzyka responded this afternoon in an online post:
"Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time."
Allegra Hawksmoor, who describes herself as a “fat, female gamer,” was outraged by the way Hepler was treated by certain portions of the online gamer community, and thought the petition would be a good way for the Internet community and Hepler’s BioWare colleagues to show their support of Hepler:
“So, I figured I would start a petition calling on them to release a public statement supporting Jennifer, and condemning the putrid, disgusting sexism and homophobia that’s been directed at her by some of their so-called ‘fans.’”
So far, 200 people from all over the world have signed the petition, from Israel to Canada.
“We have become a society where people feel they are entitled to display this level of abuse because they are unhappy as a consumer and that is sad,” wrote petition signer Robin Miller. “No one deserves this and no one should be forced to endure this.”
BioWare added in the post that it would be donating $1,000 to Bullying Canada and encouraged others to do the same.