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‘GTFO’: A Documentary on Female Gamer Harassment

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In an effort to promote awareness of the treatment of female gamers within the gaming community, director Shannon Sun-Higginson is putting her creative skills to work in a soon-to-be-released documentary.

‘GTFO’ details the gaming life of Jenny Haniver, with specific moments relating to her abuse and harassment during online gaming sessions. In one scene, upon finding out that the fellow shooter in a Call of Duty game was a woman, the male players ordered her to leave, saying that women were ‘poor players and can’t drive’. “You’re useless when your hymen is broken,” one of the players stated. Another scene features Maddie Meyers, assistant games editor at Paste magazine, describing how few girls were left in her gaming circle growing up.  “I went to a tournament a couple years ago, and there were only two women who entered,” Meyers explained. “It’s really demoralizing. How many women decided not to enter because they’ve had bad experiences, or didn’t even know about it, because there wasn’t any marketing of it for them?”

Haniver has reportedly dealt with a large amount of online harassment over the years, with comments ranging from your everyday trolling to death threats and stereotyping.  “One guy said he was going to impregnate me with triplets and then force me to have a late-term abortion,” Haniver explained in an interview with NY Times. “Then he giggled.” Cases such as these are on the extreme end of the spectrum, but ‘GTFO’ aims to prove to the gaming community that they are not isolated incidents, nor are they simply kids shooting off at the mouth. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of 13-year-old boys,’ ” Haniver said. “The voice recordings let you hear it’s not just kids. You can tell these are adult men.”

gtfo1Online harassment has definitely been a heated subject ever since the GamerGate controversy reared its head, with contributors Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu at the forefront of this ‘war’ against girl gamers. The subject was explored extensively even prior to the online explosion, and has since evolved into a widespread debate involving players as well as video game companies, writers, and developers. Strangely, even Law and Order: Special Victims Unit featured an episode last month where a female game developer was kidnapped and tortured by a group of angry male gamers. While there’s no doubt that female gamer harassment exists, there’s a line between raising awareness and fear-mongering – which is exactly what’s been happening in the past year or so.

“My biggest fear for this movie is that it scares young women away from this industry, which is really growing and thriving right now,” Ms. Sun-Higginson said. “Obviously the more women and the more diverse people in general who join the industry, the better.”

Production of ‘GTFO’ began in 2012, after the film’s director watched a player sexually harass his teammate in a live-streaming competition series, making lewd comments about her body and telling her to take off her shirt. According to NY Times, Sun-Higginston had initially planned to focus on sexual harassment, but began to focus on other kinds of harassment as well after speaking to more women in gaming. “I decided to take a step back and explore what it means to be a woman in gaming in general, both the positive and the negative,” she said.

‘GTFO’ is set to premiere on March 14 at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and is only currently available to Kickstarter backers.

About Deborah Crocker

Deborah is a 22 year old semi-hermit currently plodding through her senior year of college and getting her feet wet in game journalism. She has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with high fantasy, video games, novels, and Elder Scrolls. When she’s not in front of a screen, she enjoys singing and a bit of beading. She’s also currently on the hunt for the restaurant with the best cheeseburger.

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  • Kouki Kanshiki

    It seems like it might attempt to be fair and that makes all the difference between me watching and vehemently hating it.

  • Elizabeth Rojas

    I am a woman and love online gaming and have never had any problem with harassment. I also know many women who play and have never had any problem. Whenever we play and they know we are women they treat us the same because they don’t care what gender we are. I have played with both genders and many people with different sexual orientation, and everyone is treated equally.

    • ahermit

      Lucky you.

      But what do you say to all those women who do experience harassment?

      • Dave Moore

        stop being so fecking sensitive, PC nbullshit gone wild, If you’re online playing a game you will get abused because trash talk is part of the games, don’t like it don’t fecking play. I have played with plenty of women and they get/ give as good as each other and it’s all banter. If the world wasn’t full of such oversensitive bitches (not referring to women here but people in general) we would all be much happier. Grow up.

        • ahermit

          It seems to me you’re the one being oversensitive here; if the mere suggestion that a little more civility might make the game more enjoyable for more people gets you so worked up…

      • Elizabeth Rojas

        For the most part the women who do get harassed like when playing game “Call of Duty.” It isn’t just women who are being harassed and being mistreated. I have seen many people of both genders being mistreated with gaming. So to go out and say only women are being mistreated is wrong. If someone truly wants to stand up and say something is wrong they should say that everyone gets mistreated, which is the truth.

        • ahermit

          Nobody is saying that only women get mistreated. But the kind of shit they have to put up is often far worse than what the guys get.

