Fighting gaming’s real monsters – Gamers
It’s a funny time to be what I’ll call a “serious video games hobbyist”. On the one hand, there’s an embarrassment of riches: the medium has not only become more mainstream, but rapid advances in high-speed internet availability and the democratization of the games development process has given game players access to more, better games and easier ways to share them with our friends.
But there are severe problems in gaming, and a major one is typified by a recent dust-up between two games industry figures over Twitter. Here’s the backstory.
Phil Fish (née Phillippe Poisson) was a bit of a rockstar game developer. Along with his company Polytron, Fish designed and created “Fez,” a fun and interesting puzzle-platform game initially released on the Xbox 360. “Fez” was featured in Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary that also covered indie developers, Edmund McMillen (“Super Meat Boy,” “The Binding of Isaac” and others) and Jonathan Blow (of “Braid” fame). Fish’s star kept rising with nearly universally-positive critical reaction to “Fez,” and it seemed almost inevitable that a sequel would be in the offing.
But Fish has been frequently criticized, not only for the bugs that “Fez” shipped with, but also for his rather to-the-point and sometimes brusque manner online. He’s said in no uncertain terms that he thinks modern Japanese games “just suck,” and that “gamers” are “the worst fucking people.”
Fish announced July 27 that he was cancelling development of “Fez II” after Marcus Beer, who makes a series of videos for GameTrailers under the handle “AnnoyedGamer,” called him a “hipster” and a “tosspot” in a recent episode of his webseries. Beer was annoyed with Fish because Fish as well as Blow had refused to comment on a rumor that the Xbox One would be an open indie development platform. After a lengthy Twitter spat with Beer, Fish announced he was cancelling the sequel to “Fez” and leaving the games industry to avoid further abuse.
A couple snap reactions are worth including here: One, Jim Sterling, of the Escapist:
And here’s John Bain/TotalBiscuit:
Sterling and Bain both touch on this a bit, but what bothers me most about Fish’s departure isn’t his decision to leave, but the sheer level of entitlement displayed by Beer and, in many cases, the games consumer base.
As Sterling says, given the level of abuse Fish received on a daily basis, it’s remarkable he stuck around as long as he did. And it’s not just mouthy, hirsute indie developers who are subject to this; big-budget AAA developers are, too. After a recent patch to “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” that rebalanced three in-game weapons, Treyarch’s design director David Vonderhaar received a slew of death threats and threats of violence over Twitter and other social media.
In his open letter urging Fish to remain in the games industry, Cliff Bleszinski – who helped create games like “Unreal,” “Jazz Jackrabbit” and the Gears of War series – talked briefly about his own extensive history of online abuse at the typing fingers of gamers.
If the “Fish Incident” (as I desperately hope it’s referred to in the future) does prompt games industry professionals, media figures, and gamers themselves to reevaluate their sense of entitlement to work in and benefit from a luxury industry, that’s great. But I hope it doesn’t stop at mere navel-gazing.
Online campaigns of abuse aren’t new, and it should give anybody pause to realize they’ve only sat up and taken notice when one has been directed against someone of Fish’s demographic characteristics, viz, white and male. But ask a woman. Ask someone of color. Ask someone who’s gay or lesbian or trans* or queer. Chances are, their day-to-day existence on social media is a landmine of death threats, rape threats, racial slurs, transphobic violence, or any other of a giant, horrifying array of hate speech designed specifically to make them shut up. As Jem Bloomfield writes, rape threats made by men against women online are a free-speech issue – they’re meant to prevent certain people from having it by putting a price on speaking publicly as a minority.
A constant accusation leveled against feminist gamer Anita Sarkeesian is that her “Tropes vs. Women” series of feminist critique on YouTube has closed comments. Comments, of course, were closed due to a coordinated online campaign against her during her Kickstarter campaign – before she’d even said anything – attempted to run her off the internet completely. This included the creation of a Flash game in which players could repeatedly punch and otherwise assault a photograph of Sarkeesian’s face. Many of her horde of current internet critics seem to have no issue with that.
In short, a bunch of people who look like me and like the same things as I do are making it difficult for people who don’t look like me to enjoy games and the connectivity of the internet. I think that’s bullshit and I don’t think silence is an acceptable way to respond to it. When people of color or women or QUILTBAG folks (as an aside, I find that acronym unfortunate – it should be something fierce, like PTERODACTYL) aren’t allowed into our games or online spaces, or when their critiques of the white male-dominated history of these spaces are actively campaigned against, we’re all worse off – hostages to the nerdrage of a resentful and potentially dangerous Reddit thread.
The good news is that change is inevitable, albeit too slow-moving. The games industry itself is moving faster than the trolls are. It’s almost embarrassing to think back now to how few options were available ten years ago for customizing your character’s sex or color, while now it’s usually expected. Women have always played games, but now they’re actively moving into the ad hoc fraternities of comic books and video games, and they’re proud of their love for these media.
Let’s give Phil Fish some credit – gamers can definitely be at least among the “worst fucking people.” But they don’t – we don’t – have to be. There’s no easy way to de-toxify the internet or gaming, but embracing and supporting the change as it comes is easily within our compass as reasonably decent human beings.
Report hate speech. Support positive practices in the industry by taking a moment to “thumbs up” or leave a positive comment on a piece of content that bucks the norm. Let developers know you appreciate their efforts to branch out.
On that first point? Shame people who try to scare you away. There are people out there who will help. I volunteer.
And for god’s sake, don’t buy games like this.