BioWare Writer Quits Following Online Abuse, Death Threats to Family

Does an abusive and abrasive community scare away game development talent? That depends on how far individuals in such a community are willing to go in order to express their disdain for what a game developer is doing. When members of a community think that it is acceptable to wish death or a sexual assault on someone, it has a very real affect on game developers – or anyone else in the public eye.

Polygon detailed how online bullying, harassment, and even death threats were thrown at BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler. Things were so bad that she decided that it was time to leave BioWare and do freelance work. Hepler, who was harassed by fans for her work on Dragon Age 2 (and for comments she made years earlier about wishing to skip combat sections in games, because she disliked them) this week left the studio to work on a book and pursue some freelance work. She tells Polygon that she made this dramatic move because of death threats to her and her children online.

"It's something that comes up in almost every conversation with female developers," she told Polygon. "Overall, people seem to try to shrug it off publicly and fume privately, and younger women contemplating the field are reconsidering whether they have the stomach to handle what it currently asks of them."

"That's the biggest risk in my opinion: that we will lose out on the talents of people who would make fantastic games that we would all be the better for playing, because they legitimately don't want to make themselves into targets," she continued. "A lot of the best artists and storytellers (and quite a few great programmers too) tend to be sensitive people – we shouldn't lose out on their talents because we are requiring them to be tough, battle-scarred veterans just to walk in the door."

We've reported on a fair share of online abuses over the last year or so directed at people such as Treyarch Studio Design Director David Vonderhaar (who players wished death upon after he detailed a Black Ops II patch that changed some weapons in the game); Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian (who has received a fair share of rape threats because of her Tropes v. Women video series); and Polytron's Phil Fish (who recently quit the industry after having a verbal sparring match on Twitter with Gametrailer's Marcus Beer over Xbox One and Indie game developers).

At the end of the day people have a right to their opinions, but threats online are not free speech – in fact, in some places they are a crime. But it should never have to come to a point where the police show up to arrest you for something stupid or hateful you wrote online; instead those who want to engage in conversations online should show a little more self-restraint, the art of self-censorship, and the ability to use some common sense before speaking or typing.

By the same token, gate keepers – those who provide platforms for people to share their opinions – should have zero tolerance for any kind of communication that involves threats of sexual assault or violence of any kind.

You can check out Polygon's excellent report on this subject here.


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  1. 0
    Longjocks says:

    It's not just about the US government. There are people living in countries where anonymity is a must or else they face prison or death for themselves or their families. And sadly enough it could be for statements like "I do not trust the [insert nation] government fully".

  2. 0
    Technogeek says:

    Judging from what I've read of Ben Franklin, he'd probably be more disturbed by the UK's push to remove pornography from the intertubes. Or maybe vindicated, I'm not sure.

  3. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    Benjamin Franklin and others authored a number of papers and letters under false names before and after the revolution. They recognized the importance of being anonymous when speaking out against those who would seek to do you harm.

    I would think that they would be quite disturbed by the recent push to remove anonymity from the internet.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  4. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    I will grant you that. I do not trust the US government fully.


    But on the flip side of that coin, the founding fathers did not have the protection of the anonymity of the Internet. Yet they still founded the United States. I really hate that the people making these death threats are trying to hide behind 'free-speech' like it gives them the right to abuse people.

  5. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    She said that in response to the people who were harassing and threatening her.  At that point, I'd cut her some slack on being a bit snarky.

    Any examples of her copping an entitled attitude before she got dog piled?


    Andrew Eisen

  6. 0
    -Jes- says:

    "I just figure they're jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can't get either."

    Because, you know, that's a nice thing to say to people who are considerably angry at subpar writing in premium-priced, storyline-driven media.

    Not that this could ever justify the unjustifiable (the threats and such), but the fact is that Hepler did NOT shy away from putting herself in the spotlight in the worst way imaginable, consequences be damned.

  7. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Hmm, after doing some checking it seems I was mistaken, all she said was that her least favorite thing about working in the industry for her was playing the games themselves.


    Indeed definitely the wrong thing to go off about. Hell, Stan Lee admitted that he doesn't play games but many of his stories have been adapted into them.

  8. 0
    MechaTama31 says:

    His comment was more from the perspective of why AE doesn't get this kind of treatment.  It's like saying he didn't get mugged because he didn't walk home alone at night.  Does that mean that someone deserves to be mugged if they do that?  That it's right and just?  No.  But doing it undeniably increases their odds of getting mugged, and would therefore be pertinent to why they got mugged while another person didn't.

  9. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    "As I recall, Ms. Hepler up there acted entitled because she has a job a bunch of nerds dream of."


    You did imply that with this sentence. If that was not your intention, I apologize. But acting entitled or arrogant is still no excuse to abuse someone

  10. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    I never even once implied that it was justified, because it flat out isn't, I'm only saying that the attitude she projected didn't help matters.

  11. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    I see you are using an anonymous account. *read: tone: cold neutral controlled* A coward that does not have the courage to speak unless he hides his face. Your kind is no better then the bank robber who hides their face and steal the joy from people. YOUR KIND sickens me.

    Threatening a woman and her family? You think anything justifies that? You are a self-entitled fool.


    Anyone who made those threats should be arrested and charged with the crimes they committed.

  12. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Not that it matters as I don't believe you're implying that having an entitled attitude justifies death threats but entitled in what way?


    Andrew Eisen

  13. 0
    Mendror says:

    While I'm upset on the way she left, doesn't change the fact that I'm glad she left.

