'Montreal Massacre' threat forces media critic to cancel video game talk
People protest on the campus of Utah State in Logan, Utah on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (AP / Rick Bowmer)
Published Wednesday, October 15, 2014 8:29AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 15, 2014 10:53PM EDT
A Canadian-American media critic studying the portrayal of women in video games was forced to cancel her talk at a Utah campus this week, after learning the school couldn’t ban concealed weapons despite the death threats against her.
On Monday, Utah State University received a threat to cancel the Wednesday talk by Anita Sarkeesian.
In a letter published by Utah newspaper the Standard Examiner, an anonymous person warned that “a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as the students and staff at the nearby Women’s Center” if organizers refused to cancel the event.
The author of the letter, who claimed to be a student at the university, made violent threats against women and praised the perpetrator of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. The anonymous person claimed to have “a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs” ready to use to create “the deadliest school shooting in American history.”
Sarkeesian, who has received similar threats in the past, posted on Twitter Tuesday night that she cancelled the talk not because of the letter, but because of the school’s refusal to perform any sort weapons screenings.
“To be clear: I didn't cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate,” she wrote.
“To reiterate: USU & Utah police refused to do any type of search whatsoever to determine if someone was bringing a firearm into my event,” she later added.
Utah law prohibits colleges from removing concealed weapons from permit holders. Utah is the only state with such a law, and one of seven states without any legislation against carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sarkeesian is one of several women in the video game industry to have been threatened with violence recently. Game developer Brianna Wu was forced to leave her home earlier in the week after one Twitter user revealed her home address and threatened to harm her family.
The threats are loosely tied to an online movement widely referred to by the Twitter hashtag “#GamerGate.” Supporters of the movement, who self-identify as “gamers,” call it a push for integrity and ethics in the video game journalism industry.
Detractors criticize the underlying misogyny of the movement, whose targets include mostly women in the male-dominated industry. Though many of those involved in the movement discourage harassment, threats of real-world violence have come from behind the veil of online anonymity.
Among the victories claimed by GamerGate supporters is getting electronics manufacturer Intel to pull its advertising from video game website Gamasutra following the publication of an editorial those in the GamerGate community disagreed with.
The opinion piece criticized those whose personal identity revolves around video games, as well as what the author calls the “infantilized cultural desert of ‘gamer’ culture.”
While many video game journalism websites have denounced the GamerGate movement, its supporters have objected to being characterized as supporters of racism and misogyny, while calling its critics far-left “social justice warriors” whose goal is to smear “gamer” reputation.
Utah threat-maker still unknown
Police are still investigating the letter sent to the Utah university, and the author of the threat remains unknown.
Again on Twitter Wednesday night, Sarkeesian voiced her unhappiness with the handling of the threat.
“USU acted irresponsibly,” she wrote. “They did not even inform me of the threat. I learned about it via news stories on Twitter after I landed in Utah.”
“Online threats against women are real, pervasive and must be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies and educational institutions alike.”