'Graphic' death threats lead longtime BioWare game writer to quit

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Aug 16, 2013, 1:33 PM EDT

CORRECTION: Jennifer Hepler, thankfully, did not quit her job at BioWare due to the harassment she received. According to her, "No, leaving BioWare was for family reasons. I am going to be working on a text book on narrative design among other game-related freelance projects."

After repeated threats on her life and the lives of her family, gaming writer Jennifer Hepler is moving on.

At this point, it's fair to say that the gaming industry is a bit of a harsh mistress. Whether you help develop the games or even just want to play them online with your fellow players, the prospect that you will eventually be threatened with shockingly violent assault is all but assured.

In the case of Jennifer Hepler, the harassment has finally reached an intolerable level.

Hepler is a veteran game writer, having worked on BioWare games titles like Dragon Age, its sequel and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those are all big, successful games, so you might, as an outside observer, assume that Hepler is well-regarded among gamers. You'd expect that she be treated with the level of respect one earns after helping to create three incredibly enjoyable and groundbreaking games.

Instead, she's been on the receiving end of countless death threats, not just to her own person, but to her family as well. Hepler gave one example, sharing, "I was shown a sample of the forum posts by EA security, and it included graphic threats to kill my children on their way out of school to show them that they should have been aborted at birth rather than have to have me as a mother."

So why has this happened? What might make a person think they're justified in saying they are going to sexually assault and murder another human being and their children?

BioWare has been a gaming titan for quite some time now, but there are some who feel that the quality of the product they've been putting out in recent years has taken a downturn. Critcisms against gameplay mechanic and storylines have been mounting, and someone had to take the blame.

Enter Hepler, who, while promoting Dragon Age: Origins in 2006, admited in an interview that the hardest part of her job was "Playing the games. It has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me."

And with that, a campaign to hoist the perceived problems with BioWare's games on Hepler began. In addition to the gameplay itself, Hepler was also blamed for allowing characters in Dragon Age II to have same-sex attractions.

And Hepler is hardly the first or the last to be greeted with this kind of treatment from the gaming community. Recently, David Vonderhaar, design director for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, received multiple death threats for making alterations to damage and rate of fire on certain weapons in the game.

For Hepler specifically, this is the end of the line, at BioWare, at least. After nearly seven years of harassment, she has left the company in order to go freelance.

Perhaps some members of the gaming community will see this as a victory. Just as in the videogames they seem to hold more dear than actual living people, their foe has been vanquished. It's like they've won the game.

For most people, though, this is further evidence that the gaming community needs to face front, accept that it has a very serious harassment problem, and get serious about fixing it.

(via Metro)