Brianna Wu: ‘We are winning. We are changing the games industry’

19 Jun 2015

Brianna Wu. Photo: Conor McCabe

In what was easily the most moving keynote of the second day of Inspirefest 2015, head of development at Spacekat Games, Brianna Wu, spoke of her daily experience of sexism in the gaming industry, and how the tide is turning against it.

As one of the most anticipated talks of the day, Wu’s opening lines came not from herself, but the hundreds upon hundreds of Twitter users who on a daily basis send her death threats, purely on the basis of her standing up for what she believes as a woman in the gaming industry.

Flashing past faster than you could possibly read them, Wu’s description of the number of tweets as an “avalanche” couldn’t be more accurate.

“When I’m not creating games, I have opinions on how women are erased, bullied, belittled and not taken seriously in the video games industry. For speaking up about this, I’ve had 106 death threats in the past 10 months,” Wu told the audience.

Rather than simply talking about them, Wu actually wanted to bring what these death threats actually look like, showing one disturbing example of a man wearing a skull mask holding a hammer and a cigarette lighter.

Dealing with Gamergate

All of this stemming from her simple decision to get involved in one of the most heated online debates in recent years, that being ‘Gamergate’, which grew from an individual online argument and into a debate that raged, challenging the very core of the entire gaming industry and the inherent sexism it was displaying towards women within it.

Highlighting a more recent example, last week saw the E3 expo get underway, easily the largest event of its kind for the gaming industry where all the latest games and hardware get showcased.

But, as Wu explained to the crowd, one glaring issue was with the coverage offered by PC Gamer, one of the largest gaming publications around, which held a 28-person discussion panel, all made up of white males.

“When it comes to women speakers, it seems like there’s this formula we run into,” Wu said of the omission of female panellists. “We have a panel in the tech industry that is announced and no women speakers are included.

“They get called on it, they come forward and say ‘no, no, no, no, no! It’s not the final programme and we will have a woman on stage!’ Then no one learns anything and a few months down the line we’re back to square one.”

Sadly, she said, she would have liked to keep targeting PC Gamer for its lack of diversity, but was restrained by the nature of the industry and the need to not burn bridges ahead of a future game launch.

In what was a clearly emotional speech by Wu, she spoke of the further damage for women who may want to move into the gaming industry caused by unconscious bias that exists within it.

The times are changing

Speaking of her experiences with receiving letters after Gamergate, Wu said: “When Gamergate started I used to get a lot of letters and they just broke my heart. I would get letters from young girls who said they were too scared to chase their dreams. They didn’t want to get death threats and rape threats so weren’t going to go into the industry.”

That, however, has changed in recent times following people like Wu, Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian speaking out against sexism in the industry and now these fearful letters have been replaced by inspiring letters from girls and women who are now looking to stand up for themselves as well.

“The truth is we are winning and we are making changes in the game industry,” Wu said with gusto. “There was more diversity than I’ve ever seen in the history of E3. We had more women on stage. We had less sexualised women on stage … We are changing the industry because we were willing to speak up, we didn’t stay silent. We’ve introduced consequences into this equation.”

From the crowd’s standing ovation, this would appear to be the case.

This story was originally published at 16.44pm on 19 June 2015. It has since been updated with a video report. Also, the sentence that had been written as: “I’ve had 106 death threats in the past two months” has been amended to reflect 10 months, as stated by Wu. 

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-19 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic