Transgender Developer's Suicide Highlights Continued Harassment In Gaming

Photo: Courtesy of Dolphin-emu.org
The game development industry lost a talented member this week. Prominent transgender game developer Rachel Bryk committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, after years of managing chronic pain, as well as dealing with low self-esteem and cyberbullying, at the age of 23.

Bryk undoubtedly offered a unique perspective on the projects she worked on. While its audience is nearly half female, the gaming industry itself is still primarily male. Diversity is key in any team for finding unique, efficient solutions to problems, and for building a product that better serves the greater population. It's a shame to lose a voice and personality that coworkers called talented, kind, and caring.

Bryk found herself at home in nerd culture and game development. She was a leading developer on an emulator that lets you play Gamecube and Wii games on your PC called Project Dolphin

Bryk was active in a number of online gaming communities, but following sustained trans-phobic harassment, she began withdrawing from those forums. On 4chan, some members encouraged Bryk to commit suicide ("jumping off a bridge isn’t rocket science," one said) not long before her death, prompting suspicion that online bullying led to her death. 

"No matter what, she was always willing to help anyone. Of all the devs she was the most helpful on the forums, always pitching in," one of her team members said. "Dolphin is a smaller place without her."

According to friends, Bryk's death was not a direct result of online harassment. She grew up with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and the extent of the pain prevented her from keeping a job with a regular daily schedule. @MallowyGoodness wrote a blog post explaining what transpired between the two of them before Bryk's passing:

On April 23rd Rachel posted her goodbye on Twitter and I freaked out and asked her a bunch of stuff to see if there was absolutely anything I could do to fix things. There, of course, wasn't. I asked her why she felt the need to do this. She replied saying that she had "incurable crippling diseases"...She certainly dealt with a lot of other awful things including harassment, but when I asked her about her choices it came down to her illness.

While Bryk's case is unique, it's well-documented that members of the transgender community are statistically prone to higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts than the community at large (800 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 people). And persistent online harassment was an exacerbating problem she had to deal with on top of other personal struggles like managing chronic pain. Harassment, notably in places like 4chan, unfortunately exists because the community allows it. Writing for WIRED, Laura Hudson says:

To truly shift social norms, the community, by definition, has to get involved in enforcing them. This could mean making comments of disapproval, upvoting and downvoting, or simply reporting bad behavior. The best online forums are the ones that take seriously their role as communities.

We send our condolences to Bryk's friends and family. If you're experiencing thoughts of suicide or depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (For international numbers, Reddit offers a guide here.) For LGBT National Help, you can call  888-843-4564.
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