If you remember Gamergate, you probably remember Brianna Wu. She's the founder of video game developer Giant Spacekat who was viciously attacked two years ago by online thugs, ironically for trying to make her industry less hostile toward women. She even received death threats.
Now Wu is back in the spotlight, this time with the early announcement that she'll run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Massachusetts's 8th District, which includes parts of Boston and its South Shore suburbs.
We caught up with Wu recently to ask her why she's running, why she's trading in gaming for politics, and what happened to the bright-red streak she used to have in her hair. (The following conversation has been edited for clarity and space.)
Why are you doing this?
It's been a tough couple of months. During Hillary's main event on election night, I was 30 feet from where I expected her to accept the presidency. With Trump in the White House, and the Republicans in control of all three branches of government, there's a real sense I have that I can't sit this out.
You've never run for office before. What makes you qualified for the job?
I see Congress as completely broken, not working at all. You have this system where people go on TV, they give talking points--it's not real. Everyone agrees that we have this stagnation, that we need new faces in Congress. I say what I mean. I do what I think is right. I'm willing to think outside the box. I purposefully did not give Democratic Party leaders a heads-up. If I had gone to them and said, 'I want to run for the House,' they would have shunted me off to the side and told me to wait my turn. I don't need anyone's permission to run for office in my own party.
What are your top priorities?
Number one, with my background, women's issues are really important. Trump's plans to cut Planned Parenthood, that's huge to me. I have always been frustrated with the Democratic Party for what I consider to be a weak stance on that.
Number two, our cybersecurity policy is inept. Last year, we had a huge internet shutdown that affected news, e-commerce, financial institutions. We are tremendously vulnerable to attack, and we have leaders who don't work in these fields. I hope to serve on the technology subcommittee in the House and make cybersecurity better.
Third, [incumbent Democratic congressman] Stephen Lynch comes from the steel industry. I come from tech, and my husband comes from biotech. I think tech and biotech should get a lot more attention. I want more federal funding for tech and biotech in the 8th District. With better leadership, Massachusetts can look more like Silicon Valley than it does today.
Where do you disagree with Lynch?
I have extremely strong policy differences with Stephen Lynch on almost everything. His record with women's rights is atrocious. He has consistently voted against women's reproductive health care. His position on gay rights is horrifying. His vote against Obamacare was a serious lapse in judgment, and he voted for the Iraq war. I ask myself if he can step up against Donald Trump, and I don't believe he can. He has never been challenged during the primaries in the 8th District. A really hard race would be good for the party.
You paid a steep personal price during Gamergate. Are you prepared to go through all that again?
If I'm going to be out there in the public eye and have people screaming at me all day long, I want it to matter more than game development does. I used to believe the game industry would do the right thing. It hasn't. They say what they say; you can't fix it. Men in the field are going to say what they say, and nothing changes.
How will you reach voters?
I am a nationally known person. I have legions of women who are very excited about my candidacy. Also, every tech person I know is angry about encryption policy and the loss of privacy. We are going to target technology workers like no political operation has ever targeted them before, and we won't dumb-down to them. I'll talk to them like I talk to any engineer. Twitter will be huge. I think I will be the first congressional candidate to work with [live streaming platform] Twitch and go play video games with people and reach out that way. I will keep speaking on college campuses.
You've said that being a rebel indie software developer is different from being a congressional candidate. That it's hard to figure out how to change your game and still seem authentic. How are you managing?
So much we've had to work on since announcing is stuff I find boring, like hair and wardrobe. When you met me, I had this bright-red streak in my hair. That's gone now. I'm just trying to figure out how to present something to the public that is authentic but professional. We're going to go with more of the Michelle Obama look. The thought of me in a pink pantsuit is pretty scary.
I love Hillary Clinton, but I can't really think of any moment in the campaign where she didn't feel scripted. I just think in 2017 this old way of running for office where you have every talking point worked out and stick to a script and you're not real, I think it's dated. It goes back to this world where you got elected to office by winning newspaper endorsements. Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump were wildly successful by being genuine and open and honest with the voters about who they are. There's a real sense when you're watching them that you're seeing the real person. I've gotten pretty far in my career by speaking my mind. I'll bring that approach to Washington. More upfront, direct, unapologetic about LGBT issues and the economy. I think people respond to honesty.
Isn't it a little bit early to be campaigning for 2018?
I know a lot of men don't understand this, but the past year has been so brutal for women. The comments by Trump, the Brock Turner case, everything. There's been a real loss of hope. Part of why I announced so early is that I want every woman in America who cares to reach inside herself and run for office. I look at Donald Trump as by far the least qualified president we've ever had, and I thought if that bozo can get elected, what in the world is holding me back? The House of Representatives was designed by the Founding Fathers to respond to the times. The Senate is more stable, but the House is designed constitutionally to elect people like me to it. The system won't get better if we ask the status quo to do the right thing.