Video Games and Death Threats – A Plague in the Industry


Video game fans are some of the most passionate and vocal fans in the universe… but they’re also ravenous animals that hunt for the blood of game developers. Polygon recently addressed the problem of harassment against game developers, pointing out the ridiculous and downright scary examples of insane fans that have used the anonymity of the internet to send out death threats and other promises of violence.

Granted this is a vocal minority, but they are loud enough to give the rest of us a bad name. In other words, they’re on my shit list. As an active member on Twitter, specifically inside of the gaming community, it’s disheartening to see messages tossed toward people like David Vonderhaar (Treyarch studio design director) telling him how he can die. It’s grotesque and scary even beneath the understanding that the majority of those messages are most likely coming from young kids who think they’re being funny. But regardless, it springs out the “what ifs”. 

The death threats sent out to Vonderhaar after the Black Ops 2 patch late last month ignited an editorial by Activision social media manager Dan Amrich stating, “If you enjoy your games, have a little respect for the people who make them– and stop threatening them with bodily harm every time they do their job.”

A damage decrease on a gun in a video game made gamers want to send out death threats? How insane are you people?


Stephen Toulouse, who headed Xbox Live’s policy and enforcement for six years, said, “I have approximately 70 messages on Xbox Live right now and half of them are, ‘I’m going to kill you’ and ‘I’m going to find you and destroy you’ and I haven’t worked [at Microsoft] in two years. Even to this day people who don’t know I left Microsoft still come after me.

“The root cause of the problem isn’t in what we do, making games, it’s that there are so little consequences to this wildly violent approach of communication that we are simply one audience of many that are subject to this type of focus. There’s no real penalty right now.

“With the adults you get a lot of the bluster, but no follow through. Because they do have something to lose. They might realize on some level the difference between typing, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and calling you and saying you’re going to kill someone is a pretty big leap when you can be recorded.”

Jennifer Hepler, senior writer on Dragon Age: Inquisition, left BioWare to focus on a book about narrative design and freelance work. But it was Dragon Age 2 that introduced her to the death threats against her and her family. While it was initially implied that Hepler left because of the harassment, her departure specifically rides on her other projects. 

While she tried to stay away from the attacks, Hepler considers the impact mostly positive and helped her raise her children who “won’t have that sense of entitlement where if they don’t enjoy a particular entertainment product they it’s fair to attack the creators personally.

“I definitely try to make them understand that there are real people behind the shows they watch and the games they play,” she said, “and even if they don’t like the finished product, they should understand and respect the work that went into it.”

My main fear is losing the talent responsible for creating some amazing video game moments. It would have to be difficult for a creative person to continue working on something that ignited death threats toward his/her family. 

“That’s the biggest risk, in my opinion: That we will lose out on the talents of people who would make fantastic games that we would all be the better for playing, because they legitimately don’t want to make themselves into targets.”

But ultimately, I think this issue stems from the lack of maturity that permeates from the industry and community. Despite the fact that video games are growing, the small amount of trolls are succeeding in keeping the video game industry beneath a particular light of, “Oh, video games are just child’s play.” The cancer in this industry doesn’t rest with the writers and the creative decision-makers, it rests on the shoulders of the trolls that find false courage behind a keyboard. 



3 thoughts on “Video Games and Death Threats – A Plague in the Industry

  1. Nice write-up. I read the Polygon article yesterday and felt so awful afterwards. The negativity in the industry is something that comes up quite a bit, and it’s been on my mind for several months now… but I hadn’t realized how terrible and stressful it must be to get death threats as well.

    I have so much respect for game developers and creators of all kinds, and I totally agree with you that it’s the so-called fans — the negative ones with only criticism, threats, and nothing substantial to say — who are really the plague on the industry right now. Hopefully we can bring some positivity back into the community to counter a little bit of the bad.

  2. Thing is though, it’s not just the gaming community — it’s pretty much in every entertainment form, and the more famous you are, the more people are going to wave their “I can say whatever I want on the net and not get caught” due to reasons that are petty and really stupid. The worst part is those people who say, “Well they’re public figures they have to deal with what they get” soooo…does that make it acceptable to call someone a fa**** and die? Or make death threats? Real classy guys.

    I would say though, in the end, these guys say these things, and they never follow through, or just get exposed. That’s kind of why stories like this only make me smile in a twisted way 🙂

    • The threats are definitely everywhere, but I think the video game industry gets put in the spotlight more often simply because of the reputation it carries.

      You have the twisted people that think video games cause violence, but then on the other side, you have so-called gamers threatening violence because things don’t go their way. You have a few ways to look at it:

      1. They’re simply children using the keyboard as a weapon. Which only strengthens the immaturity that gives the gaming community a bad name.

      2. You have a legitimate cause to be afraid of the gamers that make these threats… which will inevitably only strengthen the “video games causes violence” argument. It’s a double-edged sword.

      Anyone in the gaming industry, particularly the writers and developers tend to have a tougher time, I think, simply because of what I stated above. The vocal minority becomes the public majority in the eyes of unintelligent and uneducated media.

      These instances are either seen as unimportant because the threats ARE just child’s play, or they’re moments that ignite major action from law enforcement. There’s never a medium… and that needs to be changed.

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