What It Feels Like to Be a Gamergate Target

In an effort to reprogram the video gaming industry, many outspoken critics have faced horrifying backlash and threats.
8:16 | 01/15/15

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Transcript for What It Feels Like to Be a Gamergate Target
Tonight, violent depictions of women being beaten, raped, and run over by cars. It's not the movies, it's video games. And now the women calling for change in this multi-billion dollar virtual industry are facing a very real backlash, including death threats. Here's my "Nightline" coanchor juju Chang. Reporter: For Anita Sarkisian, this is the new Normal. Armed escorts at public events. Tracking her every move. I'm constantly aware of the fact that there's an enormous amount of hate directed toward me. Reporter: Hate in the form of bomb threats, rape threats, even death threats. On this morning, high alert at Loyola university in Chicago. It's Anita's first speaking engagement since threats of a shooting massacre forced her to cancel her last appearance. All because this media critic dared to criticize something millions of us play every day. Video games. Reporter: Video games. The threats making splashy headlines around the world. On shows like "Melissa Harris Perry." And web casts like democracy now and huff post live. Violent threats for pointing out sexism in video games. Things got heated to say the least. Reporter: The harassment became part of what's now known as gamergate. What started as an online spat about the ethics of gaming journalism quickly escalated into a full-blown culture war. Women shouldn't be mere disposable objects or symbolic pawns in stories about men. Reporter: And a small but hardcore group of gamers resistant to change. God ordained that it is one man, one joystick. Reporter: But gamergate doesn't just affect boys playing in a basement. The stakes are much higher than you might think. We're now spending more money on games than movies and music combined. To the tune of $21 billion. And what might surprise you, there are now more adult women playing video games than there are teenage boys. We're talking about fantastical scenarios like the ones in bio shock, epiced a ventures in games like mirror's edge. What is it that's so disturbing in some games that's making women like Anita willing to face death threats? Just when you think your hurt the worst example, the most misogynistic example, you find another one. Escapism is big business. Half of us are playing games like this one, "Grand theft auto 5." Critics say in these virtual worlds things take a turn for the dark side. As a player you can solicit a prostitute, kill her, and if that's not enough, you have the option to run her over. The sense of violence against women being used as almost background decoration. As texture to make an environment gritty, more real. Reporter: There are plenty of games that aren't violent or sexualized. But some of the best-selling games are especially egregious. On her website, Anita dissects these games. Developers regularly utilize the brutalization of women's bodies. And faeshl the bodies of female prostitutes. Reporter: Her goal, to bring attention to what she calls the inherent misogyny in the gaming world. In "Watchdog" she points out how women are murdered to give the hero a reason to chase down a bad guy. It gets worse and worse, reinforces this idea as women of sexual objects, reinforces this idea of women as playthings for their amusement. Reporter: It's this kind of talk that makes her a target. That's when the cyber mob descended. Reporter: Bombarding her with mostly anonymous tweets and messages. "I will rape you when I get the chance." Hiding behind user names and claims of free speech. "I'm sitting outside your apartment with a loaded gun." "Your neighbors won't hear your screaming in pain." Someone created a grotesque game where players can beat and punch a picture of her face. Ow, ow! Reporter: The virtual harassment turned very real when her online attackers published her social security number, her home address. And she's not the only one. They told me they were coming to kill me. They told me specifically they were going to castrate my husband. Reporter: Women like Briana Wu, an independent game developer, was driven out of heir home all for tweeting her opinion. When someone posts your address online and they tell you they'll murder your whole family? You don't really feel safe staying at that location. Reporter: So far, the gamergate harassment against Briana and other women like her has remained online. But the FBI is taking it seriously enough it's started a file. I'm so hesitant to use the phrase terror. Because I think it's such a politically loaded word. But this is -- it's terrorism on women in this industry. It's scaring every single one of us. Why such hate, why such anger? I think a lot of it comes from this idea that gaming is a male-dominated space. And that games are for men, by men. It's a very misogynist backlash. Women are not meant to be treated with respect. Reporter: Something even the most casual female gamer is familiar with. Watch what happens when the men in this online session of counter strike learn there's a woman playing in their midst. Are you an archaeologist? I have a big bone for you to examine. Reporter: It's less brutal than what Anita and Briana experienced but it does show the ease with which offensive behavior is tossed out at women. I'd give you my skin first if you know what I mean, huh? I'm really just here to play like everybody else. Reporter: But she's not treated like everyone else which is at the heart of gamergate. Media critics argue women like Stephanie need to stop being abused as players in the real world and as avatars in the virtual world. Given that women make up nearly half of this country's gamers, this isn't a feminist issue, it's just smart business. The demographic should be a hajj makeup call to executives of gaming companies because there is a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously. And out of demonstrating to women that you are taking them seriously. Reporter: We've reached out for comment multiple times to rock star games, ub soft, the companies behind these games, to ask about the way women are portrayed. But thus far, we've received no reply. And yet there are some signs of change in the gaming community. It's time we realized things from a different perspective. How would someone else, how would a woman look at this? Reporter: More and more developers like Tim Shaffer are seeing the need for more women programmers and girl-friendly games like "Broken age." Once you sat down and tried to play the game with your daughter, tried to find games where she can play a character that she identifies with, you start to feel bad about not putting that option in your own games. Reporter: Even Lara croft, tomb raider, got a makeover. More clothes, less curves. I remember playing "Tomb raider: Guardian of light." Produced by a woman, a really good game, the game did well. We'll see more of that. Reporter: The majority of gamers like Chris Scott, manager of 8bit and up, condemn gatorgate threats of violence. But he's not alone in believing critics like Anita exaggerate the problem. She's trying to capitalize on controversy. Reporter: He also says the gaming world on the whole shouldn't be judged by a few extreme examples. When people complain about games like "Assassins creed," "Grand theft auto," whatever, it's similar to complaining about hip-hop and rap music today saying, well, it's vee lent. That's not what hip-hop is about. You can't judge gaming by what's selling, you have to really get into the medium to understand it before you start saying, this is what gaming is about. Reporter: Scott suggests at the end of the day, they're just games. I know in the real world there are strong women that don't need to be saved. How do you respond to critic hot say, this is fantasy, this is not reality, you have to lighten up? Yeah, that's a fun argument. Games have a huge impact on our society. So it's not just fantasy. It actually works to potentially reinforce some pretty harmful messages about women. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm juju Chang in San Francisco, California.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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