          Look, I’ve worked in a male dominated industry for thirty years; I’ve seen this shit in the workplace too. Guys on construction sites are not exactly a model of civility with each other, but put a woman on the crew and some of those guys (not all, but enough of them) turn into real monsters. Women in that context have to put up with shit that no man ever has to deal with. And I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I’ve seen enough to know that the same thing happens there.

          So yes, it’s wrong for anyone to get treated that way, but it’s a particular problem that women have to deal with more and worse bad treatment. It’s not a bad thing to try to do something about that, is it?

          • ahermit

            We’re talking about culture in what has been seen as a male dominated space. it’s not unreasonable to point out similarities in other traditionally male dominated spaces.

            I’m sorry if this all going over your head. I’m not going to translate the ideas into monosyllables for you…

  • Michael Davis

    What a lot of people don’t see, is much of this harassment isn’t because of the gender of a person, this is harassment of people from people that want to be a-holes. Saying something along lewd comments about sex is just the easiest thing someone can do while they are concentrating on the game itself, just like the having doing your mom last night comments you hear in almost every game. At least this is my opinion on this matter.

    • Erthwjim

      Exactly they find what buttons to push, not because of the gender but because they want you to lose concentration and get angry, etc and play poorly. It’s a competition thing not a gender thing. Also is not that people don’t see it, they either ignore it or are coming at harassment from a specific view point.

  • Kailen Lee Mitchell

    I know women are getting harassment but to tell the truth the damn tween kids are bunch of savage monsters who trash talk men and women to the point of not playing. I quit Titan fall because of how toxic those little kids were.

  • mike hawk

    In the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of hours i’ve put into multiplayer online games i have never once witnessed these types of gendered attacks. Idk if its the types of games i play or what.

  • Erthwjim

    I know harassment occurs, but the question I have for this documentary is, how many hours were filmed that could not be used in the “documentary” because no harassment was occurring? Was it only FPS games where she got harassment or did they cover all online genres, because mmorpgs compared to FPS games are a lot more tame even in Pvp. In other words, how much cherry picking was done? And although this doesn’t excuse harassment, men are also harassed, it’s just the people that harass know what buttons to push, for females those buttons are different than males, and even within genders each individual has different things that bother them, and the harassers seek those out.

    • ahermit

      Here are sone questions for you: What level of harassment is acceptable? And is it OK that women get harassed more and in a more blatantly sexualized manner? Should we all just accept it as normal or is it worth having a conversation about improving the culture so we see less of it?

      • Erthwjim

        Each person is different, and what is acceptable for one might not be for the other. I don’t think making a blanket statement about what is or is or is not harassment is the answer to fixing harassment. As for being more acceptable that It’s blatantly sexual, it’s neither more or less acceptable. What bothers men is not the same as women. Something sexual may cause a women to become offended or trigger them, but for a guy it could be making fun of their parents or their intelligence or questioning their sexuality. Men and women are different, so they react differently to different types of insults. And even then, everyone is an individual, what offends me isn’t going to be the same as another male, just like what offends one girl isn’t going to offend another. People can’t walk lightly for fear of saying something that might possibly offend. These games are competetive in nature, and just like most things competitive, there is shit talking and as I stated above, the insults are made to push buttons, to throw someone off their game.

        Now without going into too much depth about what constitutes harassment, could there be less harassment in general? Sure both genders get it, and for areas of gaming where there is too much of it (generally first person shooters come to mind), there could be less of it. But for the film to focus only on the harassment females receive, instead of harassment in general, paints a specific type of picture about gamers, one that that I believe will fall on the fear mongering side of the spectrum rather than the awareness one, especially as I foresee them cherry picking the footage they include in their film. They should make people aware there is harassment and that it does occur to women, but they shouldn’t make it seem like it’s exclusive to women, that somehow gamers hate women or are specifically antagonistic towards women, this is just disingeneous.

        • ahermit

          I think you’re awfully naive if you honestly believe that men and women experience the same levels of harassment. And you dismiss any evidence to that effect as ‘cherrypicking’ before you’ve even seen it.

          But even if you’re right how does it hurt to talk about the problem? If women, as you yourself admit, get a different kind of attention online than men do isn’t that worth talking about?

          And what if you’re wrong? What if what all these women are telling us is true and they do get more and more vicious treatment than male gamers? (That’s certainly been something I’ve observed, not just in gaming but in general.)

          By the way, this isn’t about making people “walk lightly for fear of saying something that might possibly offend…” It’s about deliberate, harassing behaviour designed to shut certain kinds of people out of a public space. That isn’t happening by accident and the people doing it are perfectly aware of what they’re doing. It also isn’t about labelling all gamers as misogynists or arguing that it only matters when it happens to women; it’s recognizing that there is a real problem with a large enough subset of gamers who behave this way and who behave even worse when their target happens to be female.

          if you’re not one of those guys I don’t know why you would have any problem with a doc like this one.

