D-Pad, a new play by Jeremy Gable now on the virtual stage at Theatre Exile, taps into the painful reality of anyone who has navigated the gaming industry landscape while female, nonbinary, or a person of color.
Echoes of Gamergate
Alex’s (Ang Bey) claim to fame is being the co-creator of a successful, high-impact, AAA game. But after a male co-creator usurps her achievement, she decides to strike out on her own. She creates and re-creates D-Pad, a game inspired by her sister’s humanitarian work. Alex faces her own self-doubt, the concern of those around her, and backlash from former fans for being “too politically correct” and “too feminist.” It’s reminiscent of Gamergate, the violent and misogynistic harassment campaign that sprang up in 2014 targeting several female and nonbinary game developers and commentators.
Passion and outrage
In this streamed performance from a cast of four, all of the actors had to nail their performances to sell the intense, stressful, and desperate feel of the show, and they did. As an avid gamer in love with visual storytelling and choice-based narratives, I felt Alex’s passion for the medium and her outrage when describing the misogyny and objectification targeting female characters.
Bey’s Alex conveyed enthusiasm and exasperation as well as visceral rage, sickening fear, and dead-eyed exhaustion: the harassment Alex experiences felt both personal and real, as did Michael Doherty’s portrayal of Alex’s many detractors, a performance so convincing that I wanted to punch the screen. Paloma Naé Irizarry Negrón’s warmth and humor came through despite her pixelated appearance during most of the performance I saw, and an explosive monologue from Anthony Martinez-Briggs struck a delicate balance between frustration and concern without dipping into condescension.
The show’s tension builds on the quandary of success in the industry: rooting for a million-dollar breakthrough that Alex can rub in the face of her haters means measuring that achievement by toxic industry standards at odds with her personal fulfilment. Alex must face questions of ownership, vulnerability, and the inevitability of misogynistic backlash. Her decisions do not provide an easy lens for victory, which is not the same thing in private as it might seem in public.
D-Pad sometimes proves hard to watch because it feels so real. It’s hard to acknowledge that sometimes we can’t power through everything and come out victorious, especially when ridiculous, unattainable standards mean choosing between loving ourselves and the burning desire to prove critics wrong. But maybe that’s what we need more of: it’s exhausting to see the impossible tasks completed by protagonists in every other book, TV show, movie, and video game, especially during a year that has been exhausting, stressful, and draining for almost everyone. D-Pad reminds its audience to be kinder to ourselves, to others who support us, and like Marie Kondo says, to keep what sparks joy and let everything else go.
Know before you stream: D-Pad contains references to harassment (including doxxing, threats of physical violence, swatting, and suicide-baiting) that may be disturbing to some viewers.
Image description: The logo for the show D-Pad. It’s light blue and yellow, with the title in black letters next to a shape like a video-game controller. On the right, a Black woman with her fists up kicks toward the viewer.
What, When, Where
D-Pad. By Jeremy Gable, directed by Brey Ann Barret. Streaming through December 13, 2020, from Theatre Exile. www.theatreexile.org.