We Have to Be Better Than This

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

There is a remarkable beauty within the games we play, hidden by a simple process that nearly all of us take for granted. To reload from our last save would be an invaluable tool in our waking lives. Some would undoubtedly use it to win bets and lotteries, but most would simply correct those things we wish we could take back.

Just a few days ago now, one such incident exploded outward from a brief rant on Invisible Walls from Marcus Beer, directed at Phil Fish and Johnathan Blow. Regarding the recent news of self publishing from the Xbox One, Phil Fish, creator of Fez and Johnathan Blow, best known for Braid declined comment (to Game Informer specifically) on the matter, deciding instead to wait for more details to surface. 

The particular comments that Beer called out on Invisible Walls do not appear on Game Informer's site, but may stem from a few tweets from Johnathan Blow and Phil Fish alluding to the deluge of requests for comment he'd received. The rest is hearsay and history. Beer called Fish in particular a "toss-pot," "hipster," and a "fucking asshole." 

Fish responded with a long series of tweets directed at Beer, much in the fashion he has become known for, and at one point telling Beer to "compare your life with mine then kill yourself." After a slew of other comments from people defending Beer and attacking Fish, Phil announced "im done. FEZ II is cancelled. goodbye." Fish insisted that the cancellation was a culmination of many things, but it's hard not to feel like this incident was the final nail in the coffin.

I'm not writing this to give a picture of what happened, though. If that is the sole object of your desire, I point you to this detailed timeline on Gamefront. I'm here to say that we have to be better than this. 

This is no royal "we" either. I'm speaking to all the developers, journalists, bloggers and opinionists out there. No matter our visibility, all of us from players to prognosticators are responsible for the direction of this industry. We face a number of issues within the gaming journalism and news scene alone, and this latest mess is one more indication that we need to change the way we do our jobs.

Regardless of Beer's intentions or perceived status and role within the community, his behavior was more spikey than his usual fair. Beer was quick to insult and rant, exactly as he does on any given episode of Annoyed Gamer, without regard for the context of the comments made at the time. While now confirmed by Microsoft, Fish and Blow were being tapped for comment on something that was simply being reported as a rumour that another site had reported. There was no official news to comment on and in the end, they had every right to refuse official comment.

The spew of negative comments and threats is often easily dismissed as the work of trolls. But when the people that head our industry are allowed to behave like this, we begin to make trollism the norm. Messageboards and comment sections are adorned with this same behavior, and until we step up and show that we are above it, it isn't going to get any better.

The best advice I can give to other journalists and bloggers out there is to understand that the developers do not exist solely to entertain you. We need to get it into our heads that unbiased journalism is nigh impossible when writing or speaking about games. And while that high road is inaccessible, we can still approach every story freshly and with respect and logic. While we distance ourselves from the national punditry that has become the standard for broadcast news, it's important to keep those elements of classic journalism that suit our need so well. It doesn't make sense to chatter about unconfirmed news, especially if the only outcome is the ire of a talented developer. Using basic reasoning will get you far.

The rants, ragequits and name calling are just the tip of the iceberg here. We are plagued by hateful actions and speech throughout the industry. Consider one Kevin Dent, the head of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) which has a number of really great people under it's employ. Mr. Dent however, has a twitter feed filled with hurtful, sexist, hate filled rhetoric. This episode in particular is especially distasteful. Imagine our surprise when none other than Kevin Dent was - for some strange reason - quoted on the Xbox One news in a piece from Polygon; something Phil Fish was quick to pick up on and to his great credit, speak up about. Unfortunately, that story was all but ignored, especially after the episode of Invisible Walls went live.

Women journalists and developers are often particularly singled out in the industry, which despite the day and age is still seen as largely the domain of men. Often, women in attendance at conventions and expos are objectified, oogled and harassed. Many women gamers are seen as imposters. People who couldn't possibly have any interest in video games simply because of their anatomical features.

I don't want there to be another E3 like the one that Tina Amini described in an incredible piece earlier this year. To be openly assaulted and groped would be unacceptable anywhere, let lone at what is supposed to be a professional trade show and press expo.

Just writing this piece has opened my eyes to some of my own prejudices. In collating material and links for reference, I found allies in unlikely places and realized how colored by puffed up copy my perceptions of some developers and journalists was. Of all people, I would never have expected a letter as though provoking and poignant as this one from "Dude Huge" Cliff Blezinski to Phil Fish in the wake of FEZ II's cancellation. His advice is simple; don't respond in kind to those seeking a reaction from you, but use the anger they build so well to fuel your work.

We should all understand by now that the Internet provides us no real anonymity. The days of the Internet dickhead should be numbered, yet we persist in creating an atmosphere that says sexism, harassment and pointless petty bickering and threatening one another is acceptable. If we expect to change this perception, we have to work in together, but it has to start with the developers and press. It is our image that sets the norm for our audience.

We're at a crossroads here. We can continue to pretend that nothing is wrong with our behavior or the way we report on games and gaming culture; or we can actively push against that model. We are the hub of change. Six years later and Wil Wheaton still said it best; "Don't be a dick." Every abuse of power, every time we use hate for hits, every prejudiced action or remark lands us back at square one. Stop reloading the save, It's time we reached the next checkpoint.