While sexual harassment has been a problem within the video game industry for quite some time, scandals like the now infamous Cross Assault incident have brought public awareness to this issue both within and outside of the gaming community and for good reason.
The picture painted by some online harassers of what it means to play and love video games is one that does nothing but condone the behavior or shrug off as harmless fun or gaming "speak". This is the attitude that continues to plague an industry designed to be all inclusive and one that should be safe and free of intimidation and harassment regardless of sex, gender, race or ethnicity. Few groups are more keenly aware of the issue than our fellow female players, and one advocate in particular has decided to do something about it.
Last year Shannon Sun-Higginson, a filmmaker from New York, successfully completed her Kickstarter campaign for “GTFO”, a film about women in gaming. This documentary styled film followed Higginson’s travels as she interviewed gamers and professionals from all areas of the industry about the prevalence of harassment towards women in gaming.
We felt it necessary to sit down with Higginson to hear her thoughts about the issue of harassment, and her motivations for starting this project.
Jesse Tannous: What was it that made you personally decide to start this project?
Shannon Sun-Higginson: I started this project after a friend of mine told me about the Cross Assault sexual harassment controversy that happened in early 2012. I'm not involved in the gaming scene so I was appalled, and decided that other people needed to know what was happening to these women. Ultimately I discovered that while there were many women who experienced harassment while gaming, Miranda herself (the woman who was targeted during this incident) did not think that Cross Assault was representative of her experiences in fighting games. So the issue ended up being a lot more complicated than I had realized, and I wanted that to come across in the film.
JT: What do you believe will be one of the most surprising things that someone will learn from watching your documentary, who maybe wasn't aware about the issue of harassment towards women in the video game community?
SH: I think that most non-gamers would be shocked to see the sheer amount of harassment that takes place, particularly in online gaming. But I think gamers and non-gamers alike would also be surprised to learn that there are a lot of resources out there for women who are looking for a positive, supportive community.
JT: Does your documentary expose harassing behavior in the professional sphere of the video games industry or does it focus on the gaming experience?
SH: When I started making the film, it was more focused on the harassment that many female gamers experience. But the more that I spoke with people, the more I realized that in spite of these setbacks, many of these women still love the games industry, their community, and their colleagues. I then shifted the film to encompass a broader portrayal of women's experiences, both the casual and professional.
JT: Tell me why you think it is important for people to change their behavior towards women in relation to the video game community specifically?
SH: Nobody should be have to suffer while doing what they love simply because of their gender. I think any field would benefit from adding the voices of a more diverse group of people, don't you? Gaming is obviously a huge industry and only getting bigger. And it’s games - it's supposed to be fun, creative, entertaining, and challenging. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?
JT: How has the development of the documentary progressed since the successful Kickstarter and do you have a release date yet?
SH: The Kickstarter campaign was essential for finishing the film. It allowed me to travel for interviews and events, rent equipment, and hire a post-production team. It was great to discover that so many people were willing to support a documentary on this subject. "GTFO" has recently been released to backers only, and is currently being submitted to festivals.
As more and more female gamers emerge in the industry, they are less likely to put up with behavior that makes them uncomfortable or feel harassed. There are websites and groups devoted to stop these the infractions and as female gamers mobilize and speak out hopefully video gaming will be all it can, and should be.