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Awards ceremony received bomb threats over Anita Sarkeesian appearance

The FBI is now investigating bomb threats sent to the Game Developers Choice Awards in March.


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Sep 17, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 1:56 pm CDT

Feminist and pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian has revealed to Kotaku that she was the subject of bomb threats in March of this year. Anonymous members of the gaming communtiy threatened to detonate an explosive device at the Game Developers Choice Awards (GDC) in San Francisco, where she was scheduled to appear.

The SFPD Explosive Ordinance Disposal Division was called in to deal with the threats, which targeted the Moscone Center during the convention. The threat, delivered via email to numerous GDC staff, was an attempt to blackmail the awards into rescinding Sarkeesian’s award:

“A bomb will be detonated at the Game Developer’s Choice award ceremony tonight unless Anita Sarkeesian’s Ambassador Award is revoked. We estimate the bomb will kill at least a dozen people and injure dozens more. It would be in your best interest to accept our simple request. This is not a joke. You have been warned.”

San Francisco police found no signs of explosives at the site, and Sarkeesian went onstage to receive her award as scheduled. She told Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo, however, that “it was a nerve-wracking evening to say the least.”

Kotaku’s discovery came as a result of investigation into the nature of threats Sarkeesian had alluded to in the past on social media. In the middle of last month’s GamerGate, many of Sarkeesian’s detractors accused her of exaggerating the nature of threats she received, particularly after she was forced to leave her home due to receiving death threats against herself and members of her family.

It’s helpful to remember that Sarkeesian was not a significant or controversial figure until she began critiquing gaming culture. Her Tropes Vs Women series ran for over a year on YouTube, examining tropes in various media formats without incident. She incurred the wrath of the gamer community in 2012, when she Kickstarted a project to fund a series on games—wrath that has only grown stronger over time, buoyed by similar complaints about the presence of other feminists in the gaming community like Zoe Quinn.

The nature of the threats made against Sarkeesian, however, seem to have started at the extreme end of the spectrum and stayed there. Though gamers may believe she is exaggerating the nature of the threats, both the GDC officials and the San Francisco police confirmed that they were called to the premises of the awards due to the threat. Sarkeesian also showed Totilo another example of an email threat she received recently, from a screenname “WarHero”:

I’ve gone to war to protect my country from Iraq and Afghanistan but after hearing about you, there is a bigger threat than terriorst [sic] and that’s people like you!

I’m going to hunt u down and make it look like a sucide! [sic] I’ve spent months planning your death Anita cause i love my country and i will protect it no matter what just like my father and grandfather did in WW1 & WW2.

These kinds of threats have arisen simply because Sarkeesian, working in her field as an entertainment and pop culture critic, points out harmful ways the video game industry can affect women. Most often this is by producing narratives that reduce women to objects, stereotypes, or simply background decoration in landscapes where men get to be heroes. Her many detractors claim that the examples she uses in her videos are inaccurate or taken out of context. But more and more, the onslaught of violence she has received—including a short-lived game where the object was to punch her likeness in the face—proves the points she makes about the way women are perceived in the gaming community.

The award Sarkeesian receved from the GDC was an Ambassador Award for “help[ing] the game industry advance to a better place, either through facilitating a better game community from within, or by reaching outside the industry to be an advocate for video games and help further our art.”

But after two years of ongoing backlash against Sarkeesian and her work, it seems clear that the kind of advancements that mean better treatment for women will only happen under fire.

Disclosure: The reporter contributed a regular monthly amount to Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency project between May 2011 and fall of 2013. At the time of the Tropes vs Gaming Kickstarter, she did not participate, as she was already contributing monthly to Sarkeesian’s website.

Photo via Anita Sarkeesian/Flickr (used with permission)

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*First Published: Sep 17, 2014, 8:28 pm CDT