Retro Gaming’s Misogyny Is Brought to Light After a Violent Tragedy

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In 2015, record-breaking retro game champion Rudy Ferretti made a homebrew game for the Atari 2600. It was called Pigs in the Castle. “I’m tired of all you feminists and your bullshit,” he said in a video preceding its launch. It’s understood that the pigs in the game are women.

The game’s official Facebook page describes how the purpose of the game is to “kill 100 or more pig bitches to get the boss.” He elaborates: “simple???????? Fuck no it’s my game it’s hard.” In a video of the game, preserved on the YouTube channel of “Rudy Ferretti aka the console player of the century,” Ferretti’s character navigates a pixelated castle killing “evil” pigs.

On August 10, police in Dover, New Hampshire, discovered Ferretti deceased in his bed. A firearm lay nearby. In the same apartment’s living room, police identified the body of his ex-girlfriend, Amy Motler. According to a medical examiner, Motler and Ferretti both died of gunshots to the head-Motler from homicide, and Ferretti from suicide, the police suspect. The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths remains ongoing.

Longtime members of the retro and arcade gaming scene say they warned community leaders and even police about Ferretti’s threatening behavior for years. For close to a decade, they say, Ferretti had harassed, stalked, and threatened gamers, particularly women, pushing some out of the niche gaming scene entirely. He flashed guns in tirade YouTube videos, and bragged on Facebook about bringing one to an event at the Museum of Pinball in 2017.

Arcade game collector and researcher Catherine DeSpira and video game historian and storage auction buyer Patrick Scott Patterson-two of Ferretti’s most public targets-say they collectively contacted police in different states a half-dozen times to report Ferretti’s threats against themselves and others. They say those attempts ultimately had no effect. All the while, clusters of retro gamers across the country egged Ferretti on in private messages and on forums, leveraging his apparent instability and misogynist inclinations against women they didn’t want in the scene.

“You’d think anyone would look at it and go, ‘Hey, this guy’s gone, out there,'” says Patterson. “But people weren’t doing it. They were emboldening it, pushing him, giving him a support system.”

As the community processes last week’s tragedy, some described a culture of complicity in old-school gaming’s strongholds that didn’t do enough to protect women.

Forty years after the release of classic arcade games like Pac-Man and Joust, an active and enthusiastic connoisseur culture around these games still thrives at gaming conventions and online. Collectors, historians, nostalgics, and competitors share a deep love for modern gaming’s roots and its physical manifestations-blocky consoles, rare arcade cabinets. Back in 1983, a sociologist surveying arcades reported that 80 percent of players were men. Sources say that male dominance has carried through into 2020. Even though women now make up about 46 percent of all gamers, retro gaming’s conventions, online forums, and publications boast a self-reinforced culture of masculinity that, members of some communities say, abetted and allowed a vocal minority to target women.

DeSpira is one of the few remaining prominent women in the scene. It’s a miracle she stuck around; for nearly a decade, she says, a group she calls the “dog pile,” which included Ferretti, launched relentless attacks against her that, she says, changed everything about the way she lives her life-from how she walks down the street to how she makes friends.

“Rudy Ferretti from the get-go was very upset about any women getting involved in what he saw as a maniverse,” says DeSpira. In 2012, DeSpira began writing for Twin Galaxies, a go-to website for arcade-heads that encompasses a publication, forum, and verified Guinness World Records supplier of international records. On the website, competitive retro gamers like Ferretti maintained profiles where they brandished their gaming achievements-the highest score in JAWS for the Nintendo Entertainment System console, or fastest completion of the NES’ Archon: The Light And The Dark. (Ferretti set 131 world records in the course of his retro gaming career.) DeSpira says she was brought on to give Twin Galaxies a fresh coat of paint, add in some new voices.

“That’s where the trouble started,” she says. “He saw Twin Galaxies as dominated by men, always having men involved, and he liked to see it that way. From the get-go, he was upset about me even being anywhere in proximity to the sacred realm he thought he ruled.”

At the time, Ferretti had several records under his belt, on NES games in particular. DeSpira recalled that he wanted a full-page spread in Twin Galaxies devoted to an interview about his accomplishments. A former co-owner, she says, asked her to do it just to “get Rudy off our back.” DeSpira balked, but says her manager gave Ferretti her number anyway. “The first words out of his mouth were, ‘You fucking cunt,'” she says. She hung up. Afterward, she says, he called and texted her for hours. (The co-owner did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.) Meanwhile, DeSpira watched as Ferretti was put on trading cards by Twin Galaxies ‘ founder, and received honors at events.

Over the years, DeSpira became Ferretti’s primary public target. Ferretti posted regularly on his Facebook page and on YouTube telling DeSpira to “Leave the fucking scene.” Ferretti publicly called DeSpira names including “radical pig feminist,” “cunt despira,” and “one of the 4 horsemen who want to destroy all gaming.” He proliferated obscene memes about her and attempted to take down her social media accounts by reporting them to platforms, all while calling DeSpira’s credibility as a gamer into question. As she pushed back, it only got worse.

