GTFO: The Movie
Director: Shannon Sun-Higginson
Release date: March 15, 2015 (SXSW)
Almost half of all gamers are women; yet, female gamers are disproportionately subject to harassment and abuse. GTFO: The Movie seeks to investigate misogyny in video game culture and questions the future of this 20 billion dollar industry.
Shannon Sun-Higginson‘s documentary is alarming, but it is far from alarmist. The film opens with a long clip of found footage from the now infamous Cross Assault incident of 2012. Sun-Higginson lingers with the footage and it’s painful to watch. A single female gamer, attempting to compete in a Tekken competition, is emotionally and psychologically destroyed by her male teammates and team captain. The main perpetrator of the abuse is her own team captain, but he is spurred on by an invisible and relentless online community spewing lewd and abusive suggestions. The female gamer loses focus and the game itself is forgotten, completely overshadowed by the mens’ harassing behavior. The message is clear.
Full disclosure: I love this movie simply because it exists. Beyond that, however, it is also a solid documentary. This is not a film about #gamergate, as I anticipated. That issue is barely mentioned. GTFO addresses larger, systemic problems within the video gaming industry and culture. It’s not just about the abuse of women in the community. This is a balanced film.
GTFO explores the issues at multiple levels. Sun-Higginson could easily have made an angry exposÃ©. It had every right to be a bitter, vengeful film. They had the ammunition in firsthand testimonies, transcripts, screenshots, and video. She chooses instead to be an impartial observer. “Trolls” and abusers are given history and cultural context. Their actions are never excused, but they are better understood.
If you love video games and you care about their future, see this movie. Although the content is heavy throughout, the film and its subjects are captivating. The victims of online and in-person abuse (game creators, competitive gamers, journalists) respond with humor and grace in the face of blind rage. There are notable visual storytelling choices, including smash cuts of footage from 1950s advertising (illustrating how ridiculously outdated these issues are). There is humor throughout the film, albeit with a cynical twist.
Sun-Higginson is a self-professed outsider, but GTFO displays a love for gaming and games. For example, the movie is broken into platform-style levels, each introduced with an 8-bit animation “GTFO: The Game.” The GTFO game features a female gamer attempting to navigate a hostile world. Each level takes us deeper into the issue, and we see that it is anything but simple. At every level, from game creation to game play, our heroine faces enormous challenges.
Ultimately, GTFO: The Movie is hopeful. Sun-Higginson and her subjects turn stories of abuse and harassment into words of encouragement. This film is a call to action.