EntertainmentThe dark side of online stardom: Narcissa Wright's battle for mental well-being

The dark side of online stardom: Narcissa Wright's battle for mental well-being

Narcissa Wright is the heroine of the documentary "Break the Game" by Jane M. Wagner.
Narcissa Wright is the heroine of the documentary "Break the Game" by Jane M. Wagner.
Images source: © Youtube

1:14 PM EST, November 9, 2023

How feasible is it to maintain mental health while living for internet fame? The case of Narcissa Wright, a former Twitch star, proves that it can be extremely challenging, especially when part of a minority group.

In 2014, Narcissa (known then as Cosmo) set a world speedrunning record, i.e., finishing a video game as quickly as possible. Among other games, she played "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," typically a full-day venture. By employing various tricks and game glitches, she finished the task in 18 minutes and 10 seconds. This feat was followed by over 18,000 viewers on Twitch, the streaming platform, at the time.

Narcissa's fame wasn't just limited to the internet. She was regularly invited to speedrunning tournaments such as the Nintendo World Championships and often participated in offline gameplay with large groups. However, everything halted when she disclosed her transgender identity. The backlash and hate were immense, and overnight, thousands of followers chose to ignore the gaming star.

Filmmaker Jane M. Wagner has been closely observing Narcissa for six years after her coming out and eventual return to Twitch. Some people still refer to Narcissa by her dead name (her former name) in chat discussions. Each time, she corrects them, clarifying that she no longer wants to be addressed as such. Narcissa's ambition is to regain her lost fame, break another game record, and earn respect from the gaming community. "I would love to feel again that the universe loves me," she openly admits while confessing her need for attention.

The situation is further complicated given that Narcissa, a victim of online harassment and death threats, suffers from various mental health and anxiety disorders. Watching the documentary "Breaking the Game," it's heart-wrenching to witness her distress streamed live.

Fortunately, she has a handful of supportive strangers online who, during concerning moments, have managed to persuade their idol to seek help. This shift, a recent trend online, signifies a growing awareness of mental health, which seems to be breaking the wall of virtual judgement. Sadly, most still prefer watching dramas unfold in the form of live mental breakdowns.

The director chose a raw form for the film, predominantly comprising Narcissa's stream recordings and archival footage from her successful days at speedrunning championships. Few scenes depict the protagonist offline. Showing more of her life outside streaming could unveil a fresh perspective. Despite Narcissa's intense focus on her virtual life, even streaming while asleep, snippets showing her relationship with her parents raise questions and leave us wondering about her acceptance in her immediate environment.

Narcissa Wirght returned to Twitch.
Narcissa Wirght returned to Twitch.© Press materials

Ultimately, the film's protagonist faces a crucial question: is her health or internet popularity more important to her? Although the answer might seem obvious, it took Narcissa several years to reach it. It would have taken even longer if not for a certain virtual relationship reflecting in her real life. "Breaking the Game" is a chilling watch, a cautionary tale for not only the gaming community and their close ones but for all those seeking acceptance online.

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