I love being a gamer. It’s one of the few things in my life that I love to do and that I’m actually good at. But the games aren't the only reason I love being a gamer. There are millions of people just like me all across the globe who share this passion. Retro gamers, PC and console gamers, RPG lovers, shooter fanatics, MMO enthusiasts and live streamers: they all lend their voices to the gaming community at large. It’s this same community that I've come to appreciate through the dedicated and fervent gamers I've met on Twitter and the gaming blogs I read regularly. So why is it that gamers from the same community I laud are frequently seen as spoiled, mean-spirited, and full of vitriol by not only fellow gamers, but by the developers of the very games they love?
Phil Fish is perhaps the most polarizing figure in gaming, if not historically then most certainly within recent memory. While his highly successful indie game Fez drew near unanimous praise from critics and fans, the man behind the game seemed to attract nothing but controversy. First drawing ire for the constant delaying of Fez in 2010/11, things haven’t improved for Fish. He’s evolved from gifted developer and symbol of the indie game industry to Twitter rage-quitter to punchline on level with Half-Life 3. If you've followed the chronicles of Mr. Fish (especially on Twitter), then you know that he doesn't do himself any favors with his often brash way of communicating with people and his almost poetic way of feeding trolls. And while it may be easy to just shrug off Phil Fish as a developer who couldn't handle the pressure or who didn't appreciate what he had, I think we as a gaming community need to seriously consider our role in events such as these.
|Gamer entitlement is a real thing, but is it wrong? Is it a problem?|
Fish may be in the spotlight for lashing out at gamers and the industry at large, but he’s far from alone in his feelings. Indie company Puppy Games recently wrote on their blog about the PR quagmire that all game developers must muck through and its many pitfalls. The post talks a lot about how the gaming community is like a mob and how there’s very little companies can say that won’t excite that mob to turn on them. They go on to speak about the danger of trolls (no surprise here, especially if you’re Phil Fish), but the most telling passage is below (emphasis theirs):
“Firstly, gamers aren't very nice people. Yes, you. You are not a very nice person. Statistically speaking. By which I mean, independent game developers get more nasty shit from gamers than they get praise. Right now you are preparing to lecture me about how I talk to customers, or how I deserve to be broke and unsucessful [sic]. If you’re feeling particularly sanctimonious you’ll tell me you’re never going to buy any of our games again. If you’re especially spiteful you’ll also tell me that you were about to buy one of our games (for a dollar! ho ho), but now you’re not going to.
No matter. What does matter is you’re not allowed to point out when someone is just being a shithead to you because they can. Don’t do that. The internet hates you.”
Perhaps you could view the opinions of Phil Fish and Puppy Games as disgruntled game developers whining about how they are not praised enough, and maybe you’re right. But stories like these just keep popping up, and they’re simply the tamest of examples. Consider the case of Zoe Quinn, a game developer who has recently come under attack due to a bitter ex-boyfriend’s crusade to make her life a living hell. He rallied the darkest corners of 4chan to his cause and before you could bat an eyelash Ms. Quinn was receiving threatening messages and calls, had private photos of herself ripped and posted publicly, and people (most of whom identify themselves as gamers) spewing all sorts of vile things about her personal and sexual life online.
Let that sink in for a moment: a woman who has done nothing but create games for a living and break up with an ex-boyfriend is coming under attack from people who think she deserves this because…why? Because she’s a woman? Because she doesn't belong? Because she asked for it by working in a “man’s industry”? Because if she can’t handle it she needs to get out of the business? All of these reasons have been put forth by the attackers who think it’s okay to send death and rape threats to someone from behind the safety of their computer screen. It’s terrifying and angering all at the same time.
So why is it that people in the gaming community, my supposed colleagues in the world because of a shared hobby, feel it’s okay for them to personally attack someone? Is it okay to publicly humiliate another person simply because they’re “internet famous” or work for a gaming company? Do these people honestly believe they’re entitled to drag others down with them to the lowest depths of humanity because they didn't like their game, or don’t like that a woman is finding success in an industry “meant for men”? It’s simply disgusting and if at this point you aren't outraged that this happens ON A DAILY BASIS then please consider yourself part of the problem.
Look, I know that gamers are some of the most passionate people around. I myself defend gaming fervently to people who view it as a waste of time or a cause of society’s major issues. There’s often a thin line between fans being passionate and abusive, and when people believe that as a consumer or a member of the community they have the right to personally attack someone, online and/or in real life, then they've crossed that line. Let me make this perfectly clear: nobody, and I mean nobody, deserves to have their personal life a matter of public debate, and nobody deserves to be threatened for just doing their job or living their life as they please.
We as a gaming community have a lot of power, it’s true. We have buying power that can make or break smaller companies, and can determine the route larger companies take with their development of current and future gaming titles. But we should never use this power as an excuse to take another gamer, another human being, and make them feel unsafe because they changed a small aspect of a beloved game or simply don’t agree with you. Again, perhaps Phil Fish didn't do himself any favors when he fed the trolls, but maybe we played angry mob to his Frankenstein’s Monster and made him the person he is today. In any case, we certainly didn't help the matter. And maybe it’s true that Puppy Games isn't helping their case by addressing this elephant in the room, but guess what: we’re the ones who created the elephant and need to take responsibility. And in the case of Zoe Quinn, there are no excuses for the way people are treating her and her family. If we as a gaming community don’t start standing up for the victims and against the dregs of society who attack them, then the cycle will continue and people will stop caring what we think, and will only fear what we’ll potentially do.