“Sometimes just existing in spaces is an activist movement […] an activist statement of saying, you know, ‘I’m here in this problematic space.'”
Deep breaths, everyone! We’re about to discuss feminism and video games. I know, right? You’d rather play Alien: Isolation in the dark with headphones on than tackle this stuff. I feel you.
Before we try a stealth run on this one, a word of caution: due to the nature of this documentary, you should be aware of several potential triggers, including but not limited to mentions of rape, body horror, violence, as well as ableist, misogynistic, and transphobic language. I made an effort not to quote any of that within my own post, but some of the words used in this film can be exclusionary—even among allied speakers. Take care if you decide to watch!
As many of you already know, the documentary GTFO The Movie was recently made available for streaming. It details the lives of a few popular video game professionals (whether thrust into activism willingly or otherwise) as they continue to suffer a ceaseless shitstorm of harassment simply for existing in the games space. As of this writing, it’s already racked up several user reviews. Most notably, it was rated 4.6 out of 10 from 102 users on IMDB, and even referred to as “a dishonest propaganda piece in similar vein to ones you’d see from the church of Scientology or even similar to how the Nazi party did with Jews after World War 1.” So, yeah. There’s that.
In general, GTFO felt more like a crash course that at the same time introduced and reaffirmed the harassment experienced by a small subset of games culture to … well, people with no knowledge of the industry. For someone on the other side, this felt a little redundant to watch. Unlike Gaming in Color, another documentary that explores the queer side of gaming and all its possibilities, GTFO was a bit narrow in scope. As the narrative predominately focused in on one very specific group, it felt like there were huge gaps in the discussion in terms of the games culture at large and all the diversity of its playerbase therein.
Through no fault of anyone on the production team, the film comes at a very strange time. So much so that it almost feels dated despite the Kickstarter having successfully reached funding only two years ago. While the games industry is almost certainly growing, mainstream media doesn’t appear to have taken note. Tale of Tales, the developers of the indie game Sunset, just closed its doors. Tauriq Moosa of Polygon was bombarded with vitriol merely for suggesting that video games have a race problem. [Edit 6/27: Tauriq has since left Twitter entirely.] Nonbinary genders weren’t featured as playable options in any upcoming game at the E3 2015 conference. Allowing for Link to wear a dress in Triforce Heroes was about as inclusive as any character got, however delightful and heartening it was to even see one example at a major industry conference.
“It’s the feeling that doing anything to stick your head up while being [a woman] is enough to bring down a hostility toward your very existence.”
I absolutely do not want this piece to diminish the horrific, alienating experiences these women (and countless others) face every hour of every day. Even as the admin of this small feminist gaming community, I couldn’t possibly begin to understand what it’s like for these high profile figures to find the strength to keep working in this space when they’re under such inexplicable pressure from all sides. While I’m critical of the narrative GTFO and other popular news outlets have decided to laud above all other experiences, that should in no way invalidate the systematic harassment women face as well as the insidious silence perpetuated by our so-called ‘allies.’ That’s not my intent, though I have a feeling some people might skim this piece and come away with that impression.
Let me be clear: GTFO is unquestionably necessary in terms of neatly packaging the issue of online harassment for the average consumer. But are we continuously rehashing the same story over and over again? Even after The Colbert Report introduced mainstream media to Anita Sarkeesian and, far more recently, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver broadened the scope to include more polarizing voices with platforms, I can’t quite shake the feeling that we’re running in circles, waiting to catch that elusive, all-encompassing goal of validation before our cutscenes are inevitably skipped again.
What was most uncomfortable for me to watch in GTFO was when women’s experiences were explained through the lens of cis white men on several occasions, most notably concerning Miranda Pakozdi. The sexual harassment she faced and subsequent media frenzy following her time on Capcom’s reality show Cross Assault was bad enough to witness, but hearing it explained by a man with only peripheral knowledge of the incident was deeply troubling. I’m not saying we should be completely dismissive of men’s opinions whenever the topic of ~women in the games industry~ is brought up, but I am saying that maybe GTFO wasn’t the appropriate space for that dialogue.
We did, eventually, get Miranda’s take on the harassment only she experienced, which was definitely refreshing. But do we always need to frame a woman’s narrative within the context of a white dude? Is that the only way our experiences are seen as viable and necessary? Moreover, are only the experiences of cis white women seen as worthy of a space for discussion? I wonder sometimes.
Meeting Ariana Padron, an animator visiting the Giant Spacekat team, was what I would’ve really liked this documentary to be: women supporting and lifting up other women in the face of enormous adversity.
“There are other avenues through which you can propagate change: panels are being held, people are giving talks, people are writing articles. There are women working as game developers day after day after day. Change doesn’t need to be effected just through one vehicle. In fact, it shouldn’t be.”
All in all, GTFO was a neat little drive-through documentary on games culture and I’m absolutely thankful it exists. I can now recommend that family and friends sit for an hour and 17 minutes to better understand some of the things I personally face, though on a much smaller scale. The site itself provides several important resources, too, if you ever find yourself being harassed in any games-related space. There are also quite a few wonderful conventions listed there (not including GaymerX, which I’ll be attending on behalf of this blog!).
Maybe now, in the hope that GTFO continues to gain visibility and ultimately reaches widespread attention even outside of this too often insular community, we can look forward to films that celebrate precisely this type of change. I’d like to think that indie developers and far more marginalized people in the industry will soon be featured in their own documentaries to talk about precisely what it is that they do best: making and playing games. I honestly feel like we’re long overdue for that kind of celebration of incredibly hard-won accomplishments and the people entirely changing our fundamental understanding of what it is that makes a game in the first place.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the recent InspireFest 2015 where Brianna Wu perfectly encapsulates what I’m feeling right now:
“Something that I think is really frustrating about the tech industry is people don’t seem to be willing to listen to women here until there’s a tragedy involved. […] At that point, the media was really happy to put a camera in my face so I could relive what it’s like to suffer like this.”
Let’s work to change that, shall we? Our voices are important, and so are our accomplishments. We don’t have to suffer just to be heard.