The rise of the GamerGate campaign in 2014 gave Ferretti new fodder to fuel his idea that women-specifically “radical feminists,” as he wrote in multiple blog posts and said in YouTube videos-were out to destroy the purity of the arcade gaming scene. Around that time, he referred to several women as “feminazis,” and in one post, explained that GamerGate existed for people like Catherine DeSpira. The movement poured gasoline on the unfounded sentiment that women were not welcome in the gaming community, and were actively trying to sabotage it. Ferretti joined up with a cadre of like-minded men, who began posting about DeSpira on their social media pages and favored forums, too.

That same year DeSpira helped launch a Kickstarter for the documentary movie No Princess In The Castle, which would highlight the accomplishments and passion of over a dozen female gamers. She also helped write and produce it. Ferretti organized a boycott of the film, and, sources say, began harassing several of the women listed in its cast. In 2015, one man wrote and illustrated an entire comic about the ensuing controversy in which DeSpira is “sealed away” after “the whole arcade community got together and banished her from Facebook,” accompanied by an illustration of Ferretti looking smug. Later, sources involved in the production say, the film’s biggest investor would bring Ferretti onto the project for a video interview, causing many of the women to rescind their involvement. Wrote Ferretti on Facebook, “I finally have been added to the cast and will get to tell my side of things.” The documentary was renamed Girls Game, and was released in 2019.

In 2016, DeSpira published and circulated a blog post detailing the harassment campaign brought by Ferretti and the “dog pile” titled “Radical Felines: When Harassment Becomes A Game.” “People didn’t take it seriously,” DeSpira says. “They thought of it as entertainment. They thought attacking me, harassing me, and stalking me was entertaining. I was a ‘LOLCOW,’ as they call it.'” As she documented and shared the harassment with forum owners and convention organizers, DeSpira noticed that the more mainstream gaming leaders took it seriously while the figures in hardcore arcade and retro gaming generally did not.

DeSpira was one of several people Ferretti apparently targeted, many of whom are women. In 2012, an artist who goes by Mel Paradise was a vendor at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas when “this guy approaches me, as if I should know or care who the hell he is, and demands his sprite,” she says, referring to a pixel art representation of himself. She said she didn’t know him, and therefore, didn’t have one. “The harassment started online after that,” she says. Friends followed his lead. “I had literally never heard of these people, even spoke to them, before there was a barrage of random hate mail.” Now, she says, after dabbling in games journalism, YouTube, pixel art, and charity events around the gaming community, she’s “denounced the gaming scene at large as it’s just not fun anymore.”

A year later, competitive gamer Caitlin Oliver set a new world record for the arcade version of Splatterhouse. In a series of tweets, she says Ferretti harassed her in her livestream chat, made a website about her, and even asked friends for money to fly out to Chicago to compete against her as part of a three-year-long harassment campaign. It was why she stopped competitive arcade gaming, she says. “He hated me and stalked me for 3 years, until I quit and frankly after, and I can’t imagine how lucky I am to NOT BE DEAD,” she wrote, adding that “he would have friends in the community harass us and insult us.”

In 2017, after Ferretti saw Patrick Scott Patterson-one of his primary targets-walking around a gaming convention with up-and-coming video game history podcaster Katy Barber, Ferretti sent her messages, Barber says, and wrote a blog post criticizing her appearance and credibility.

“I can’t imagine the number of people who wanted to be involved in the community online or go for high scores but were harassed for expressing an opinion that didn’t fall in line,” says Barber.

Ferretti believed that his gaming acumen justified his stewardship of the community. “I can be an asshole. You know why? Because I’m a world champion. I’m a gamer,” he once said in a video. As recently as April, 2020, Ferretti described himself in a YouTube video as “the saviour of the community.”

Tim McVey has been involved with the arcade community since 1983, when Twin Galaxies was just a brick-and-mortar arcade. He says that back in 2009, he tried to help Ferretti with hours-long phone calls, patience, and empathy. Once McVey was approached about starring in a documentary about his gaming accomplishments, he says, “it’s like a switch flipped.” He says Ferretti harassed him and his wife for at least eight years.

“Once he turned on me, I started getting clued into these different groups that were poking him, winding him up, setting him loose,” says McVey, referring to a group of about a dozen men across the Midwest. “They used him as a tool-wound him up and pointed him in the direction of people they wanted to see harassed.”

Attempts to mitigate Ferretti’s behavior were spotty and ultimately unsuccessful. Some conventions or shows banned him, sources say, but there were always more. McVey and others warned Twin Galaxies‘ various owners and community organizers about Ferretti’s propensity to harass people, especially women. The organization banned him on-and-off, reinstating his account every few years to offer him another chance until 2018, when it severed ties for good. In a comment, Twin Galaxies owner Jace Hall told WIRED that the organization “strongly condemns Mr. Ferretti’s abhorrent conduct,” and banned him on the basis of his behavior on the platform and in public. “Unfortunately, it is beyond our ability to control or specifically monitor an individual’s behavior in all of the many different social pockets of the retro and arcade gaming communities that are out there,” says Hall. (Hall also points out that Twin Galaxies ‘ now head of Community Administration is a woman.)

Yet it was a network of institutional failures-from forums to expos to law enforcement-that allowed Ferretti to continue his campaigns for over a decade. “I was trying to tell people this guy Rudy was dangerous and capable of doing exactly what he ended up doing,” says Patrick Scott Patterson. “These people were so wrapped up in themselves and their own bullshit that I was considered negative or crazy for daring to say or think.”