On Tuesday night, the Awareness film series hosted a screening of the film “GTFO,” a documentary created by Shannon Sun-Higginson ’10 that focuses on the harassment of women throughout the gaming industry.
Funded through Kickstarter, Sun-Higginson started working on this project in 2012, never intending for it to turn into a full-blown documentary. She traveled from game convention to game convention, single-handedly conducting interviews with a handheld camera.
“I didn’t realize I was making a movie until it was too late,” Sun-Higginson said.
The documentary addresses the disturbing harassment to which many females are exposed upon entering the gaming world, whether it be as game designers or active gamers.
The gaming industry, traditionally marketed towards white heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 35, has seen attempts at gradual changes in terms of the content of the games and the perception of women within them over the last few years. However, every such attempt is met with great hostility from the gaming community and results in backlash often targeted female designers involved in the game’s production.
Sun-Higginson made the movie to shed light on this issue of pervasive sexism in the video gaming industry for the general public.
“This movie is for people who aren’t gamers [and] it’s intended for people who don’t know anything about the issue,” Sun-Higginson said.
In the movie, Sun-Higginson describes a “boys’ club” that has formed where white males see the gaming world as their own and respond with hostility at any attempt to change the status quo. To them, females represent unwelcome intruders that culturally do not belong in gaming, and the men use this argument to legitimize the harassment and insults that are so common.
“Ninety-six percent of teen girls play games, and yet we have something like 10-12 percent women in the game industry overall,” said Assistant Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon Jessica Hammer who was interviewed in the documentary. “What in God’s name is going wrong? Unfortunately the answer is a lot of different things.”
In the documentary, Sun-Higginson attempts to explain the hostile situation that women in the video game industry face.
“The issue lies with the culture which cultivates accepting this behavior,” Sun-Higginson said. “I don’t think that women just naturally aren’t interested in gaming.”
The 70-minute screening of the documentary was followed by an in-person discussion with Sun-Higginson. She answered questions from the audience and explained stylistic and thematic choices in her work.
Ari Polgar ’18, who considers herself a female video game player, appreciated the film as it showed the realities of what women face in that industry.
“To see it on the big screen, so violent and in your face, was kind of shocking and made me really want to act on it,” Polgar said.
She connected the gaming industry issue to other widespread issues of sexism in unrelated professional fields.
“This isn’t just video games; it’s for film and television, pretty much anything you can think of where you’ve got issues of misogyny and sexism,” Polgar said.
Upon watching the film, she was inspired by Sun-Higginson and the spirit of filmmaking.
“It’s inspiring that she went out and just did it. Anyone can do it and here is some proof,” Polgar said.
Minu Jun ’19 had mixed reviews of the film, though he appreciated the increased awareness of the issue.
“I didn’t feel like she was trying to sensitize the topic, which was good,” Jun said. “She talked to the women in a way that felt honest; she wasn’t trying to build a story, [but] simply understand the struggle of women [who are] victim to gaming harassment.”
Visiting Instructor in Film Studies at the College of Film and the Moving Image Jason Haas praised the documentary.
“It’s both great and unsurprising to see a Wes alums documenting what is an inarguable problem in the game industry and in game fandom,” Haas said. “How, after all, is it a question whether women are allowed to find pleasure in the play possibilities of computers both as producers and as audience?”
Awareness is an annual film series that helps increase awareness on pertinent issues. On Tuesday, March 22, there will be a screening of “Romeo is Bleeding,” a documentary on the poet Dante Clark bringing Shakespeare into the fatal turf war in Richmond, C.A. On Tuesday, April 12, there is a showing of the documentary “Emptying the Skies,” on the struggle to save the songbirds. All films begin at 8 p.m. with free admission in the College of Film and the Moving Image.