Tribeca 2023 Review: BREAK THE GAME, Mental Health Undone Online

In Jane M. Wagner's first feature-length directorial work, the very public life of a speedrunning legend turns into an anatomy of mental breakdown.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Tribeca 2023 Review: BREAK THE GAME, Mental Health Undone Online
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Jane M. Wagner, recognized for her contributions to the Travel Channel series Mysteries at the Museum and her role as an associate producer on the Emmy award-winning Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, made her feature-length directing debut at Tribeca with Break the Game.
In this project, Wagner delves into contemporary gaming culture to portray the rise, fall, and resurgence of a revered figure navigating a shifting reality and mindset. The documentary centers on Narcissa Wright, a speedrunning expert who achieved fame by completing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in an unprecedented 18 minutes and 10 seconds, exploiting every minor glitch and secret in the game, typically requiring 20 hours of gameplay. As a result of her exceptional feat, Wright garnered fans, revenue, and significant attention on the Twitch platform.
Break the Game finds Wright during the aftermath of her peak fame, as she prepares for a comeback in the speedrunning spotlight with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, aiming to set a new speedrunning record. Her hiatus from the gaming scene was triggered by her decision to come out as a transgender woman. Despite receiving a fair share of support, she encountered toxic attitudes and alt-right trolling within the gaming community.
Constructed from over 100 hours of original footage drawn from Wright's near-constant online livestreaming, the film presents a captivating narrative. Primarily, Break the Game operates as a desktop documentary, cut from Wright's livestreaming archives, presenting a raw account of her public life: gaming, interacting with viewers, and preparing for her comeback. Serving as both a personal diary and a mental health case study, the footage reveals Wright's thoughts and her cloistered lifestyle.
The documentary reflects the surreal reality of Wright's life: public yet one-sided, with social interaction constrained to responses to anonymous observers. Her complete isolation, frequent verbal abuse (including frequent deadnaming), and distorted self-perception culminate in a personal disaster, played out entirely online.
Break the Game provides an uncanny glimpse into the world of game livestreamers, revealing both the adhesive and disruptive forces within the community. At times, the narrative dips into a disturbing reality, as when Wright, likely suffering from depression, experiences a mental breakdown on-camera, eliciting cheers and suicide suggestions from her audience, creating a scene so surreal it feels more akin to eerie fiction than real life.
On a broader scale, Break the Game serves as an examination of the livestreaming lifestyle and community. On a personal level, it chronicles the continual transformations of its protagonist.
While presenting a powerful journey through euphoria and despair, the film exposes how mental health can deteriorate to a critical point. Maintaining sanity within the gaming community becomes a daily battle for Narcissa. Wagner doesn't shy away from addressing the root of this situation: Wright's toxic obsession for attention.
The narrative of Wright's return to the spotlight and her quest to discover further game vulnerabilities alongside her burgeoning love life provide a structure for the underlying drama, which is less about gaming and more about mental health. Utilizing the aesthetics and user experience of livestreaming, Wagner's film unfolds as a cautionary tale, presenting an anatomy of a mental breakdown almost in real-time. And a road to healing and self-care. 
Break the Game received New Documentary Special Jury Mention at Tribeca Film Fest 2023.

Break the Game

  • Jane M. Wagner
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DocumentaryJane M. WagnerTribeca 2023

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