A Boston video game developer said Wednesday that she’s spoken to law enforcement officials about threats that a Maine resident made against her in a video, including a proclamation that he would “dispense elite justice on her soul with a single knife wound.”

Jan Rankowski, 20, who grew up in Falmouth, has said his reference to Brianna Wu in a video on YouTube was part of a satire of “macho” video gamers. But Wu, co-founder of the game studio Giant Spacekat, said Rankowski’s claim that his threat was comedy is irrelevant.

“He threatened to kill me, so that’s not a laughing matter to me,” Wu said. “If you look at what happens when people threaten to kill women, they say, ‘I was just kidding around.’ ”

Wu has been one of the central targets in what’s become known as GamerGate, a loosely organized campaign of harassment and threats aimed at female video gamers and game developers that began last summer on Twitter and has spread to YouTube. Wu is among a few women who have become known in the gaming community for speaking out about the threats.

Wu said she has gotten 47 death threats in the past five months. They began in October when she used her Twitter account to mock some of the threats against other women.

Wu said the barrage of threats has made her fear for her safety and the safety of the women who work with her. The threats prompted her to pull her company out of next month’s PAX East, a Boston video game convention.


Rankowski was drawn into the controversy Monday, when he told the website BuzzFeed that he has been behind a character called Jace Connors, who rants about gaming in videos and live streaming events, for the past two years. After reading the interview, Wu said she contacted law enforcement officials.

Rankowski’s mother, Gayle Fitzpatrick, said her son was not available for comment Wednesday because he was preparing for his next online performance. Fitzpatrick would not say exactly where in Maine her son lives. She said Wu was mentioned in only two of the Jace Connors videos and that the mentions were clearly part of a satirical performance.

Rankowski has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. When he was 9 and being home-schooled, his parents filed an unsuccessful discrimination suit against the town of Falmouth after he was banned from using the playground at a local school during school hours.

The Jace Connors video that most disturbed Wu appeared in December as part of a live streaming performance that lasted at least two hours. Rankowski was filmed sitting at a computer, talking about video games and chatting with gamers. At one point Rankowski – apparently playing Connors – says someone has asked him to shout profanities about Wu, which he does. He then says Wu and her “evil friends” are trying to “destroy gaming,” and that he’d like to use a knife on her and “smack her in the face” with a game controller.

Rankowski told BuzzFeed he was not actually threatening Wu and instead was parodying those who do.

The GamerGate phenomenon represents a longstanding feeling among some male gamers that female gamers and developers should be made to feel “not welcome” or “treated with hostility” within the gaming community, said Nina Huntemann, a professor of media studies at Suffolk University in Boston.

“You have a small subculture within gaming who are organizing themselves around this hate,” said Huntemann, a gamer and co-director of Women in Games in Boston, a professional network.


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