          • Dave Moore

            then use the mute button, it’s not fecking rocket science is it?? Maybe first people should worry about the 5 year olds that dominate games designed for 18+. Without being directly derogatory most comments do come from these, If you’re sensitive enough to be offended by a comment then you’re too sensitive to be blowing people up on a game or whatever you’re doing and that being the case then go play legoland harry potter or something more suited to your level of sensitivity, I’m pretty sure (although I can’t confirm) that there isn’t half as much trash talk on those games

          • ahermit

            “Use the mute button” is your answer? So people should just allow themselves to be bullied into silence? What you’re saying is that you’re OK with the kind of abuse and harassment that others are objecting to.

          • ahermit

            Not all games give you the option of muting individual; players. If the abuse is forcing someone to opt out of the chat feature then you have effectively bullied them into silence.

            Make sense now?

          • Erthwjim

            Actually I believe men experience more and harsher harassment than females, but it tends to go under or unreported (kind of like domestic abuse, rape, etc). Having played as a female in a MMO where people actually thought I was female, I was treated either no differently than males or treated better than males. When I was around on my female character, the way other players spoke and interacted with me as well as the vocabulary being used was much more tame then when I was on as a character that people knew a male controlled. Even in groups, when one character was controlled by someone that said they were female, the behavior of the group was much more tame then when the group was all known male players (or at least everyone said they were male). But in general, from my observations of other players that indicated they were female or were known females, and even my experiences when playing as a female, the treatment was better than those that were male. Now perhaps that’s limited to the MMO community, but that’s actually a very large portion of gamers. In addition to this, after having spoken to several online and offline female friends that game, although they all indicated they had received harassment, they said it was not the bombardment that the media has recently said it was nor was it as harsh. But that’s all anecdotal evidence, it doesn’t prove anything, just as your personal experiences don’t prove anything about women in games as a group either.

            As far as evidence, I’m not dismissing it, I’m just saying it doesn’t represent females as gamers as a group because it was cherry picked. The evidence is accurate for the females the movie is filming, but until some scientific method is followed, it cannot be extended beyond that, just as my and your personal evidence cannot be extended beyond the people we have personally observed. In addition to this when they only search out females that have been harassed and only record and report on the footage of when they were being harassed, they have ignored the context of things and aren’t giving viewers a chance to interpret the evidence themselves, they are cherry picking the data they share and because of that allowing only certain interpretations of the movie to be made. Now granted the movie isn’t complete so maybe more information will be given, but I won’t be holding my breath because this movie isn’t about sharing information, it’s about sending a message. So until it’s shown otherwise, I won’t take the movie at face value and would rather look into more details myself, because it’s nothing more than a propaganda piece.

            But how does it hurt to talk about the problem? It won’t as long as the information is being accurately portrayed. Where it hurts is when it’s inaccurate information, such as exaggerations, or flat out lies, then people focus on issues that don’t exist instead of focusing on the parts of it that do. When it’s inaccurate, the media runs with it if it’s sensationalist enough, and then that inaccurate portrayal results in things like the SVU episode which affects outsiders views. When the press says gaming is full of women haters and here’s what you can expect, that’s fear mongering and only pushes people away from gaming. But if the press says gaming is inclusive except for a few outliers that harass so here’s what to watch out for, it sends a different message. So sure, a discussion is needed, but it needs to be around accurate information and it needs to be the right type of discussion. But on the note of why women get different type of harassment than men? Sure that can be explored too, but that’s something that runs deeper than gaming. Men and Women are different, a combination of nature and nurture, and as a result many things affect the genders differently. The question shouldn’t be why do women get harassed differently than men, but why in general do the sexes communicate differently? To me that is the root of things. Men and Women care about different things in life, why is that? That’s the type of conversation that needs to happen.

            And if I’m wrong? I guess the same thing as if you’re wrong. If a problem doesn’t exist and you try to treat it with the assumption that it does, this can actually create more problems. I think making sure the problem exists instead of preemptively assuming it does is the safer route to take. Personally with my observations of gaming, the harassment I see and hear today is much less problematic than it was even 5 years ago, towards both genders. Gaming has grown just as its audience has.

            As for the harassing behavior trying to shut certain kinds of people out of a public space. I call BS on that. The harassing behavior is done to make people react, usually the intended reaction being anger. It’s equal opportunity harassment, the harassments are catered to each individual based on race, gender, occupation, locale, etc whatever can be used to push someone’s buttons. The people that end up getting harassed the most, the trait they share: they’re offended and react, there is no specific demographic that they share and minus a few outliers, it’s not done to drive people out. Does it suck that this happens? Yes, but to narrow it down as being predominantly high and harsh towards the female gender: first, I think that’s a matter of interpretation and as I said above, something that involves studies outside of gaming and more on communication between the genders in general; and 2nd I don’t think that’s true, even given the interpretations, studies such as this show that overall males encounter more harassment online then women (http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/pi_2014-10-22__online-harassment-03/). Is there a problem in gaming? About as much as there is in any other online form of communication, and I’d say gaming it’s the outliers not a large subset of the group who has the problem, I see more harassment and name calling in blog comments than I’ve ever seen in gaming.

