Right now few games feel more iconic than The Legend of Zelda. Rumors about animated films are swirling. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom emerged as one of the best games of the last five years. Nostalgia for Breath of the Wild is at an all-time high. Yet the franchise carries a different weight for filmmaker Jane M. Wagner and speed-runner Narcissa Wright. Wagner took over 3000 hours of Wright’s Twitch Streams to create Break the Game, a documentary about transphobia and the pressures of social media. Through the lens of Zelda, Wagner crafts an incredibly insightful film about the digital age.
Narcissa Wright broke into the public consciousness when they beat The Ocarina of Time in under nineteen minutes. Wright’s career as a speed-runner was legendary, as she set records for Paper Mario, Castlevania, and a series of Zelda entries. Exploiting the cracks in games has made speedrunning popular streaming content on Twitch, and Wright’s popularity ballooned. However, when she came out as Trans, many in the community turned against her. Throughout Break the Game, Wright returns to Twitch to set records in the latest Zelda entry while balancing a new relationship and anxiety from her social media following.
The power of Break the Game as a document of social anxiety becomes apparent early in the film. After a moment that inspires a panic attack, Wright tries to keep her stream going. Instead, she lays on her bed, exhausted from the stress. Worse yet, her audience grows, with many making fun of her because of her mental health. This begins a toxic habit of negative reinforcement from social media. As Wright attempts to recapture her popularity on the platform that gave her confidence, it instead promotes self-harm and negative self-talk. Her self-hatred and internalized transphobia spins out of control on multiple occasions. It’s a shocking sight to see laid bare. It truly only feels possible these moments are possible because of modern social media. It’s both a warning sign and a blessing so that help can reach the subject.
The struggles Wright faces are daunting on their own. Adding transphobia and homophobia from the community only makes things worse. This makes her struggle with social acceptance from a community that pushed her to self-harm even more challenging. As Wright delivers the authenticity expected within Twitch audiences, it clearly wears her down. Wagner’s ability to scour through thousands of hours of footage and pull these moments speaks to her eye.
Ultimately, Break the Game becomes so glued to its subject the pursuit of Zelda-based records falls away. It proves Wagner’s discipline in her film to let the story shift mid-stream. Her talent helps it survive the change, and Wagner’s argument about the power of social media on individual psyches comes centerstage. Even those who rewire our brains for social acceptance via online communities are bound to get our hearts broken.
It’s only when Wright finds a person to spend time with in person that she finds solace. Whether we want to admit it or not, a digital community cannot provide the same benefits offered by interpersonal relationships. Sometimes these relationships may start online, but when they do not transfer, it leaves us with an audience that may drop us at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, social media’s fickle and unforgiving world is too volatile to maintain long-term happiness.