GTFO: Should This Documentary on Girls & The Gaming Industry Happen?

Whether good or bad, the voices she will give to real people all around the country will be in there. People that obviously had something to say.

A Kickstarter project, entitled GTFO, has only a little over a week left to reach its goal of $20,000 by May 10th. So far $15,463 has been raised. Created by Shannon Sun-Higginson, who it's important to note is a casual gamer and knows little about the industry, it's aim is to supposedly create a film that documents the experiences female gamers have while playing video games. She hopes to also include “the portrayal of women in video games, the history of women in gaming, the experiences of women in the industry itself, the culture of games, the discouragement of young girls from participating, and more.”

Let me stop here for a moment.

Now, take in a deep breath. Good. I hear it helps clear your head, and when it comes to this topic I think it's safe to assume it's sometimes hard for all of us to keep a clear head.

Let's retackle that again. So, what exactly is GTFO? For those not very familiar, GTFO stand for Get The F* Out. I'm sure I can leave the star to your intelligent imaginations to fill in. Let's face it, this term is not something that is new to any group of people, let alone women gamers. Insults such as these have probably been occurring since Bob Caveman didn't like the way George Dinolover wasn't able to hold his own against Mr. Woolly Mammoth.

Ok, we got that. Now, who is this Shannon Sun-Higginson?

She is a filmmaker from New York City. She currently works for a production company and has worked on documentaries such as “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel and “Parts Unknown” on CNN. The idea for this documentary came from when a friend talked to her of the harassment that many female gamers and other industry figures must deal with on a daily basis. She intends to film interviews, classes, tournaments, and conventions, and she has in fact already begun doing so. She has been to PAX East and other prominent gaming scenes in order to accomplish this. A trailer for the film can even be viewed on her project page.

It’s hard to draw a conclusion about how Shannon’s documentary will turn out. Shannon doesn't have very much gaming experience, which might make one wary of her qualifications. I myself at first wondered if it would make sense to have a casual gamer create a documentary about this. It’s like we have this inherent distrust of those who don’t love gaming as much as we do to portray things the way they should be. I mean, she’s an outsider isn’t she?

On other hand, being an outsider for a documentary isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She may have objectivity as a result. She also may be able to compose a more professional piece than someone who had no knowledge of how a film is supposed to be put together. After all, she does have a degree from Wesleyan University in Film Studies and English. Most documentaries aren't put together by experts in the subject they are filming. They are created by an outsider using a collection of media of people involved within the subject. 

That brings us to the real topic at hand - sexism in the gaming industry.

There is a problem. It’s not the only behavior linked problem that exists in the gaming industry (or the entire planet for that matter), but it’s there nonetheless. Shannon gives great sites as references to some of the behavior – sites that I didn’t even know existed until I saw her Kickstarter. If you don’t think this behavior exists you merely need to shuffle on over to or and you can see and hear these comments for yourself. Yea, literally hear.

Although her focus is on women, in many cases she mentions that no person should have to endure harassment of any kind. She emphasizes on Kickstarter:

“…women are not the only group who experience harassment in gaming. Many other people are attacked due to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. However, due to the vast nature of the subject, I chose to focus primarily on women for this documentary. A film profiling ALL abuse towards ALL groups would be too large and complex to fit into 90 minutes. I think it would be wonderful to see a film, for example, about the experiences of people of color in gaming. I hope one day that film will be made as well.”

Shannon also points out that “…when women in the industry come forward, they often experience much more criticism and backlash than their male counterparts.”

With Shannon’s documentary the major question is how will this problem be addressed? Will she only dish out hate and criticism on all the cruel evil men in the world (insert sarcastic voice here), or will she be truly objective. So far she has funded the project herself, which leaves me to believe she is at least invested in this subject. One can only hope that she could use this fantastic opportunity to truly collect an informative view on this subject and give it’s viewers as much of an unbiased insight as possible into the truth of how things currently are.

Her own words on the goals of the documentary are encouraging. She states:

There are a few goals, one of them is to make more awareness and more of a stigma for those people so that they see it and they're like 'oh, wait, maybe this is not an acceptable thing to do, maybe bad things will happen if I do this."

