“Forty-five percent of all (videogame) players are women.” (esa, 2013)
>>San Diego and Sony
Back in 2001, I was living in Southern California and to pass the time when I wasn’t at the beach or eating In-and-Out Burgers, I purchased a Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). Being a recent college graduate at the time and having owned the original PlayStation while I was in college, it seemed like a logical thing to do. It became my DVD player, my gaming console and when the screensaver was on it was my tranquil background music that played soothing sounds of the ocean in an endless ebb and flow. Owning that system officially made me a believer in the Sony brand of gaming to which I am still to this day.
A few months later, I purchased the PS2 Network Adapter and connected it to the back of the device. From the moment that I plugged in my dial-up cable and created my online account, I was forever changed because this was the first time that I was exposed to online, console gaming. No longer would I be limited to only playing videogames with friends that would come over to my apartment. Now I could play with anyone at any time throughout the world, and all I had to do was power it on and hit START.
With all of the games that I enjoyed during the first year of having the PS2; like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Zone of Enders and even Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2; I will always remember having one particular game but not for the right reason. That game was Twisted Metal: Black Online.
The game, itself I really enjoyed because it was a full-on, chaotic driving battle that was unmatched by any other available titles.
But there was something else that I remember about one of the first experiences of online gameplay: it was how I got to hear the ignorance of a lot of players who can degrade people, regardless of their race, age, religion or gender simply to give themselves the confidence to drive faster, play harder and most-likely win a match that will soon be forgotten by everyone that was on the winning team.
Now let me clarify something: Since I was six years old I’ve been on various sports teams (rugby, baseball, soccer, lacrosse and football) and I was even in the marching band. So I can respect some good old trash-talking in order to get everyone pumped up to hopefully win the game. But there is a monumental difference between trash-talking and talking down to others only to make them feel inferior.
It is because of this practice to make other people, in particular to make women feel like they don’t belong and that they are sub-par to the other half of the videogame industry that I was attracted to the principle behind a recently-funded Kickstarter project entitled: GTFO: A Film About Women in Gaming.
The person behind this film, Shannon Sun-Higginson, got my attention in the video introduction of her Kickstarter campaign not because of what she had already accomplished with the film, but because she is taking a stand for what’s right. Like other causes that I support, that’s something that I knew I wanted to be a part of and I hope you do too.
To get some insight as to the film, I got in touch with Shannon and this is what we discussed:
W2W: So tell me, who are you and what do you do for a living?
SSH: My name is Shannon Sun-Higginson and I’m the director and producer of a documentary film entitled GTFO: A Film About Women in Gaming.
W2W: Before we get to the film, I always like to know what other games people are playing because it helps me to understand what type of gamer they are. So what are you playing now?
W2W: So now to the main event! What is GTFO and how did it come to be?
SSH: I’m not a serious gamer, so I had no idea what some women in gaming go through on a daily basis. I first found out about Sexism in Gaming from a good friend of mine who forwarded me an article about a young woman named Miranda Pakozdi who was sexually harassed during an IGN Cross Assault tournament. Soon afterwards, I began filming a documentary about women and their experiences with video games, be it casually, professionally or in the industry itself.
W2W: Personally as a gamer who likes to play games to ‘play them’ and not to ridicule others, I rarely play multiplayer portions of games online anymore because of how a lot of people conduct themselves online. If I do play them, I’ll play them, at times, with everyone else muted so that my experience is not ruined by the harsh comments of others.
Although I hope that you haven’t, have you personally experienced hurtful comments or actions from other gamers either in passing or while playing online?
SSH: Luckily I’ve never had to experience any harrassment during online gaming, though after releasing the Kickstarter I’ve gotten a few comments from trolls; i.e., people making comments against the campaign merely to get a reaction from me. If anything, those comments only made me realize how important it is to make this film and to make the general public aware of this issue.
W2W: I totally respect that course of action as this kind of behavior really shouldn’t be tolerated; especially when other organizations point accusatory fingers at the videogame industry for lesser reasons.
On the other hand, you noted in your Kickstarter trailer that you’ve interviewed “gamers, developers, scholars and bloggers” for the film. I’m curious as to what information you sought from each group because I’m sure they all had very different perspectives on this issue. Can you provide a highlight of the differences (and similarities) in their reactions?
SSH: I wanted to feature a wide array of characters in order to highlight the diversity of experiences in gaming:
I’ve found that bloggers and scholars tend to have the most insightful breakdowns of the role of women in gaming and how sexism intersects with greater cultural forces.
Developers are great to interview because they have such a range of experiences in the industry, from welcoming and friendly to outright hurtful.
Also I love talking to game writers and designers about how female characters are represented in games and what roles they play in game storylines.
Finally, professional gamers help us to see what it means to be a gamer in such a public sphere, and how being the token woman on a team or in a particular game can be both advantageous and harmful.
The variety of characters helps to show that gender in gaming is a rich and complicated issue.
W2W: Your approach makes perfect sense, and it’s good to hear that you got multiple perspectives because, like you said, it helps to show that this issues IS complicated.
Hearing about who you interviewed got me wondering how far along you are in the filming and editing process. What else needs to be accomplished?
SSH: I’m about 75% finished with production, with just a few key interviews and conferences left to film. I’ve already begun to subclip and organize footage into scenes, and then comes the huge task of editing, color correction, sound design, music, and graphics.
W2W: So there’s definitely work that still needs to be done. But I am definitely looking forward to the finished product.
On the notion of funding for the project, why did you use Kickstarter.com to get funding for the film?
SSH: Kickstarter is a great resource for new filmmakers who have a vision but don’t have the funds to execute it. Because many grants require footage, Kickstarter is a good way to get started on the fundraising process. I knew that there was a built-in audience for a film on this subject, and I was so thankful that people supported the film and its vision.
W2W: As I’ve learned from other interviews that I’ve done with projects that have received funding through Kickstarter, building a community from the get go through the crowd-funding website is an invaluable means of support over the lifespan of the project.
So besides the film, are there any other initiatives that you are either conducting about sexism in gaming or that you are supporting to spread awareness about the issue?
SSH: I’m very excited to soon launch our blog where men and women all over the world will be able to submit videos about their experiences with gender in gaming. I’m hoping that it will create a forum where people can share their concerns and issues, and that we can integrate these videos into the final film. I will let you know when this blog is launched!
W2W: Sounds awesome! Well before we conclude, do you have anything more to add?
Shortly after completing this interview and having never played Dots before, I downloaded it on my iPhone and I play it at least once a day. I recommend it to anyone who likes well-designed puzzle games, and did I mention that it’s free?
But something else that caught my eye about the game after talking with Shannon is how it’s initial message displayed to players directly relates to the issue at hand:
“Eventually, everything connects.” –Charles Eames
Although I am not speaking for any of the developers of Dots, I found it ironic that Shannon highlighted this game during the interview because, to me, when I read this statement it also implies how someone’s actions, whether positive or negative, eventually come back to them. This is something to think when it comes to treating people in general, as well as, to treating people while gaming – especially now that social gaming is a major part of the gaming world and it’s only going to get bigger when the next generation of consoles launches in early November, 2013.
It’s up to you how you want to perceive this article and this film. I hope that you will support this film (estimated release date: March, 2014) and do what you can to spread awareness about this issue. And the next time you’re playing an online game and your character is taken down by another player or assisted to get past a challenging adversary, don’t be surprised if that player is a woman. Let me tell ya, those that I’ve played with online over the past few years are both loyal to their teams and downright lethal. #Respect.
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