As someone who has been an avid gamer for most of my life, I can tell you two things with certainty: people love The Legend of Zelda, and online gamers are the worst kind of people. And I mean the WORST. One only needs to do a cursory glance online to find instances of gamers SWATTING streamers, copious homophobic and transphobic rhetoric aimed at members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and actively trying to cause people harm for criticizing a game. As someone who is fine just playing single-player games, I tend to forget about this fact but Break the Game is a potent reminder that some people online can’t escape that reality. Case in point, Narcissa Wright.
If you’re unfamiliar with Narcissa Wright, she’s a streamer and speedrunner who set several world records for speedruns on various games in the Legend of Zelda series in the early 2010s. She even participated in the 2015 Nintendo World Championships. But then afterward, Narcissa came out as trans, and suddenly everything went precisely as you expect it to go. I don’t even need to explain how certain subjects of Narcissa’s community reacted to that revelation. And yeah, it’s hard to watch at times.
Break the Game
Director: Jane M. Wagner
Release Date: June 10, 2023 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Break the Game is a look at Narcissa as she tries to set a world speedrun record for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest Zelda game at that time. As she tries to do so, she has to bear the brunt of severe online harassment that eats away at her mental health and makes her engage in acts of self-harm and extreme depression. She does have assistance though from a fellow Twitch streamer named D_Gurl, who does whatever she can to help Narcissa receive the help she can. But is setting the world record really worth it? What’s more important: reclaiming that former glory, or stepping away from it all for your own mental health?
Most of the documentary comes from direct footage of Narcissa’s Twitch stream and streams from various other major Twitch streamers at the time (God I miss Etika…). It’s these moments where the documentary is at its most raw as it shows what Narcissa was going through just through her webcam. We see it’s a fairly lonely and isolating life, something that Narcissa admits to. It’s just her in an unfurnished and barren apartment. While other major Twitch streamers are savagely opening their brand new Switches with tons of video game memorabilia behind them with high-end cameras and microphones, Narcissa has just a mattress, some blankets, and her webcam. It paints an honest look at her life, albeit a sad one in virtually every way.
There are definitely moments where the audience will feel like they shouldn’t be watching this since it’ll probably become too close to home for several audience members. Narcissa will openly talk about her harassment and deal with transphobic commenters, but the worst comes when the trolls start to get to her. The darkest moment is when Narcissa is on stream calling a suicide hotline. I, like the real-time viewers in the chat, agreed that this should be private and not publicized. It never comes across like it was an attempt at a performance stunt, but rather the desperate cry of someone who needed to yell. That doesn’t make it any less bleak.
However, while there are plenty of desperate and sad moments, the moments of true happiness feel all the stronger. When Narcissa is able to interact with D_Gurl, and eventually meet her face-to-face, it’s the most alive we see Narcissa as she feels genuinely happy being around her, oftentimes leaving Breath of the Wild behind just to engage with her. The central thesis of the documentary, besides just shining a light on the struggles of transwomen in online communities, is that of a person that is mired in the past at the cost of their present. One of the goals that Narcissa states in the documentary is she wants to surpass her goal of 18,000 people watching her stream at once with 20,000 at once. So when she doesn’t meet that goal and falls into the dangerous game of fighting against the negative people that harass her, she only further isolates herself away from D_Gurl and her mother whom she hasn’t seen in over three years.
In that way, Breath of the Wild just serves as a thematic throughline for Narcissa’s journey. It’s there and if you’re familiar with the game’s themes and key moments, it does help to draw a comparison between what Narcissa is going through. It could have been any game that she could try to break the world record on, but the documentary shows just what that franchise meant to her. There are also some wonderful pixel art portraits that convey the struggles that Narcissa experiences, which add some nice little visual reprieves from the fairly mundane and static Twitch streamer visual presentation. The content within Break the Game is good, but I just wish that outside of those sporadic moments, there was something to keep me more visually engaged with the core of the documentary.
Break the Game ends with Narcissa leaving Twitch and going back to physically interacting with the people she loves and cares about. Despite hitting a bit too close to home for some and becoming deeply uncomfortable at times, Break the Game does justice to its subject and paints an evocative and informative portrait of her. I feel like I know who she is, where she came from, and her desire to reach the same heights she previously reached. I also understand why she chose to leave it all behind. I can respect that, and while I may never be able to actually meet her, I hope that through some weird way, she’s able to read this and know that I hope she’s in a much better and happier place away from the swarm of angry gamers who caused her so much misery.