 At some points, Shannon does go a little extreme. Such as when she proclaims that "...half of the community, meaning women, are being abused and their talents aren't really being used in the video game industry as much as they could be."

This statement seems to be a tad out of hand since it's obviously not true that the entire female gamer population is being abused. Though she makes sure to point out that "of course not all gamers are trolls or abusers - many are kind, supportive, and equally disgusted by this type of behavior."

So should you back the GTFO Kickstarter project or not?

I was struck by a comment in an article written on GTFO on Games Industry Internation website by someone with the username Anonemous:

“Or maybe it’s because she is annoying the community at large by trying to make a bigger deal out of what is a small problem.”

 Another user, NoUseForMonkeys, answered with:

“Having the colored people ride in the back of the bus was not a big problem for most white folk back in the day either…” 

A lot of people feel like this behavior that women (and indeed others) put up with isn’t a big deal. That when people use disgusting or over the line language and or behavior we should report it, ignore it, and pretend nothing happened. That we need to have a tough skin and face the reality of this harsh world. What I want to know is – why? Why should we turn the other cheek and not raise our voice against something that is obviously not a positive thing? Remaining silent never solved anything. Shannon has begun to dig into the world of gaming to address something that we have all long talked about and will most likely continue to talk about. Whether good or bad, the voices she will give to real people all around the country will be in there. People that obviously had something to say.

I for one would like to see what she finds out.

Featured Contributor

I'm a 29 year old Jersey girl who loves games. I currently work full time, volunteer part time at this awesome non-profit called Amman Imman, and go to school part time. I also train in jiu jitsu. So time isn't quite on my side (unlike that song says). I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to clone myself so I can devote one of me to boring stuff like working and laundry - thus allowing more time for gaming. I'm willing to offer large sums of imaginary money to any who can make this happen.

Published Jun. 14th 2013
  • Klaars
    It's nice to read an article like this and I hope Shannon produces something of merit. I think it goes a bit beyond a/s/l and bullying, look at character portrayal. In my experience with MMO's over the past thirteen years, I've heard women comment on their characters gear vs what male toons were wearing, time and time again. My first thought was always, "Hot coffee?" (s3xual term) seeing a female character scantly clad in a platinum BP that looked like a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue knockoff, then it hit me. My wife is constantly asking, "How is this thong supposed to protect me from "x" boss?" My reply used to be, "It'll help maintain aggro!" As to the people of color issue, it's less of an issue as far as character portrayal, I mean look at Aion. But as to the way women are portrayed, it is still a bit one sided imho.
  • Red Blue Yellow
    I don't think it's a bad idea that someone from outside the community is coming in to see how girls and boys behave around each other when anonymity is part of the equation. I would welcome it. That being said, "girl gamers" aren't the only minority online. What about transgenders?

    As a Kickstarter project, or any other "product" that sits on a store shelf or in digital form, consumers have the choice to purchase based on their interest in the subject. If she gets the funding she wants, she'll make the project and that's that.

    Personally, having played games with girls and guys, both online and local multiplayer, I feel that being a female that games is actually very advantageous. I've had friends admit that they masqueraded as a girl and flirted using emoticons to get gear and gold. I'm sure that she'll stumble on more stories like this.

    Obviously not every girl will want that kind of attention and honestly, there are ways that people act online that will lead them to be treated differently, and not all of those ways have to do with what gender you are. We should all be working towards equality in games, so everyone should be getting called a "stupid noob" regardless of what bits they have!
  • TygerWDR
    Featured Contributor
    I'm gonna make this a short comment, because I'm in a bad mood and picking a fight would be fun but counter productive.

    Some of you may remember last year the "Cross Assault" incident where a player nicknamed "Aris" was basically sexually harassing a female member of his team. One thing he said in his defense was "The beauty of the fighting game community... is that it's based around not being welcomed. ... When you walk into an arcade for the first time, nobody likes you."

    Looked at in that light, what you may think as "Sexual harassment" is much simpler. It's "we don't want you here." It wouldn't matter your gender, sexuality, age, skin color or religious preference. They just don't want you in their club. They'll use your gender, sexuality, age, skin color and religious preferences to needle you to drive you away, but it's not the leading factor. If you were from Mars they'd use that to harrass you to drive you off. They just don't want you there. They want the club all to themselves, no outsiders allowed. It's childish, but it's what happens.

