A woman seeking to expose misogyny in video games has suffered a harsh lesson in the extent of Internet viciousness, as a campaign of harassment escalated to a Canadian man creating a game that let people batter an image of her face.
Anita Sarkeesian, who blogs from California but was born near Toronto and identifies as Canadian-American, had her Wikipedia page locked after it was hacked repeatedly with profanity, lies and pornography. A site on which she fundraises received a concerted campaign to shut her down. And her YouTube channel received a flood of vile messages.
Abuse reached a new low when a man who identifies himself as a 25-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie created and posted his game online. It allowed users to pummel an image of Ms. Sarkeesian. Thanks to photo-manipulation, the picture gains black eyes, bruising and cuts.
The game was soon taken down, but a Toronto woman realized its creator appeared to have revealed his real name. Stephanie Guthrie decided to out him on Twitter -- arguing he should know that there are real-world consequences to on-line actions -- and promptly faced a storm of vitriol herself.
Among the menacing messages directed at her were warnings that "what goes around comes around" and "you're fucking dead, bitch."
Ms. Guthrie said Wednesday that she had gone to the police. In spite of the backlash that has prompted her to create a "death threats" file on her computer, she did not regret exposing the man.
"[The game] normalizes the idea that violence against women is normal or funny," she said. "There might be a woman, or man, thinking about dating this guy. And perhaps they should be aware that he created a game about battering a woman."
Female gamers have long complained about sexism among the online community and this case has re-ignited the issue.
"Try being a girl on Xbox live," wrote one person posting on a News Statesman story about the situation. "My gender is set to M because otherwise I get people sending me dick [pictures]."
Although some of the attacks on Ms. Sarkeesian are the sort of kneejerk viciousness seen elsewhere online, many carry an undeniably sexist tinge. She is urged to get back into the kitchen and someone has posted a drawing of a person resembling her being violated by the game character Mario.
Ms. Sarkeesian did not respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment. In a statement, she has connected her harassment to the intimidation of other women online.
"This particular domestic violence 'game' is just one of the more extreme manifestations of the sustained cyber mob style harassment campaign directed at me which has been perpetrated by hundreds if not thousands of (mostly) anonymous Internet users over the course of several weeks," Ms. Sarkeesian wrote.
"The online harassment epidemic also affects a great number of women who don't have as much public recognition or support. We have no idea how many women have been scared into silence, deleted their blogs, removed their videos or simply refrained from saying anything on the Internet altogether – but I am certain it's a significant and depressing number. That has to change."
The man who created the game does not have a listed telephone number and did not respond to an interview request by email. He had said online that he created the game because Ms. Sarkeesian had "scammed" donors to her project and was using complaints of sexism to shut down criticism.
"She claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path," he wrote.