By Shannon Sun-Higginson
Publicly identifying oneself as feminist isn’t always easy. Being openly feminist in the world of gaming—a world where misogyny, harassment, and objectification are the norm—is even harder. As a feminist filmmaker, I always thought I knew what it was like to work in a male-dominated and often casually sexist field. Even though I considered myself a no-nonsense feminist, I still thought I could roll with the punches and was cool enough to “hang with the guys.” But I couldn’t imagine the challenges that many women in gaming experience on a daily basis, and how their brand of feminism was often so different, so much deeper and stronger, than what I could even conceive. While I was worried about how to balance having a sense of humor with being taken seriously in the film industry, women in the parallel space of gaming were worried about threats to their personal safety.
I first heard about sexism in gaming from a friend of mine, who forwarded a video of a young woman being sexually harassed on camera during a major sponsored fighting game stream. That story became my launching point for delving into this phenomenon, and ultimately the opening and ending of my film. After filming my first two interviews on a whim at a convention, production snowballed, primarily because the women that I spoke with would refer me to friends or colleagues that they thought could give valuable insights. Though I didn’t know it was going to be a feature film at first, I eventually realized this was a story that I had to tell to a larger audience. I decided to call it “Get The F&#% Out,” in part because that was a common phrase heard by women entering an online gaming space, and in part because I wanted to shock audiences and prepare them for the often triggering and obscene language they were about to hear in the film itself.
The women who shared their stories with me over the course of my filming have been through traumas so great that I worried about sharing their stories with the public. I worried about prying too deeply into their personal lives and reopening deeper wounds, and would often ask them to tell me if they were uncomfortable or would like an answer to be off the record. But no matter how horrific a woman’s story was, she never failed to give me an honest, heartfelt answer. One woman told me about how she had to temporarily move out of her home because of threats to her life. Another said her two young children were threatened with death and that she had to rush to pick them up from daycare. A third told me about how her assailants attempted to research and publish details about her rape, which took place several years prior. Even through the tears, they shared their stories—not for personal or professional gain, but to reach through the lens and hopefully touch someone on the other side. And these women were often more concerned for my own safety, as the woman behind this project, than they were for their safety in sharing these personal details.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being threatened, even if it’s in a virtual space. In this current election cycle, it seems like no sexist diatribes or chauvinist boasts are off-limits, no matter how hurtful or untrue they may be. But for many women in the video game space, these sorts of comments can seem commonplace. I myself have received threats, though never to the extent that I saw other women experience. But even those few comments left me shaken. The bravery that women in games have demonstrated time and time again leaves me in awe. To speak up for yourself and for your fellow women, to get up every morning and know that you are going to receive threats but still power ahead, to keep your head down and do your best work, are all incredible acts of resilience, and acts of feminism. These hard working and passionate women have had to experience the trials and tribulations of sexism and misogyny in the gaming community, but their stories can also embolden men and women to persist in doing what they love even in the face of discrimination.
Because for these women, it’s not just a game.
Shannon Sun-Higginson is the Producer and Director of GTFO, a documentary about sexism in the gaming community. The Humanities Institute, in collaboration with the Austin Public Library, will be screening GTFO as part of our Controversy & Conversation film series. The screening will be held at the APL Terrazas Branch on Thursday, November 3, at 7pm.