    This is the context I look at in all of these posts. That one moment of unscripted, unprepared honesty explains everything to me.
  • flummxoes
    The harassment faced by women and people perceived as being gay/a minority due to their voice has more to do with the issues of the false sense of power bred in anonymity and the control that comes with using sexist, racist and homophobic attacks on other people. The obscene amount of hate behind these comments, from my experience, has little or nothing to do with people not wanting you in their club.

    Aside from that, why would I want to be in their club? We might operate in the same realm but I do not want anything to do with those people and I like to think that the people who are courteous (even when trash talking and being angry) ultimately outweigh the entitled dicks so really, they're in my club. Why do they get to decide who gets a pass and who has to endure a certain amount of awful behavior in order to be accepted? From my experience anyone who sounds like a white male (and isn't a teenager being an idiot) is totally cool but anyone outside of that gets slurs and specific insults thrown out them - is their club the KKK? Why do I have to appease a bunch of assholes just to play a game? There isn't even a club and it's not only 'childish' but it's delusional.

    There are plenty of people who express the sentiment of needing someone to more or less prove they belong on a game (since this is not a dungeon arcade setting but a highly accessible system that reaches thousands on people all at once) before they'll interact with them in a casual manner and they do so without being racist, homophobic or sexist and instead just act like a dick for a while. Then you win or make them laugh or whatever and they're cool.

    There is a distinct difference between people who are dicks and people who are using the safety of anonymity in order to hurt people and to express real feelings of bigotry and hate. Until you've experienced what other people go through it's best not to allow a frankly very, very lame and thrown together excuse as a framework for your philosophy of harassment in MMOs.
  • JalestraNiss
    I've been in MMOs for almost 20 years. I've played a lot. Honestly? I think there's nothing to this. I mean, I've gotten my share of "a/s/l" when I'm obviously not there to chat, I've been called a "stupid bitch", but my gender is a handle. Oh, this person is ticking me off so I'll "insert insult here" and be rude. So, it's a chick "stupid bitch", it's a dude "dumb mother****", it's a certain race "idiot *slur*", etc . I don't think it's bullying. Bullying is a concerted effort. I think it's just extremely rude, obnoxious, anonymous people.

    Are guys less likely to get the pickup lines? Yeah, but it's that way everywhere, including out on the street. It's obnoxious, not bullying and at least in game there's usually an ignore feature. I think this is a perception issue. The more irritated you are with that type of behavior, the more it stands out. I've never been "harassed" and I've never been bothered to the point that I need to make a big deal out of it. Jerks are everywhere and it's far easier to be a jerk on the 'net, where no one can punch you in the face, and so those jerks do it. Why give them the attention? Why engage them? That's what they want. To get under your skin.

    I'm not denying sexism in certain gaming situations, I just don't think it's here. I'm more concerned with the huge breasts and flimsy costumes.
  • Jamie K
    Featured Contributor
    I'd first like to point out that GTFO isn't (according to Shannon at least) going to JUST be about whether female gamers get abused (or insert best term you'd like to use here) while playing MMO's. It's about female gamers as a whole, including the history of them, evolution, and any possible challenges within the industry. From what I've read so far that seems to also include things you mentioned such as huge breasts and flimsy costumes. Regardless if there is a problem, I would love to see the film for those parts as well. I am also really excited about the history area - I think it will be cool to see!

    You know, it's great to see that you haven't had any problems - whether from not experiencing them or in some cases just having a great disposition or frame of mind that you don't let comments bother you. For some people, that works. However, I think the point of this whole argument is you shouldn't have to be afraid to talk about it if this isn't working for you.

    That being said, I also don't feel that I can agree. I feel that this behavior in MMOs (and sometimes in person while playing as well - see Mat Westhorpe's article 'Professional Gamers' Acting Like Poo-Flinging Monkeys - An Explanation ) is over the line.

    Harassment is defined as "the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious." ( .