    Helper wasn't a good writer and to be honest I have no idea how she got the job down at Bioware.

    But probably nothing will change at Bioware specifically on how they are handling there games.

  14. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    True, but at least if anonymity is removed there will be legal recourse. Going to the police and getting them arrested, suing people for harassment. Not exactly a happy ending, but it is a start.


    Y'all remember that guy who made "joking" threats a while back. How much time did he end up doing for that? Now I think that guy got a 'slightly' bad deal. BUT he did make a threat, and the person reporting him did not know that he was 'joking'. Only idiots joke about committing mass murder and death threat.

  15. 0
    Craig R. says:

    I agree. Penny Arcade was spot on with the "Greater Internet Dickwad Theory". But it seems now that you can just take anonymity right out of the equation; dickwads just need the internet and an audience, and they're more than willing to put their real names & faces to the same comments.

  16. 0
    PHX Corp says:

    Agreed,Pretty much sums up what I said to myself(after seeing this article), Make the commenters either post under real names or have thier facebook accounts(or even use thier XBL/PSN/NN Gamertags) so that they'll knock it off or the Site will report them to the proper authorities(FBI for example)

  17. 0
    Technogeek says:

    In case you haven't been paying attention to Facebook recently, removing anonymity does nothing to stop people from saying utterly abhorrent shit. Just search for any page that touches on anything even remotely related to Islam, food stamps, and/or Barack Obama, then read the comments. Then call a suicide hotline, because you will want to kill yourself afterwards.

  18. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    Even though I post on near every site I visit with my real name, there are legitimate reasons for needing to be anonymous from time to time. For example, when speaking out against oppressive governments. 

    Even the news media recognizes and respects the need to remain anonymous when there is a fear of backlash or threats. They mask voices, faces and often don't name their sources to protect those people.

    Are there people who abuse the ease of being anonymous? Yes. Just as there are people who abuse other things that are used without abuse daily. But taking away a tool to protect people from legitimate harm is a harsh and burdensome requirement.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  19. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    I have an Idea to curb these threats. Kill the anonymity. Kill it with fire. Soon I will have been on the internet longer then some of you have been alive. In my years, I have learned that it is the anonymity that is the root of 99% of the problems on the Internet.


    I know this is not a popular idea, but it may need to be done, it should be by choice rather then by law.


    All comment sections should be tied to social media websites. You do not even need to make your social media account public, just keep the information so you know where to send the police.

  20. 0
    Infophile says:

    My sympathies for Ms. Helper. I can't say I blame her at all for her decision. With all the abuse she's getting, there comes a point where there's a fear that even a single person might go beyond speech. And just one person is all it takes.

    Sadly, I fear for what might happen in the future. Abusers will likely see this as a victory, and that may lead to even more of this in the future. Even worse, they may not lay off on her. I've seen other people targeted by this type of vitriol try to avoid it by cutting off their net presence, and it barely made a dent in what came their way.

    You know the old maxim "Don't feed the trolls"? It only works if a single troll is isolated and can be completely cut off from any type of reinforcement. Even with lone trolls, this is nearly impossible. But once trolls form hives, they reinforce each other. They don't need reactions from the targets, they get it from fellow trolls. This then escalates into harassment, abuse, and threats if nothing stops them.

    What can be done? Well, as mentioned in the article, gatekeepers can help. Better moderation on social media sites will help, but nothing stops abusers from forming their own unmoderated hives to reinforce themselves. In the end, law enforcement is the only real option. They have to start paying attention to online harassment and threats and treating them as the crimes they are. They've ignored the problem too long, and it's been allowed to grow to this size. Hopefully they'll soon wake up to what's going on. If not, public pressure will need to be brought to bear.

  21. 0
    Scott1701c says:

    Honestly, I have no idea, But my guess is that the "joke" threat was made on a social media site, so his information was public (Real Name, Address, ect.)

    Here the threats are made on an anonymous forum where the cowards do not have to give any information (or lie about the info they do give). The only required information to post on is an email address.  You have the option to use a real account, but would you if you knew that the threats were criminal acts?


    Soon, we may be forced to abandon the anonymity of the Internet. I will rejoice in that day.

  22. 0
    Sora-Chan says:

    Ok, so, why is it when people make obvious joke threats, they get thrown into jail. But these people don't even get a slap on the hand? Someone wanna explain that one for me?

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  23. 0
    DorthLous says:

    Good on GP for this:

    "By the same token, gate keepers – those who provide platforms for people to share their opinions – should have zero tolerance for any kind of communication that involves threats of sexual assault or violence of any kind."

    I believe so far GP has upheld those standards and I hope it'll keep on doing so in the future. Thank you for doing so.

  24. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    I noticed that too but the way it reads to me is that those "family reasons" were at least partially the threats directed at them.  Nevertheless, I've made a slight adjustment to the title.


    Andrew Eisen

  25. 0
    DanJ says:

    What's with the headline? Directly from the story:

    When asked if the harassment led to her depature, Hepler told Polygon "No, leaving Bioware was for family reasons."

  26. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    I think it's because you're a polite person yourself.

    As I recall, Ms. Hepler up there acted entitled because she has a job a bunch of nerds dream of.

  27. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    I'm lucky.  I've been on YouTube for about two years and almost all of my viewers and Twitter followers are very lovely, polite people.

    Granted, my audience is only a few thousand (compared to the the hundreds of thousands or millions of other's who do get harassed) and it probably helps that I'm a nondescript, white male.


    Andrew Eisen

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