Review: GTFO The Movie

I’d been intrigued by GTFO: The Movie, Shannon Sun-Higginson’s indie documentary about sexist harassment in gaming culture, since I learned about it at South by Southwest in March of 2015. Of course, I didn’t sell my soul for a SXSW film festival pass, so I wasn’t able to catch it when it was in town, but it finally went up on Vimeo, iTunes, and the like and now that I’ve seen it I can say with confidence that it was worth the wait. As a woman who plays video games, it didn’t necessarily tell me something I couldn’t have imagined or guessed at before, but it built the perfect spring-board for a continued conversation about misogyny, media, and society.

 

In the film, journalist and gamer Maddy Myers, Dragon Age writer Jennifer Brandes Hepler, activist and cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, and an array of other women from the gaming world shared how they fit into it and when things went terribly wrong for each of them (i.e. online harassment, discrimination, and even rape and death threats). While the women themselves often told their stories with a wry smile, seeing and hearing the explicit, horrific messages sent their way was incredibly uncomfortable and scary. But that’s not the sole focus of the film. The movie examined several aspects of the game industry including marketing, character-design, multi-player online games, and competitive gaming. It also delved in-depth into two major events in recent gaming history: Capcom’s reality show Cross Assault, and the #Gamergate controversy (the latter of which seemed like a last-minute addition, but more on that later).

source: Shannon Sun-Hugginson / GTFO The Movie

source: Shannon Sun-Hugginson / GTFO The Movie

The film touched on a lot of things I myself think about on an almost daily basis, like what it means to make gaming an integral part of your identity or how to go about changing a toxic culture. What I really appreciated about it, though, was that it broke down a few stereotypes about gaming along the way, including:

If You Play Your Cards Right, You’re Safe

People often believe that the only gamers being harassed are the women who ‘flaunt’ their gender or otherwise invite criticism. But I think Todd Harper, author of The Culture of Digital Fighting Games and another voice in the film, said it best when describing Miranda Pakozdi’s reaction to her time on Cross Assault. He believes women who play games are given two unappealing choices: they either don’t point out the harassment they/their peers experience in order to protect themselves and to continue doing something they love, or they speak up and at best, receive backlash, but at worst, are isolated from their own community. There’s really no ‘safe’ option for girl gamers.

Harassment Comes From Anonymity

Again, the film’s examination of Cross Assault does a great job of debunking this myth. The fact that Aris Bakhtanians felt comfortable touching, smelling, ogleing, and heckling Miranda on camera and telling a reporter point blank that “sexual harassment is part of [fighting game] culture” shows that anonymity is not what produces this behavior. Rather, it’s a set of beliefs. Of course Aris, and the folks involved in Gamergate, are not the only people whose actions and attitudes are harmful to women, and these beliefs didn’t appear out of thin air. Which brings me to the last, and in my opinion, most important point…

Gaming is More Sexist Than X

Many people outside of the gaming community perceive the video game industry to be somehow more misogynistic or more toxic than the rest of the world, or to be at fault for sexist behavior. But as Harper and Sarkeesian point out, gaming doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a form of media just like television, film, or music and it reflects the same attitudes we carry into all aspects of our day-to-day lives. That the rest of society seems eager to look to games as a cause of misogyny, or to call it out without examining other media, is willfully short-sighted and a point of contention among many gamers.

While the film isn’t exactly polished – shots are reused, quality varies from scene to scene, and the Gamergate montage was clearly added after the rightful end of the film, delivering a somewhat jarring/dissatisfying close – the ideas it explores are integral to the understanding of gaming culture and how it fits into the greater context and history of sexism; the animation and score are enjoyable; and director Shannon Sun-Higginson rightly continues the conversation online.

Have you watched the movie? What were your thoughts? Share them below, or find out where you can watch here.

 

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Flashback Friday: Mass Effect

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) wrapped up June 18th, but in its three day span it brought us more information about the most anticipated games and most beloved series of the year than the other 362 days bring us combined. One highlight of the E3 coverage was Bioware’s announcement of the fourth game in the sci-fi action RPG series Mass Effect.

While Mass Effect: Andromeda takes place in the same universe as the first three Mass Effect games and brings back some familiar elements (like that damn Mako), it takes place in the Andromeda Galaxy rather than the Milky Way, and will not revolve around the trilogy’s hero Commander Shepard. Instead, an entirely new human protagonist will take his/her place.

When I saw the N7 logo and heard the familiar chimes play at the end of the trailer, a wave of nostalgia passed through me. I actually played the Mass Effect games after they’d all three been released, but the effect they had on me and my life is irrefutable, so I figured I’d take a few moments this Friday to honor what I unabashedly call my favorite video game to date.

In Mass Effect, the player can customize their character’s race, gender, and appearance. The female Commander Shepard, voiced by Jennifer Hale and affectionately nicknamed ‘Femshep,’ was one of the first female protagonists I played who really resonated with me. Yes, I’d played Tomb Raider growing up, and I’ve made no shortage of female Elder Scrolls characters in my time, but no other female playable character in a game has made the same impact on me as Femshep.

source: Bioware

source: Bioware

There are a few factors that play into this. First, as I mentioned, Jennifer Hale is a phenomenal voice actor who brings humor, strength, empathy, and nuance to her performance in the trilogy. Without her skillful portrayal of Femshep, I doubt Manshep’s female counterpart would have received anywhere nearly as much love from the fans as she did.

In addition, Femshep’s story arc breaks from storytelling tradition. There are literally millions of stories about one man saving the world from imminent doom, but how often do we see a woman take that role in a game? And how often is she able to do it not as a brusque anti-hero, but as a compassionate and generally well-adjusted human being?

