Speaking up for yourself is hard enough. When others try to silence you through threats of violence and intimidation, what should be the appropriate response?

A game developer announced plans this week to withdraw from exhibiting at the upcoming PAX East game conference in Boston, Mass. Giant Spacekat cited death threats against the company's head of development as the reason for the decision. What's happening is nothing less than a mental health crisis in online communities.

Giant Spacekat is the developer of Revolution 60, a game that debuted for iOS in 2014 — one that iMore crowned iOS Action Game of the Year for its multitouch-optimized interface, delightful animation, and cinematic story and Macworld named one of the 20 best games of 2014 for its ambition and character development.

Checking my privilege

Brianna Wu is Giant Spacekat's head of development. I first met Brianna during WWDC in 2014, when she spoke at AltConf, the free alternative to WWDC. Wu's speech was entitled, "Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech."

Wu pulled no punches, talking about some of the ways she'd been belittled and harassed by men online. Wu's session, and the audience discussion she led, was eye-opening for me. It was as eye-opening as some of the discussions I've had with my wife, who feels the same about Wu does on many subjects concerning gender equality and identity.

I've always thought of myself as a pretty liberal, open-minded person: The child of a single mother who has fought her entire life against institutional patriarchy and societal injustice. The husband to a woman who routinely deals with objectifying, sexist behavior in daily life. A father who has emphasized the importance of equality and self-determination in his children.

Ultimately, however, I remain a white, cisgendered male, and that gives me societal advantages and privileges that others lack. I'm largely invisible to police, unless I have a complaint; I can expect, on average, to make more money doing the same work as if I were a woman; I'll still be allowed to use public restrooms in Florida if a controversial bill is passed.

Emotional terrorism

Like the characters in Revolution 60, Brianna's a pretty kick-ass, take no prisoners person. Even though Wu's talk and her subject material happened months before the GamerGate online controversy erupted, Wu's comments put her squarely in the crosshairs of a contingent of online users who first became aware of her because of GamerGate.

This isn't about GamerGate, though. It's about very real, very violent, very antisocial behavior.

Wu's a firebrand about gender equality in tech. Before and after her talk at AltConf, she attracted literally dozens of death threats, including threats from people who make no attempt to disguise their real-life identity. Wu counts 46 death threats sent to her just in the last five months alone. Wu has reported the threats to police but says precious little has been done to investigate them.

That brings us to what happened this week. The inaction of police, combined with inaction on the part of PAX East's promoters, led to Giant Spacekat's decision to pull up stakes from the upcoming Boston show.

I checked with Wu: She told me that no specific threats have been made against Giant Spacekat or her at PAX East. But its proximity to the last known geographical location of people who have threatened Wu, literally with murder, has her concerned enough.

That fear is very real, and it's not fear internally generated by Wu: It comes from direct threats that have been made against her.

"I've received a lot of Boston area threats, including a man wearing a skull mask in a video holding several weapons," said Wu. "Nothing at this point that is PAX specific. But the volume that can be traced to the Boston area is really enough."

Calling what's happened to Wu "trolling" diminishes what she and countless others have experienced: Emotional terrorism, the use of the threat of violence and intimidation to silence others.

It's about ethics in games jerkalism

I've played video games my entire life. I'm part of the first generation of computer gaming hobbyists, have played console systems since the days of the Magnavox Odyssey, and I was in a computer club in high school.

As a youth, I was routinely marginalized and ridiculed by others with more mainstream interests. I certainly felt oppressed, and games and computers helped me escape that sensation. Even within gaming, though I'm a minority: I'm a Mac gamer. Even some of you laid the "No true Scotsman" fallacy on me last week when I talked about it.

When I call myself a "former gamer," what I'm talking about is the realization of self-identity beyond games. Wu's message causes a violent reaction in those people with a really fragile self-identity. Anything that threatens that identity causes them to lash out. Suddenly the once-bullied become the bullies.

Mea culpa

Throughout my life I've been painfully aware of the issues women, minorities and marginalized groups face. Yet I myself have been guilty of the sort of behavior I now find so repugnant in others. I'll never forget the first time my wife told me that she was afraid of my anger.

That led me to some serious soul-searching. It led to counseling. It led to medical treatment. Wu's talk and the discussions we've had since then, constant communication with my wife and children help me keep my perspective in check.

If you engage in threats of violence, make no mistake: It's aberrant behavior. This isn't about ethics in game journalism anymore. It's about a mental health crisis.