“This can’t be real. This has to be a joke.”
It’s the only thing most of us could muster-up after watching the trailer for Wales Interactive’s new full motion video (FMV) title, Gamer Girl, save maybe for a “what the fuck.” There’s no way a well-known publisher and an industry giant like PlayStation — which tweeted the clip — could, in all seriousness, be trying to sell a plot so tone-deaf as this: Abicake99, the quirky gamer girl, beloved by many but hated, too; you, the moderator, her protector against all evils of the internet; and the unseen predator, a looming aura of inevitable violence. There’s just no way... right? Not right.
On Friday, esports reporter Rod Breslau put PlayStation on blast for tweeting and then deleting the trailer for Gamer Girl, from FMV Future and Wales Interactive. In the minute-and-a-half long video, we get a glimpse into the online life of bubbly streamer, Abi, and what can only be interpreted as the dark turn it takes when she’s targeted and stalked by one of her followers before she’s, presumably, murdered. It’s up to you to keep her community in check and prevent anything bad from happening to her during the improvised live-action gameplay, which the press release compares to The Blair Witch Project. How original and enthralling!
It’s not ‘just a game’ — The response, as one could predict, has felt something like a collective sigh of exasperation. Sure, as some pointed out, the game could end up being fun, and streams will undoubtedly be interesting to watch. But that isn’t the point.
Women are constantly targets of harassment online, especially in the gaming space. That shouldn't be news to anyone in 2020. Female streamers and influencers have long been speaking out about how they’ve been stalked and sent death threats by violent followers; just this week Twitch streamer Sweet Anita detailed how she was stalked and assaulted, and now feels “helpless” as police fail to do anything substantial to protect her. Last year, 17-year-old Bianca Devins was murdered by an obsessed Instagram follower who then posted photos of the killing online.
Online abuse is a brutal reality that women and girls face every day, one with terrifying, real-life implications offline, and it has no business being some developer’s punchline.
But we have female friends! — The trailer has since been pulled and Wales Interactive vehemently defended Gamer Girl in a statement posted to Twitter as the immediate backlash hit, saying the title “seeks to raise awareness of the issue.” FMV Future, who created the game, worked with a girl on the script and, really, it’s all about empowerment in the end, the statement explains — online abuse is real and bad and we just want to help. Sony did not respond to a request for comment. In the words of Wales Interactive:
Gamer Girl is about the impact user comments and actions have on a streamer’s mental health and wellbeing. The reason why FMV Future created the game was to raise the issue of the toxic environment which can often appear online behind the anonymity of a username. Without giving away too much, Gamer Girl is an empowering story of a female streamer who, with the help of her moderator friend, battles the trolls and — overcomes— the toxic characters in her stream. Gamer Girl was co-written by Alexandra Burton, the lead actress who improvised the entire script. The research into the streaming content of Gamer Girl took 4 years and the dev team at FMV Future interviewed dozens of female streamers…most of whom have experienced abuse of various kinds online — some have even shared their experiences during interviews within the game. Players start the game as one of Abi’s friends whom she trusts, and it is their job to make the channel a success but also to guide the stream to keep Abi in a positive frame of mind. Online abuse is real and is still happening every day — Gamer Girl seeks to raise awareness of this issue.
Your ‘empowerment’ story is BS, too — Were there even a hint of satire in all this it might not be leaving such a bad taste in our mouths. But clever commentary seems to be the furthest thing from what Gamer Girl is serving up, at least going off the trailer and subsequent statement from the company. No, instead it appears we get another cheap thriller written around the tired trope of violence against women, for the sole purpose of giving men’s rights activists another avenue by which to call you a “simp” in the comments section.
As women, people of color, and the queer community keep saying, awareness and inclusion don’t mean shit if our characters remain limited to torture porn and a reborn-through-trauma backstory. That’s not empowerment, it’s exploitation.