As a woman working in the video game industry, Kallie Plagge is used to getting harassment from men. But when a recent message went too far, the GameSpot.com writer enlisted an unlikely ally: her harasser’s mother.
“Hello! You don’t know who I am, but your son does,” Plagge wrote in a message to the older woman, whom she found through a quick Facebook search. “I thought you might want to know the kinds of messages he sends to women he doesn’t agree with. He sent me this because I wrote a review of a video game.”
She attached a screenshot of the harasser's expletive-laden, vulgar message and hit send. The next morning, to her surprise, she had a reply.
“I am so sorry,” the man’s mother replied. “He is 37 years old and I am so going after him. He definitely has problems. I will straighten him out!!!”
The exchange, which racked up more than 165,000 likes when Plagge posted screenshots on Twitter, left her feeling somewhat vindicated. (“The fact that he was 37 was really the cherry on top that made it hilarious,” she told The Daily Beast.) But it is only a snapshot of the harassment the 25-year-old received for writing a single video game review—and the harassment that women in the video game industry endure on a daily basis.
Last week, Plagge reviewed a popular game called Days Gone for her job as senior editor for GameSpot. The review was critical, pointing out that the game had numerous plot holes and pacing issues. It ended with a low rating of five out of 10. “Most aspects of Days Gone lack purpose,” Plagge wrote. “Its many narrative threads flirt with being meaningful and interesting but never quite commit, with characters whose actions and motivations don't make sense.”
Days Gone fans were livid. Many homed in on the end of her review, which said the main character—who happened to be white and male—was “selfish,” and that the game was “uncritical” of his actions. Commenters also latched onto two of Plagge’s tweets in which she questioned why all of the enemy combatants appeared to be white and took issue with a character ogling a woman’s behind.
These comments alone were enough for fans to label Plagge a “social justice warrior”—a derogatory term popular with certain (largely white, mainly male) segments of the gaming community.
“In 30 years of gaming I have seen 2, maybe 3 women ever pick up a controller to play games,” one commenter wrote. “Can you just let us have this one thing.... Every industry women are injected into, falls into SJW territory eventually.”
“This isn't even a game review, it's a SJW talking dribble as usual,” he added. “At least we know what rock bottom looks like.”
In addition to the more than 800 comments on her original article, Plagge said she received more than two dozen personal Facebook messages and countless tweets from disgruntled fans. Some fans called her a “bitch” and a “cunt,” while others told her she was terrible at her job. (A few noted that they would still sleep with her.) Plagge said some of the comments on her longer, on-camera review were flagged to the company security as a threat.
Meanwhile, one of Plagge’s female friends was receiving similar comments for her own review of Days Gone—even though their critiques were substantially different.
“It was very clear [from] very early on that it had nothing to do with the content of our review,” Plagge said. “It was very much just that guys wanted to find an excuse to say sexist things to women.”
There have been countless articles written about the number of women gamers who are harassed online—a British study put the figure at about one in three—and the striking lack of women in the video game industry. (The “Gamergate” controversy of 2014 revealed what can happens to women who try to enter it.) But for women who engage on video games publicly, the harassment is often even worse.
“I don’t know any women in the industry who haven't experienced something like this,” Plagge said. “It varies by how outspoken you are on Twitter, for example, but I think we all get demoralizing comments, whether it’s about our appearance or about the things we say.”
In fact, Plagge said her Facebook message to the mom was actually inspired by a fellow female gamer, Alanah Pearce, who started reporting rape threats to her harassers’ mothers years ago. In an interview with the Guardian at the time, Pearce said she was attempting to teach young boys that “it’s not okay to be sexist to women, even if they’re on the internet.”
The vigilante justice is not just limited to women in this video game industry. In January, journalist Jessica Valenti tweeted: “I don't know when men will learn this, but if you send me harassing messages from an account that lists your name and employer, I will one hundred percent fwd that message to every single person you work with.”
Plagge, who did not reveal the identities of the harasser or his mother, said this kind of action should be celebrated for raising awareness about harassment, not belittled as a ploy for attention.
“There needs to be less of a rhetoric about, ‘Don’t feed the trolls,’ because they will come no matter what,” Plagge said. “And my philosophy on it is I’m not going to just lie down and be silent. I don’t want anyone to forget that this is what we have to do to do our jobs.”