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Q&A: Documentary aims to shed light on ugly side of video games

Shannon Sun-Higginson isn't deeply ingrained in any aspect of video game culture. So when she found out about gender inequality and the outright sexual harassment that takes place, she was shocked.
The new documentary from filmmaker Shannon Sun-Higginson, dubbed GTFO, is poised to tackle the subject of sexual harassment and gender inequality in video games. It presently sits at just over 50 percent funded on Kickstarter. We recently had the chance to chat up Sun-Higginson about her motivations and where she sees GTFO going. What was the inciting incident for this project? I first found out about this issue [sexism in games] when a good friend of mine told me about the sexual harassment of a female gamer by her male coach during a Cross Assault tournament last year. I was shocked not only at this young man's behavior, but also because I had no idea that this was such a widespread problem. I decided that everyone, not just gamers, needed to know about this so I immediately began research for the film. Some might say to do a film on this geared toward a general audience would exacerbate games' current public image problems. Others might say we need to hold this industry's feet to the fire if we're going to see any improvements. What are your thoughts? I don't want people to see me as an intruder who is criticizing their industry. As a child I had a Game Boy and a Nintendo 64, but only ever played with good friends, so the idea of sexism in gaming never crossed my mind. However, the cultural stigma put on girls who are into video games is a widespread problem and is going to be one of the focuses of the film. [GTFO] is an opportunity for gamers and non-gamers to start a dialogue about why there is such a widespread culture of misogyny. Many of the people who have reached out to me are men who are also extremely disturbed by this type of behavior. The goal is not to pass judgment on gaming as a whole, but rather to connect people so we can start to discuss solve this problem. I want to bring light to the issue and make it socially and culturally unacceptable for people to treat others this way, in any industry. Anytime someone brings up sexism in video game culture, especially if they're a woman, it seems like there's a huge amount of pushback from people (mainly men) who don't believe it's a problem. Since starting this project, have you encountered any of that? I've been very lucky so far in that the responses to the film have been overwhelmingly positive with just a few exceptions. But if the film gains any publicity, I am aware that this is a very sensitive issue and am prepared for backlash. I've gotten a lot of advice from women who are constantly getting attacked, telling me to ignore it and just let it roll off my back. Hopefully it won't come to that, but if it does, I feel prepared. The biggest surprise has been everyone's receptivity to being interviewed and being part of the project. I know that this is a difficult issue for a lot of people to talk about, so I greatly appreciate all the women who are willing to put themselves out there in order to help with the project. Tell us a bit more about your background in film. I received my BA in Film Studies from Wesleyan University in 2010. Since then, I have been working at a Production Coordinator at Zero Point Zero Production on such shows as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on The Travel Channel and Parts Unknown on CNN. This is the first feature film I've produced, but I have several years of experience in the documentary genre. People can find out more at my website and my IMDb page. Your Kickstarter (as of this writing) stands at about 50 percent funded, with [11 days] to go. Say the worst happens and you don't reach your funding target- you've already shot a lot of footage for this documentary, so will you be going ahead regardless? I hope to make this film regardless of whether the Kickstarter is successful. If I can't get funding through crowd sourcing or documentary grants, I still hope to at least make a short film or perhaps even a web series. So if the Kickstarter doesn't work out, still keep an eye out for GTFO! If someone wants to get in touch with you about their personal experience with sexism/harassment, what's the best way to reach you? I am always looking for people who are passionate about this subject and have ideas about the film, or would like to be interviewed. You can get in touch with me via Kickstarter message, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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