            As for your final comment, I don’t have to be one of those guys to have a problem with a documentary. They are painting gaming as problematic and that reflects poorly on all gamers, because people outside of gaming don’t differentiate between the various types of gamers, they lump them all together. Just like all republicans are the same or all democrats or all nerds or all hipsters or all SJWs, to the group outside there are no nuances, a description of one gamer is a description of all gamers. The reason this bothers me is the same reason that the “gamers are dead” articles bothered me, not because it applied to me, but because of how people outside would interpret it. So yes, it can bother me, documentaries are portrayed as facts and if those facts are incorrect, why is it wrong for me to be bothered when people might take them at face value to represent a whole group instead of actually researching the subject.

          • ahermit

            You’re substituting your anecdotal experience for the evidence here though. Isn’t that “cherry picking?”

            On the there hand if there are large numbers of female gamers whose experience, unlike yours, is negative (and from what I’ve seen that certainly does seem to be the case) how is it “cherry picking|” to talk about their experiences? Even if they aren’t the majority of female gamers there’s still a problem there.

            It’s not accurate to say that men have a worse online experience by the way. According to your own link: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/pi_2014-10-22__online-harassment-02/ “Young women experience particularly severe forms of online harassment

            Men get more of the kind of stuff you’re dismissing as not so bad ( eg simple name calling) while women are more likely to be sexually harassed, subjected to sustained harassment and stalked. It’s certainly not “equal opportunity” harassment.

            If you don;t like this sort of thing being the image of gamers then you should be on board with this kind of project; exposing it helps to create a culture where that kind of crap is no longer accepted. You’re right, it has been improving in recent years, but only because of projects like this one which recognize that the problem exists. But there’s still a problem and sticking our heads in the sand and pretending there isn’t one won’t help the image of the gaming community.

          • Erthwjim

            It’s been improving for years and projects like this haven’t existed in the past so how have these types of projects improved gaming? I say they’re cherry picking because they are only finding women who are harassed, if it weren’t biased they’d find women both who have and haven’t been harassed, and frankly their anecdotal evidence isn’t even random, they seek out only those who have been harassed and only females, I rely on people I’ve met online, not specifically looking for those who have or have not been harassed, mine is more random than theirs. I don’t mind projects that try to improve things, but they should at least try to be more genuine about what they’re doing, they’re not doing anything to help harassment, as I’ve seen quoted before: “Correction does much…Encouragement does more…Criticism does nothing” I don’t see this as something that is trying to correct or encourage, they’re trying to criticize, even the name of the movie, GTFO, indicates that. This isn’t science, this is a documentary with an agenda, she’s a director not a scientist, and like most documentaries, I’ll take it with a grain of salt and suggest everyone else do the same.

          • ahermit

            Projects like this haven’t existed in the past? I guess you’ve missed the debate that’s going on for the last five years at least…

            https://www.google.com/search?q=women+in+gaming&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=women+in+gaming+abuse+study

            Look, the fact that some women don’t get harassed doesn’t invalidate the fact that some women do. I’ve never been a victim of identity theft. Neither has anyone I know personally. That doesn’t mean it never happens to other people, does it?

            If you’re not one of the people doing this shit why would feel that you’re being criticized? I don’t…

  • Hector Ocasio

    Anyone complaining about smack talking online has never been to an arcade in the bronx during the 80’s and 90’s. There are mute buttons for a reason. Not everyone is going to be nice or play nice but i can tell you that if you’re looking for mass harassment of woman you might want to differentiate between smack talk and actual harassment or else it looks like fox news’s war on Christmas crap that they do over year with tons of fake outrage that no sane person believes.

  • edtastic

    Naturally the ‘harassment’ of men is ignored because they are assumed to be strong enough to ‘suck it up’. It’s that kind of sexism that’s been reinforced by victim feminism where women are treated like scared children in constant need of protection and reassurance from strong men who’ll protect the from the savages. This theme can be seen throughout history and was often the excuse for mass oppression of rival ethnic groups. We saw it in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, the lynching of black men, and the ever present ‘protecting women and children’ rationale from politicians seeking the public consent for foreign wars.

  • Lars Anderson

    The more women in gaming the better. This notion that men don’t want women sharing their hobby is absurd. There is no industry wide conspiracy against women, there’s just not a big presence of women in the tech industry. Time for the feminists to take off their tinfoil hats.