Of course, playing Paragon is a choice, which is another thing that helped Mass Effect succeed. The player is in total control of Femshep’s abilities, what she says in conversation, which missions she takes, and with whom she starts/maintains relationships. If Mass Effect weren’t a choice-based game within a rich and well-designed universe, her character would not feel nearly as relatable. (Those of you who are already starting your rant about the ending, stay with me.)

source: Mass Effect Wiki

On that note, the friendships and romances available to Shepard bring another layer of meaning to the experience. In all three games, Femshep is given both male and female romance options (the Asari gender debate aside). And Manshep has male love interests in the third game. This romantic and sexual fluidity allows the player to see their lives represented by the hero character. LGBT people–and particularly bisexual, asexual, and trans folks–rarely see themselves depicted on any screen, so seeing themselves reflected in an accomplished and important character is incredibly meaningful.

Of course, it’s not just Femshep who fans find inspirational. Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Liara, Thane, and the other characters in the game each have passionate followings, because their personalities and back stories were carefully and intricately constructed. (And come on, have you heard Garrus’ voice?) Bioware chose not to shy away from those relationships, even releasing downloadable content after the end of the trilogy that allowed the player to get closure from those relationships regardless of how their playthrough ended.

Mass Effect certainly hit some stumbling blocks along its journey. As I touched on before, the ending left something to be desired for many players. The sexualizing makeovers female characters like Femshep, Jack, and Ashley received from game to game were puzzling for lots of folks (do biotic implants also refer to…well, implants??), and the lack of gay male romances in the first two games was frustrating for some as well. We can only hope that Bioware has learned from those mistakes.

source: Bioware

source: Bioware

But at the end of the day, I’m as excited for ME4 (which Bioware insists we NOT call it) as I’ve ever been for a game. And since it’s not coming out until ‘Holiday 2016,’ I have plenty of time to complete my…would it be the fourth playthrough? Eh, who’s counting…

Review: Game of Thrones Season 5

source: HBO

Warning: If being elbows deep in an Orange is the New Black marathon prevented you from watching the finale, you may want to click away for now. This review contains spoilers for all episodes of the Game of Thrones television show.

Disclaimer: I have not read the books…yet.

The fifth season of Game of Thrones had its final episode Sunday night and, if you were hoping for an action-packed finale, I’m willing to bet you weren’t disappointed. ‘Mother’s Mercy’ flitted from character to character, spending only a few minutes with each as dangling plot points were wrapped up and new storylines were set in motion.

Considering the number of plots David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D for short) were juggling this season, the change of pace is no surprise, but it is a departure from the show’s structure to date, which packed its most shocking moments in the 9th episode of each season. (See: Ned’s betrayal, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Oberyn v The Mountain – episode 9 has historically been no joke!)

Apart from some exposition in Meereen, every scene in the finale contained a substantial turn of events, which encapsulates what I believe was both the greatest strength of this season and it’s biggest weakness. Season 5 featured a few of the most shocking scenes to-date, but at the expense of the things that make the story a stand-out in the fantasy genre: dialogue and character-building.

One of my favorite parts of this season was that finally, after a whole lotta talk, winter came. The characters were constantly talking about the White Walkers for the first four seasons, but aside from Sam and Jon’s run-ins, the wintry zombies hadn’t done much of anything. And then episode 8 gave us one of the best ‘come at me bro’ moments of television history.

But…what happened before that?

Not a lot. Most of the season’s issues were resolved within a few episodes, albeit with violence and death as is the Game of Thrones way. The moment between Stannis and Shyreen in episode 4 feels like a cheap set up for her horrific death in episode 9, and the third infamous rape scene of the show didn’t really move anything forward at all. Dany’s marriage lasts all of a few weeks and D&D even introduce an instant fan favorite just to kill her in the same episode.

Subplots like the Sand Snakes and the Faceless Men drag until the final episode, and even then Myrcella’s death by poison feels somehow less impactful than Joffrey’s, while what happened to Arya isn’t clear. Of course, with so many characters in one story, it’s impossible to showcase everyone’s faves in each episode, much less be exciting and meaningful 100% of the time. But really, was Brienne just staring at that tower window for an entire season?

The thing Game of Thrones does best is skillful, unexpected character pairings: Arya and The Hound, Sansa and Tyrion, Olenna and Littlefinger. Once an odd couple is established, their adventures together allow both characters to grow and give the audience further insight into their personalities. Yet despite Tyrion teaming up with Jorah or Sansa marrying Ramsay, this season felt particularly bereft of a Jaime and Brienne in the bathhouse type of scene.

Of course, D&D did set up some great pairings for the coming season. One of the highlights of the finale was Theon and Sansa jumping from the wall of Winterfell, and whether/how they escape Ramsay will be interesting to say the least.

I’m also looking forward to Tyrion and Grey Worm working together to run Meereen, and think Lady Melissandre must have returned to the Wall for a reason. I can only hope our beautiful cinnamon roll Jon Snow will be subject to some Lord of Light action a la Beric in Season 3.

As the show has caught up with and branched off from the books, new possibilities have opened up for Game of Thrones that have both readers and show viewers eager to see what happens next.

While this season never quite found its legs, the finale still packed an emotional punch and I’m excited to see whether D&D can continue to hold their own as they tell their story in tandem with George R. R. Martin’s. I hope they’ll recapture some of what made the first few seasons great.

What did you think of this season? Who is really dead? Share your thoughts in the comments, but please tag book spoilers and leaks from future seasons.