An anonymous e-mailer threatened to blow up a bomb at the Game Developers Choice Awards this past March unless the hosts rescinded an award recognising feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, the organisers of the event have confirmed to Kotaku.
"We can confirm that approximately 25 of GDC's organisers received an anonymous email early in the morning of Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 during GDC 2014," the organisers said in a statement.
"The email stated the following: 'A bomb will be detonated at the Game Developer's Choice award ceremony tonight unless Anita Sarkeesian's Ambassador Award is revoked. We estimate the bomb will kill at least a dozen people and injure dozens more. It would be in your best interest to accept our simple request. This is not a joke. You have been warned.'"
The threat merited the attention of the San Francisco Police Department's Explosive Ordinance Disposal Division, which sent officers and bomb-sniffing dogs to the Moscone Center, where GDC is held.
"Our EOD conducted a sweep of the premises and found nothing," SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told me this week. Asked what became of any investigation of the threat, he said the department had "no further information to share about that." Esparza said that the department responds to all bomb threats.
GDC organisers did not inform attendees of the threat but told me this week that "additional security staff were brought in to conduct random bag checks as attendees entered the Awards. The Awards occurred without incident."
The GDC website describes the Ambassador Award as one that goes to "an individual or individuals who have helped the game industry advance to a better place, either through facilitating a better game community from within, or by reaching outside the industry to be an advocate for video games and help further our art."
While the provenance of the bomb scare against Sarkeesian and GDC attendees is unknown, it appears to be part of a pattern of extreme threats made to the critic. Her controversial Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games series has stirred a reaction well beyond standard cultural criticism and counter-criticism, eliciting hate as well as rape and death threats, all but clouding out any civil discussion about her critiques.
The March bomb threat came to my attention last week while I was investigating claims that Sarkeesian had misled the public about measures she'd taken in response to threats she'd allegedly received in August, following the publication of her latest video about women in gaming. Sarkeesian had tweeted early this month that she'd notified the police about new, vicious threats.
But one of the people behind a planned anti-Sarkeesian documentary called the SFPD and recorded a representative there saying they had no record of this. In the days that followed, the SFPD corrected themselves and stated that Sarkeesian had indeed reported threats to them. Officer Esparza confirmed as much to me yesterday saying "our department was notified and forwarded [the threats] to the FBI," which he said is handling the harassment against Sarkeesian.
Sarkeesian has shared many of the threats she received publicly and passed along to me what she says is an example of one recent and vicious to me to illustrate her frustration and concerns for her safety.
"There are ongoing investigations in multiple municipalities regarding death threats targeting me and my family," she told me. "Despite the seriousness of the situation, a group of obsessive cyberstalkers have started a witch hunt against me attempting to prove some sort of paranoid conspiracy theory about fabricated threats." She described such measures as a "witch hunt" that "has further compromised my privacy and my personal safety as well as serving as a distraction to authorities during an ongoing investigation."
Of the GDC bomb threat, she said, "I decided to go on stage and accept the award anyway, but it was a nerve-wracking evening to say the least."