The Unsavory Past of GamerGate ‘Victim’ and Congressional Candidate Brianna Wu

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 2:03 pm, December 26, 2016

If it weren’t for the drama surrounding the politics of video games, no one would have ever heard of Brianna Wu. A notorious figure in the 2014 GamerGate fiasco, Wu rose to fame after she claimed video-game enthusiasts were harassing her with death threats for being a woman in the game industry. I was the first to write about her.

Now, the once-unknown game developer has announced her run for a seat in Congress representing Massachusetts. Wu, 39, runs an independent game studio called Giant Spacekat and she says she intends to campaign as a Democrat on a platform of privacy rights, online harassment and economic policy.

“I am a national figure of women’s rights,” said Wu in an interview with the Boston Globe. “When people hear ‘Brianna Wu,’ they think Internet harassment, and advocating for women in technology and the workplace.”

But some people who have followed Wu in the last few years have much less-flattering word associations.

When firefighters were battling a huge blaze in Cambridge early this month, Wu, who once compared herself to Batman (archive), tweeted that she was hoping to finish playing a video game before the power went out. She has since deleted the tweet. We saved a screenshot and an archive.

Brianna Wu runs a Patreon account where she once earned an average of $3,400 a month following her involvement in GamerGate, under the pretense that donations towards her would go towards hiring someone to “help deal with harassment” for Giant Spacekat. She also received a one-time donation of $10,000 from a game developer.

Since then, Wu claims to have hired an individual named Natalie O’Brien to serve as the administrator of Giant Spacekat, who is listed on the company’s staff page. She does not have a description or any presence on social media. We have been unable to ascertain the existence of O’Brien, and former anonymous supporters of Wu’s Patreon account have raised issues about it.

In response to these concerns, Wu offered to speak to the Patreon backer(s) privately but offered no public evidence for O’Brien. She claimed that the publication the Guardian wished to interview O’Brien. To date, there no interview has been published.

Since becoming famous, Wu held multiple paid speaking engagements at conventions and universities across North America and elsewhere.

We can only speculate as to where all that money went. But in early 2015, Wu tweeted about paying off her racing motorcycle (archive).

In 2016, she wrote an article for the Daily Dot about how she hired a limousine for $40 an hour to play Pokemon Go with her husband, Frank Wu, for the entire day.

Some former associates of Wu’s have spoken out against her. Emma Clarkson, a Boston-based game developer and a former colleague of Wu’s at Boston’s Big Festival of Indie Games, described her as profoundly untrustworthy.

Randi Harper, another person who became famous because of GamerGate, described Wu as a “narcissistic idiot” in a long series of tweets (archive) upon learning about Wu’s office run. She described Wu’s harassment claims as “exaggerations.”

Wu has not publicly responded to the claims from Clarkson and Harper.

In March 2016, Wu was profiled on the SyFy channel series “The Internet Ruined My Life,” where she talked about how a man named Jace Connors made death threats against her, forcing her to flee her home. Connors, whose real name is Jan Rankowski, was revealed to be part of a comedy group called Million Dollar Extreme. It was a simple hoax, and Wu was well aware (archive) for over a year that the threats were not real.

“When we run, we’ll be right back in the thick of it. It’s going to make me a huge target again,” Wu told the Boston Globe in her recent interview.

And If no one actually paints a target on her, she may take that job on herself.

In February 2015, she made a post on a video game forum (archive) asking: “Is GSX Head of Development and noted Feminist Brianna Wu a terrible person?” It was deleted shortly after she was questioned. GamerGate supporters have accused Wu of faking harassment from an anonymous account named “@chatterwhiteman” on Twitter, and Wikipedia editors argue that her credential of “software engineer” is without merit.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.