Brianna Wu, an Arlington video game designer and outspoken advocate for women in her industry and against online harassment, plans to sit out PAX East again this year.
Wu announced last year that her company, Giant Spacekat, would not participate in the major gaming convention in Boston, citing threats to employees’ safety and saying organizers didn’t do enough to protect them. She made two appearances at the 2015 event by herself.
The incidents last year underscored tensions in the industry over the role of the women who make, play and write about games, and what major institutions like PAX should do to address the gaming community’s violent and extremist fringe, which has threatened female gamers.
Wu asserts that PAX’s organizers – makers of a web comic called Penny Arcade - didn’t do enough to reach out to her and plan for security measures and other accommodations.
“I was kind of expecting them to initiate contact with me first,” she said in an interview this week. “The fact that they didn’t, I was like, ‘Well that kind of tells me what I need to know about their priorities.’ Something you learn when you’re a woman in technology is that words are very predictable. People show you what they stand for with their actions.”
The conference, which attracts gaming companies big and small from around the world, returns to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this weekend.
“I can pick and choose which conferences I go to and this won’t be one of them,” Wu said.
Emails sent to the convention’s media representative Thursday were not returned by deadline.
Wu for more than a year has been the subject of intense criticism from activists in a movement called #GamerGate who have rejected her calls for more gender inclusivity in games and the gaming industry. Some have criticized her opinions, while others have bullied her or threatened to hurt or kill Wu and members of her family.
To date, she said she has received some 300 death threats.
Although the saga of #GamerGate-related harassment has been for the most part out of the mainstream press for a while now, Wu said it’s still “a constant part of my life.”
Wu has worked with U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, of Massachusetts, who this year filed a bill that seeks to train law enforcement to deal with cybercrime.
Wu’s biggest frustration, she said, is that none of the death threats she’s received have led to criminal charges for those who sent them. Other prominent women targeted online have had similar experiences.
“I’m at a point where I don’t have any faith in any institutions anymore,” she said. “Law enforcement has not done anything for any of us and it’s just a travesty.”
Wu said she wasn’t the only woman to sit out PAX this year, but wouldn’t say who the others were. She wants to protect their privacy, she said.
The organizers for other gaming conferences have been more proactive in helping her, she said. After her scheduled appearance at South-by-Southwest this year brought death threats yet again, she said, SXSW assigned a security team to escort her around Austin.
Next year’s PAX East could be different, she said.
“I’m always looking to work with people where I can, and if they want to work with our office next year, pick up the phone,” Wu said. “But I think the ball is in their court.”