    I'm sure if you look it up further you'd get similar definitions. Harassment is a hard topic, because it's not easy for people to understand where the line in the sand is. Like you said, people talk shit in video games. Yet there is a line in the sand, and it should be drawn. Asking a/s/l is one thing. Throwing one insult here and there is one thing. Some of these examples go way beyond that, though.
  • JalestraNiss
    I agree with a lot, but at the same time, having gamed (both table top and MMOs) for so long, I was breaking the boys club barrier and most of the response has always been "OMG! A GIRL! YAY!" lol It's only with the advent of "gamers not necessarily geeks" that I've run into gender vitriol and most of it is really just situational. A guy that says "man, I hope you're raped" to a woman is just as likely to say "I hope someone rips your balls off" to a man. It's not about women or men, it's about some punk kid who gets mad and can't handle himself. The only times I've seen gender specific has been 1. the chick dating the DM who always got the phat loot...not cool and 2. That one girl who manipulates guys into financing all her armor and then treats them like dirt (Dudes, stop doing that!)..a few guys are pretty wary after her. But not rude, just wary.

    I used to be hearing. I heard more about being female than I do now. Not because I'm deaf now, but because they can't identify me as a female, since I don't chat anymore. I do get kicked off teams for being deaf, because I can't chat and apparently working out a system before raiding is way too hard for some people. But I also meet a lot of great people who don't mind. The people who kick me aren't harassing me, they're jerks. Unless you're painting all men (or in my case, the entire gaming community) as a group, a few jerks in a game are not "systemic" or a "concentrated effort". They are ignorant or self absorbed individuals. It's becoming deaf that's made me see another PoV. This isn't about me being a girl, or deaf, it's about some jerk who can't take getting beaten, wants drama, etc. My "soft spot" changed, so their vitriol changed. I've been deaf about 5 years and I've actually seen more jerk behavior due to deafness than I ever did being female. People will actively say "TS a must', "VENT required"..I've never seen a group say "Girls need not apply" or "Guys only". I was never actively excluded until I lost my hearing. Even with that, I wouldn't call it harassment or bullying. I've never ever seen a systemic effort to get girls out of gaming or deaf people or whatever.
  • flummxoes
    I game across genres and I agree with you that, usually, within computer played or RPG MMOs there isn't that much harassment when it comes to being female. I appreciate your taking a moment to reflect on where someone is coming from when they're being unsavory and bigoted and I am sorry and disgusted about how you've been treated because you're now a deaf player.

    Now, let's talk about my experience playing FPS (or any co-op game) on XBoxLive. I have been gaming for 20 years (starting in 1993) and have played across all systems and all genres and had never, ever been attacked for being a girl while gaming. As far as playing online with other people my main experience was playing Starcraft and then some Everquest and I played WoW from the b3ta into about 3 years of it being around along with some GTA, some Left 4 Dead, etc. I still toy with free MMORPGs but don't really have the time.

    Then I got into MMOFPS on XBL a few years ago and let me tell you that the experience is night and day. Specifically with the Call of Duty franchise I can enter into a lobby with a party and say exactly one thing to someone in my own party and immediately hear something sexist thrown my way. Literally "Hi" and then "Oh, it's a bitch!" or "What's up slut?" or "Hey whore, shouldn't you be making sandwiches for your team?!" If I win or get the leg up on one of them while they're targeting me during game play then the insults and badgering and harassment increases ten fold. I have had parties of men send me as many messages as they can in the 2 minutes of time between games - my highest count was 33 from a team of 6. I have had men follow me from lobby to lobby and SCREAM insults at me. I have had men start playing porn/using a porn soundboard while making jokes about fucking me and coming on me and then tell me they're going to kill me afterward. I have had men straight-up tell me they're going to kill me if I do not leave the lobby because they don't want 'some dumb, fat cunt' in their lobby. Obviously they're not but to even say that is just .. gross.

    All of that for being a woman who talks in game. I also get the "nice" guys who will feign some actual interest in me and then turn wretched as soon as I spurn their advances or ignore inappropriate questions.

    NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THIS BUT THERE ARE WAY, WAY TOO MANY WHO ARE. Now, I have a frame of reference for this which is my boyfriend and all of my normal dude friends who also play - if I do not mic up then I get to hear their interactions with other players first hand and yes, sometimes the shit talking gets out of hand and sometimes people can be very persistent and my dude friends get hate male and get called names. Those examples of behavior do not happen with the frequency or vitriol that I experience. The normal random dudes in lobby who stick up for and with me will ask me questions about how often I am treated that way after a guy will not stop, my dude friends have all commented at length about how shitty and fucked it is that men act that way when they are first exposed to the harassment that is thrown my way.

