ó It seemed like a killer idea: combat sexist
harassment in online video games by unleashing hit
squads of talented female players to slay the bullies.
after marketing agency FCB Chicago launched "Bully
Hunters" last week with a splashy livestream, the
campaign was mocked by gamers, criticized by harassment
experts and disowned by the companies it had enlisted as
supporters. Within days, the agency shut it down.
to the agency, the demise of Bully Hunters was a case of
good-intentioned naivete colliding with the
idiosyncratic, often-aggressive world of online gaming.
Others, though, say it was the result of cynical
opportunism that exacerbated the problem the marketers
were trying to solve.
harassment "is a real, honest-to-God issue which
unfortunately now has been tainted by this insincere,
totally superficial effort," said Rebecca
Rothschild, a Chicago gamer and writer who has endured
online bullying. "It bothered me on a lot of
Taylor, chief creative officer of FCB Chicago, said
Bully Hunters was a pro bono project for the agency,
akin to campaigns it has done on handgun violence, colon
cancer and Chicagoís bid for the second Amazon
have established that in-game harassment is a pervasive
problem, and Taylor said she has personal experience
with it: Her teenage daughter endured online harassment
so upsetting that she no longer enjoys gaming.
were a lot of people in the agency who had a passion
around trying to make the gaming environment a safer,
more inclusive place for everyone," she said.
one thing they didnít have was experience. Keisha
Howard, founder of a female-centric video game
consultancy and event organizer called Sugar Gamers,
said that was evident when she talked with FCB Chicago
about the concept.
said she was bothered by the idea that girls and women
need saviors to protect them from gaming bullies. She
also was concerned about the title FCB Chicago focused
on ó Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, a
popular first-person shooter game that is notoriously
went for the biggest bear and didnít do their research
on the game," Howard said. "It was easily torn
apart by hard-core gamers who absolutely understand that
said the campaign wasnít a marketing opportunity for
brands, but several companies and organizations still
lent their support, including SteelSeries, a
Chicago-based maker of gaming accessories, and the
Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women.
April 12, the agency launched Bully Hunters with a
livestream from Chicagoís Ignite Gaming Lounge. It
began with a montage of vicious insults recorded during
games, followed by a womanís voice intoning over a
countdown: "This ends in three, two Ö."
set featured "casual gamers" playing CS:GO on
computers, while across the room, the "Bully
Hunters" waited to enter the fray. An online tool
was supposed to summon them into the game, where they
would track down and eliminate bullies, leaving a
calling card in the chat: "Harassment is not a
livestream included two purported episodes of
harassment: In each, a voice that sounded like it
belonged to the same man made vulgar, sexist and
threatening remarks to female players, only to be
dispatched by a Bully Hunter.
action seemed artificial to veteran CS:GO players, who
accurately called it out as fake. One of the livestreamís
hosts, Nati Casanova, a popular gamer who goes by the
handle ZombiUnicorn, later said she flubbed a scripted
line meant to emphasize that the encounters were staged.
would 100 percent agree that that key message didnít
come across," Taylor said. "Our intent was
never to mislead anyone. It was to point out this is
what could happen in the real world."
the damage was done. Online sleuths, looking up gamer
profiles, revealed that a victim and a Bully Hunter
appeared to be the same person. Others picked apart the
statistics on harassment presented during the livestream.
a YouTuber who is the biggest celebrity in gaming, was
particularly unsparing. In a video viewed more than 3.5
million times, he blasted the organizers and the
participating companies, saying they were exploiting a
serious problem to sell gear.
did more harm than good here, clearly," he said.
"This is so idiotic that no one is going to take
harassment seriously. Thatís how stupid it is. So donít
pretend that you took a step forward; this is taking a
companies quickly put up statements distancing
themselves from Bully Hunters. SteelSeries said its only
role was to donate equipment and "support the call
for positive change" and that it hadnít been
involved in executing the campaign.
only group that stood by the effort was Chicago NOW.
Paloma Delgadillo, the chapterís president, said she
wasnít surprised by the blowback but rejected the idea
that it harmed the anti-harassment movement.
an activist, you never have perfect tools in your
toolbox," she said. "Iím of the opinion that
if thereís a problem, we always need to be looking for
a solution. If it doesnít work, itís OK. Hopefully
this brings attention to it."
Fox, an Ohio State University professor who has studied
sexist behavior in video games, said Bully Hunters
relied on a faulty premise ó that harassers can be
brought to heel through chastening defeat.
know from aggression studies in video games that when
they get more frustrated they get angrier, and theyíre
more likely to (bully)," she said. "When
someone comes in and wipes the floor with you, youíre
not going to be amenable to hearing the message."
said more productive approaches would involve developing
online tools to ban the most toxic offenders, and
encouraging players to tamp down harassment the moment
it takes place, thus denying trolls the validation they
the barrage of criticism, FCB Chicago took down Bully
Huntersí website and social media accounts. All that
remains are YouTube copies of the livestream and
hundreds of blistering critiques.
said while the agency is still processing the hard
lessons of the campaign, it is still committed to
promoting an anti-harassment movement among gamers.
hope people understand we did this to try to make the
world a better and more inclusive place," she said.
"That is what is so gut-wrenching and heartbreaking
about where it is right now."