Gamergate is the latest controversial plot in 'Law & Order: SVU'

Previews of the next episode of the TV cop drama show a female video game developer harassed and threatened by online trolls.

Bonnie Burton profile photo
Bonnie Burton profile photo
Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
3 min read

Sergeant Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) won't be treating trolls lightly. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Glossy crime dramas like "Law & Order: SVU" have a long history of taking cues from the news for their murder mystery storylines.

So it may not come as a huge surprise that Gamergate would be the basis for the next "ripped from the headlines" story on "Law & Order: SVU." The controversy has seen video game players harassing women to the point of death threats, in particular cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, of the Feminist Frequency Web series, and female game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu.

"When a woman is attacked at a gaming convention, the detectives uncover the misogynistic underbelly of the gaming world," is how the "SVU" website describes this week's episode, entitled "Intimidation Game."

In NBC's first video preview of the show (embedded below), we see the detectives explain the concepts of "doxxing" (publishing personal info) and "swatting" (anonymous calls to the police that result in a SWAT team smashing into your home) -- harassment techniques male gamers are using against other gamers and developers who are vocal about sexism in the industry.

The preview shows a woman -- wearing identical hoop earrings to Sarkeesian -- named Raina Punjabi, who comes into the SVU station to meet with detectives after receiving a very graphic death threat. Even though she's being harassed by online trolls, Raina refuses to show the world she's intimidated and doesn't want police protection, even though her fiancé is worried about her safety during a very public video game launch.

"Ever since the swatting went viral, I'm being called 'the face of women in gaming,'" Raina tells the detectives. When Detective Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) suggests taping then streaming the game launch later rather than live, Raina disagrees.

"If we do that, they've won. I'm showing the world that I'm intimidated by cyber-terrorists. I won't make the same mistake Sony did," she says, referring to the movie company pulling the movie The Interview from theaters following a major hack.

In another shorter video preview (embedded at the bottom of the page), we see that Raina has been kidnapped and is being tortured by a masked assailant in a video streamed on the side of a building, to the horror of the detectives.

The voiceover on the clip hints that a violent video game supposedly inspires a real crime on the show. The preview has some pretty cheesy gaming-related quips, like "This is a game to them," and "What's the next level?" Gamergate, however, isn't called out by name in either preview.

Whether or not the episode will focus seriously on the growing epidemic of online harassment of women, or merely use it as a way to channel all our attention to the over-debated concept that playing violent video games leads to real-life criminality is yet to be seen.

In reality, women such as Sarkeesian who refuse to be silenced in their opinions about sexism in gaming deal with a daily torrent of online abuse. Only in the last week has Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted, albeit in a leaked memo, that the company is failing to protect its users.

On the flip side, many male gamers claim that Gamergate is merely a fabrication of both women who needlessly want to stir up controversy in the gaming community and the media who don't understand "ethics in gaming journalism." Whether "SVU" plans to show the other side of the Gamergate coin is unknown.

In response, frequent Gamergate target Zoe Quinn founded the support network Crash Override to help victims of harassment who find themselves intimidated and threatened online. The site hopes to give victims a place to get advice and take steps to feel more secure and safe online.

The "Law & Order: SVU" episode "Intimidation Game" airs in the US on Wednesday, February 11 on NBC. (The series shows on Ten in Australia, and Channel Five in the UK, but this episode isn't due in either country for some months.)