Yesterday, publisher Wales Interactive announced a new "FMV thriller" called Gamer Girl that will put players in the role of a moderator of an up-and-coming streamer named Abicake99. You'll moderate comments in her stream, reward good behavior and ban trolls, and work to increase subscriber numbers and earn likes to keep Abicake99 in a good mood and her career on track.
But this isn't just any old moderating job. Abicake99 has returned to streaming after her friend Becky disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and so along with keeping the jerks in line, it also falls to you to "guide Abi's choices and uncover the threat she faces by an anonymous predator who hides in the stream's chat."
It's not a terrible premise, really, but the trailer that accompanied the announcement was uncomfortably creepy. Even though you're a brand new moderator, Abicake99 is soon looking to you to make some pretty fundamental decisions in her life, like whether she answer the phone or check on a friend who might be in trouble. My initial reaction was that it looked a lot like Night Trap, the infamous exploitation game from the early 1990s, in that it would probably be more cringe-inducing than frightening.
Others took a less charitable view of the game. A large number of people on Twitter said the trailer appeared to be ridiculing female streamers, or worse, trading on the real abuse and trauma that women on the internet are subject to. It seemed especially insensitive and ill-considered in light of the recent wave of allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse in the game industry and beyond, which—among other things—spurred Twitch to take action against multiple real-life streamers just a few weeks ago.
Wales Interactive initially attempted to defend the game, saying that it's being made "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...July 16, 2020
"Gamer Girl was co-written by Alexandra Burton, the lead actress who improvised the entire script," it tweeted. "The research into the streaming content of Gamer Girl took four 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. Online abuse is real and is still happening every day—Gamer Girl seeks to raise awareness of this issue."
Following that defense, however, the company withdrew all official communication about game from the internet: The trailer has been pulled from YouTube (the one embedded above comes courtesy of XboxViewTV), the Gamer Girl announcement post on the Wales Interactive blog is gone (the URL is still present, however), and even the press kit, which wasn't publicly available, has been deleted from Google Drive. Making the matter even odder, all of these changes were made with no word from Wales Interactive, or developer FMV Future. It all just disappeared.
Not all reactions to the trailer were negative. Some said it had the look of a cheesy, low-budget slasher flick, which can be a lot of fun. But that impression clashes with Wales Interactive's stated goals for the game: You probably can't be a serious meditation on online abuse and a B-movie Syfy special.
The Gamer Girl announcement said that it would be out in September, but at this point I'd say that's up in the air. I'll be surprised if it's canceled outright (it's obviously almost finished), but at the very least I think a full do-over of the PR campaign is probably in the works. I've reached out to Wales Interactive for more information on what's happening, and will update if I receive a reply.