    I love to game. I chat in-game to joke and laugh and whatever with other people. I do call-outs, I always play the objective, and I guard care packages for other players - I am a team player, When someone is being homophobic or racist in a lobby I will tell them to stuff it. I am someone who appreciates the gaming community as a whole. I have a thick skin, and thank Raptor Jesus for it, but even then no one, no one should have to go through what all of the other women who play on XBL with me go through - I have heard countless stories from countless women of varying ages and time logged about the treatment they receive. It is a very real problem and it is a problem that can cause some women to do exactly what these dicks want us to stop doing - participating in game culture.
  • JalestraNiss
    *nods* You say you didn't see this so much in RPGs and I will admit the majority of my play has always been in RPGs. I don't do XBL. FPS isn't really my bag (I find them enjoyable, but I'm not a good player LOL). I do believe there is sexism in gaming, but I guess I object to the "rampant" idea of it. Obviously there is, from your story, some room for the idea of "rampant" sexism. Perhaps the difference is in the type of people we encounter in different genres. Or the type of people who play FPS vs RPG. It's worth looking into and would really account for my "what rampant sexism?" and your "ummm..HERE?"

    I've honestly never seen that type of abuse in gaming and I'm just shocked and..well my eyes are bugging out...with what you've described. It is, as you've said, completely different from anything I've ever seen. Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I honestly had not considered it from one system vs another (I tend toward PC MMOs since most platform ones seem to require voice communication), or from one genre vs another. I would love to see more specifics in regards to this from the community.
  • flummxoes
    I feel like it might be as simple as something like in most MMO RPGs you gather up a group of 'core' people and play with them regularly without much exposure to other groups. If solo you typically form friendships/partnerships with other players by helping one another out (and if the person isn't someone you want to interact with head your own way afterwards) in some way which forms a sort of kinship across the game. I cannot think of the times I have helped and been helped by people in an RPG just because I was lower/higher level and asked/answered a call for assistance. The people you interact with are forced to think of you as a person and for women/minorities/gays there is always that "exception" rule with men who may be awful to other women like "Oh yeah, women are bitches but Jalestra isn't like that" and it's simply because they know you as a person first.

    In an environment like XboxLive, unless you're gaming with a party, you're thrown into situations with random players and the population is ridiculously male. In some games you need cooperation, in some you don't - even when on a team. This creates a vibe where it's not only 'every man for himself' but where you can constantly leave lobbies and drop out of games if they're not working out so essentially the people are expendable. The same guy who doesn't think Jalestra is a "bitch" because he has a personal relationship with her might call me names and harass me in game because I'm just some chick who has appeared out of nowhere at the boy's club.

    Even with that exploratory reasoning I have no goddamn idea where dudes (and sometimes women - I get reverse misogyny from other women in game too which is just the worst thing because the men she's gaming with take that as a 'go' to hound me) get off treating people the way they do. I do not know who raised these people and I do not know how it must be to feel that entitled and stupid.
  • shareen.ayoub
    As a female gamer albeit lightweight - I think there's definitely an issue here. As mentioned in the previous comment League of Legends has a countless library of complaints from bullying - which at times becomes more excessive once other team mates find out a player is a girl. With MMOs you really see the landscape for all types of people, there are obviously the good and the bad - but definitely there needs to be more light shed on how the community reacts to others. Great post btw.
  • notyetsuperman
    Another great article. I think in general cyber bullying should get more attention. I'm a big fan of Riots way of handling this. The makers of League of Legends have created a tribunal or jury system. It starts with a player or group of players flagging a specific player for ill conduct. Once flagged that player is put into a queue where a jury (community of players) can read over the game log and comments. Depending on the jurys assessment it's sent off to Riot to impose a penalty.

    Look it up )league of legends tribunal (sorry work blocks the actual link)
  • Jamie K
    Featured Contributor
    Thanks! And that's some very constructive ideas you have there! I like that concept, I will have to go read about it later!

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