The pervasive sexist abuse that women often face in the video gaming world — from online multiplayer games to tournaments to industry boardrooms — is spotlit in “GTFO.” Shannon Sun-Higginson’s documentary takes a less angry/appalled tone than one might expect, while nonetheless charting plenty of instances in which female players, designers, programmers, et al., get endless flak simply for being the “wrong” gender in a realm traditionally seen (and treated) as a boys’ club. Given that the relevant issues had their profile recently raised by the GamerGate controversy (briefly covered in an epilogue here), this entertaining, accessible survey should prove popular among niche buyers in various formats, with download sales its primary outlet.
More than 90% of teenage girls, and an ever-rising 48% of women in general, play videogames. Yet the notion persists that it’s a “guy thing,” not least among those guys who design and play them. This has repercussions on myriad levels, from the ridiculously low share (4%) of women programmers employed in the industry, to the almost inevitable depiction of female characters in games as over-the-top fantasy sexual objects with enormous breasts and minimal clothes. Despite the diversity of their audiences, companies that spend millions developing games are reluctant to stray from a commercially safe basic blueprint that targets the presumed tastes of straight white young-adult males. When they do mix it up a bit, there are howls of protest from those for whom “Grand Theft Auto” and its ilk are sacred texts not to be messed with.
Such imagery has apparently helped create a vocal if not necessarily majority population of male gamers who seem to think all women can be divided into two categories: (a) cunning vixens and (b) Mom. When confronted with actual, live, non-mom females in multiplayer games utilizing headphones — some women even consider buying expensive equipment to render their voices gender-neutral — these dudes seemingly can’t stop themselves from unleashing torrents of abuse entirely focused on gender (which only gets worse if the woman is actually winning the game). Insults “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut” are dropped incessantly. Conversely, some male players often seem to assume that any female player must be a fat, unattractive loser — oblivious to what that implies about their physical attributes, let alone degree of socialization.
At tournaments, women often get unequal attention, not all of it remotely helpful or wanted — again, centered not on their playing, but their appearance, gender and sexual desirability. One notorious instance shown here is from the 2012 fighting-game web-TV reality show “Cross Assault,” in which one of the lone females on two competing teams is subjected to incessant physical proximity and verbal harassment from her side’s “coach,” who in turn was egged on by viewers. After repeatedly asking him to back off, she finally quit the game to escape the discomfort. Her tormenter (one Aris Bakhtanians) exacerbated the offense by later suggesting “sexual harassment is part of a (gaming) culture” — so who cares, and P.S. “free speech.” It’s doubtful he’d feel the same if viewers incessantly commented on his own portly-junior-member-of-ZZ-Top looks — but of course, that would never happen.
Women who’ve publicly criticized this loud (if minority-dominated) climate of adolescent-minded sexism — most infamously, culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, as well as game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn — have found themselves targets for aggressive intimidation tactics. Those include death threats, rape threats, dissemination of home addresses and phone numbers, and so forth. Nor is it encouraging that “rape” is a term constantly trivialized by usage among male gamers as a cheeky synonym for besting an opponent.
Several other documentaries are currently in the works on the same subject, and many will no doubt be a lot slicker than “GTFO.” But the rough edges of Sun-Higginson’s Kickstarter-funded feature lend it an ingratiating, unpretentious modesty, and its lack of rancor on a topic that might’ve easily supported a more sensationalist approach can only be a plus in reaching male gamers most in need of its wake-up call. (Although you needn’t surf the Web too long to find major misogynistic-troll blowback against a film few have even seen yet.)
Packaging is basic but effective, with enlivening contributions from Naoko Saito’s graphics (which satirize sexism in mock primitive-video-game form) and Andrew Lappin’s original score.