Anita Sarkeesian (previously) is a brilliant media theorist and critic whose Feminist Frequency/Tropes vs. Women in Video Games projects revolutionized the way we talk about gender and games — and also made her a target for a virulent misogynist hate-machine of harassing manbabies who threatened her life, doxed her, and did everything they could to intimidate her into silence.
Polygon's 9,000 word profile of Sarkeesian contains a lot of color about her personality and approach (which is great stuff — Sarkeesian is a fun and interesting person in real life as well as on-screen), but where it gets really good is in describing how Sarkeesian led a massive change in the way that games companies approach games, with "great women characters" appearing in "The Last of Us, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Dragon Age: Inquisition,The Walking Dead, Battlefield 5, Dishonored 2, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Overwatch"
Sarkeesian's academic training is a combination of feminist theory and media studies, which made her the perfect person to bridge between the insidery, jargon-heavy world of gender studies and a popular, easily digested way of thinking through these issues for games practicioners; Polygon's Colin Campbell calls it "a toolkit that developers could use, to lever themselves out of the box they'd made for themselves."
This was literally and figuratively "game changing" — Sarkeesian wields "criticism so sharp that it cut the past from the future," making a new world of games, at real personal cost.
That cost is also an important part of the story: Sarkeesian's harassers were unspeakably vile and vicious, and throughout, Sarkeesian made a point of never showing how it affected her, though it did (as it would anyone who was subjected to it). But as Sarkeesian threw her energy into guiding and comforting other women who'd been targeted for speaking out, she learned that her stoicism had an unanticipated and unwelcome side effect: "it hurt other women who were suffering because they might be feeling like they needed to live up to the example I was putting out there. So now when I talk about these issues, I think that there's value in being transparent and honest about the reality of who I am and where I'm at."
Sarkeesian has stopped doing YouTube videos — she still has an excellent podcast called Feminist Frequency Radio — and she discusses how she feels YouTube's moment has passed: "When I go and speak at schools and colleges, students tell me they want to do what I do. But you can't do it on YouTube anymore…Digital video is a really difficult place to navigate right now. I don't think it has a shelf life, as it stands."
After the Kickstarter video abused peaked, she found herself inundated by the effects of the abuse. It got in the way of the work she was supposed to be doing: creating the videos.
"There are so many costs of the harassment that people don't see," she says. "It's not just that it hurts my feelings. It's that I can't do a lot of the work that I need to do because I'm so busy dealing with that. I'm traveling around talking about online harassment when I would rather be producing cool videos.
"I was making sure that I was still safe and that there wasn't anything major happening that I had to report. I was starting to talk to the social media companies to be like, what are you going to do about this? I was doing a lot of media interviews because I felt like it was important to talk about these issues. So I was doing a lot of unpaid labor to try to systemically change this problem."
Online harassment was only beginning to be understood at the time. There were still those who denied it was even happening.
"The harassers said that I was lying about the threats, in the same breath that they were sending me threats," she says. "They said that I'm doing it to myself. It's not real. Some of them became especially obsessed with me, making rambling videos about me, like every day."
The Anita Sarkeesian story [Colin Campbell/Polygon]