Brianna Wu is not your traditional congressional candidate. Raised in the South in a conservative family, she got into video games at an early age and eventually became a successful game designer. But in taking on the industry’s sexism, she found herself a high-profile target of the Gamergate harassment campaign. Wu got used to fighting bullies, and after Donald Trump became president, she was ready to take the fight to Washington. In 2018 she challenged the conservative Democratic incumbent in a Massachusetts congressional primary. She lost. Undaunted, Wu is back in the running for 2020.
JN: What drew you to gaming?
BW: My parents moved to Mississippi, where the culture was church and high school football. In the 1980s they made the terrible mistake of buying me a Nintendo for Christmas, and I was just gone. Final Fantasy is a way more interesting world than Mississippi was.
JN: You’ve seen the dark side of the world of gaming.
BW: That’s true. I quickly came to realize that the game industry was sexist and broken, that it wasn’t enough to quietly do my own thing. I needed to speak about what women were facing.
I have an employee at my company, and she worked at a studio that prides itself on its liberal values. And she was sitting there doing some animation, and all the men in the office rushed to the window and pushed their faces up against the glass and made some of the crudest comments you can imagine. What happened was, two women were playing volleyball downstairs in their bikinis. That kind of a culture is exhausting, as a woman.
JN: You spoke out about these issues, and people went after you.
BW: Yeah. Most people know me from Gamergate. It was our industry’s reckoning with 30 years of extreme sexism. I and other women in our field advocated for more women to be hired, more women to be promoted. And for this, Steve Bannon and the alt-right set me in their sights.
The most surreal moment was watching Law & Order reenact the death threats that had been sent to me. I had people show up at my college impersonating me, trying to get my records released. I had a brick thrown through my window just a couple of months ago. Their goal is to make the cost of speaking out so high that most women choose to be silent.
JN: After going through all that, you chose to take the next step. With the election of Bannon’s candidate as president, you made the leap into politics as a candidate yourself.
BW: Do you mind if I tell you a story to give context? When I was in third grade in Mississippi, there was a kid in my class, and he knew he was gay. He made the mistake of telling his parents, and they sent him to a reprogramming camp. He came back broken and eventually committed suicide. What I remember at that age is being stunned that grown-ups didn’t speak out. Most people, when evil is flourishing, don’t stand up. For whatever reason, I’m built in a way where I couldn’t live with myself if I sat it out. When you fast-forward to the game industry, I could handle the death threats, but I couldn’t take seeing my friends leave the industry because no one would fight for them. When Trump was elected, the choice to stand up was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.
JN: You entered the congressional race against an entrenched Democratic incumbent.
BW: Yeah. I want to take you back to the early 2000s. This was after Matthew Shepard was murdered and Gwen Araujo was murdered, and the gay community was hurting. I remember picking up the paper and reading about a Massachusetts congressman pushing to get rid of hate-crimes prosecutions in our state. That man’s name was Stephen Lynch. I’ve been frustrated with him for 20 years. And it’s not just LGBTQ issues. When it comes to climate change, he doesn’t do anything. He voted against Obamacare. He voted to send many of my friends to die in the Iraq War. I just think Massachusetts can do better than one of the most conservative Democrats in the United States.