Shannon Sun-Higginson doesn't think gamers are bad people. Let's make that very clear from the get-go. The first-time director, whose documentary "GTFO: Get the F% Out" about women's portrayal in games and experience in the gaming community makes its bow at the South By Southwest Film Festival this weekend, isn't a victim of Gamergate looking for retribution; nor is she even a gamer at all.
The 2010 Wesleyan grad began work on "GTFO" in March 2012 after she saw a highly public, shocking display of harassment directed toward a female gamer. In what is now an infamous incident from February 2012, gamer Miranda Pakozdi competed on "Cross Assault," a livestreamed web show pitting teams of players against one another in street fighting video games. While competing in the game, she found that she was in another battle, one of the sexes this time.
Pakozdi's coach, Aris Bakhtanians, persisted in making sexist comments to her, continuing even when she said she was uncomfortable. He later said that "sexual harassment is part of [the] culture" of gaming.
Sun-Higginson was appalled when she heard about the incident, and immediately grabbed her camera and began investigating just what it's like to be a woman in gaming.
"When I found out about this I started shooting that weekend, [at gaming convention] PAX East," Sun-Higginson told MTV News.
As she interviewed gamers of both genders, developers, scholars and more, Sun-Higginson took note of the way women were portrayed (most female characters in games were scantily clad) and treated (gamers in the interview shared comments they had gotten from other players, which shared common themes of accusations of being fat, ugly or promiscuous). It was overwhelming, she said.
"At the beginning I was shocked by everything that people said, just to find out that this level of sexism was happening," Sun-Higginson said. "After a while I got sort of used to it, which makes me sad. What surprises me the most is how amazingly resilient these women are. I don't know if I'd be able to be in an industry if I was being harassed or if I felt like I was in danger on a daily basis."
Her greatest fear, she said, is that "GTFO" will discourage women who might otherwise try gaming, but are scared off by the treatment of women. Though it's the norm, she said, it's not the rule.
Beyond finding allies, or seeking out accepting gaming clans that don't tolerate harassment, Sun-Higginson's advice for female gamers is simple: "Whatever you need to do for your mental health is best. Do what you have to do."
In the meantime, she hopes that "GTFO" will inspire discussion and change in the community. While Gamergate raised awareness of harassment and intolerance in the gaming community, Sun-Higginson's doc wrapped shooting before that, and she wants people to know that the problem goes way beyond recent headlines.
"It's on everyone as a whole to change and start this conversation, it shouldn't just be on the women," Sun-Higginson said. "We're hoping that this movie is just he start of a bigger dialogue about gaming culture."
"GTFO: Get the F% Out" premieres March 14 at SXSW.