Be Excellent to Each Other
I've given over five years of my life to writing about video games. When I was little and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always responded "I want to be a game designer!" Later it turned out that I was terrible at learning how to code, I decided I'd write about them instead. So, when I say that I've wanted to work in this industry my entire life - that it has been my dream - please believe me. Now imagine how heart-crushing it is for me to say that I feel deeply disappointed and saddened to be a part of the video game industry after the events of this past week. I believe that Extra Life is one of the most positive video game communities out there and a real force for good in the video game industry, the wider video game community, and for people who have no relationship with video games whatsoever. That force for good is what I want to address right now, because I think that to remain silent on this issue would be a tacit acceptance of deplorable behavior.
Video game community, we have a problem.
The past seven days have been eye-opening for anyone who watches the game industry closely. I will not get into the nitty-gritty details of events because those aren't what I want to discuss. Essentially Zoe Quinn, the indie developer of Depression Quest, became the target of a campaign of hatred which began because of sordid accusations that she traded favors with Nathan Grayson, a writer at Kotaku, for favorable coverage; a claim that has since been refuted by Stephen Totilo, the Editor in Chief of Kotaku. However, simply because the accusations were made, harassment began to flow into Quinn's twitter feed and inbox. Video game "fans" sent her threats and insults. People who profess to love video games stole personal information and shared her home address and nude photos on the internet. There is more; the attack went on for days, but you begin to understand. In the face of all of that ugliness, Zoe Quinn stood her ground.
The more hopeful among you might think that this is where things end. You might assume that the mob of anger eventually accepted that a grown woman like Quinn could have a romantic relationship with someone in a field of work similar to her own. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Someone professing to be one of the leaders of both Anonymous and 4Chan, essentially declared a cyber war on Zoe Quinn and anyone of her professional acquaintances who might support her. Quinn's sites were hijacked and riddled with viruses. The contact information from her Skype was used to infiltrate other developer's personal computers as well. Notably, Phil Fish, the outspoken creator of Fez, was hacked. All of his personal information, as well as the information of his development company, Polytron, was spread across the internet. His site was hacked to better spread viruses and his information. It was a straightforward attempt to ruin him personally, professionally, and financially for the crime of being friends with Zoe Quinn and speaking up on her behalf on Twitter.
In this situation, as in most others, I find myself asking why. Why are people attacking and attempting to destroy the developers who make the things that they claim to love so much?
After giving it a fair amount of thought, I believe the answer is that there is no one reason that motivates so many people to lash out. Each person who is participating in these attacks does so because they think that it is a statement against what they see as corrupt video game journalism or because they didn't like Depression Quest or because they felt that what Quinn did in her private life as morally wrong. Or - or - or - or - or, there is no end to the mental gymnastics that go on to justify each individual saying something horrible from the cover of internet anonymity. One of the strangest parts of this whole ordeal is that many people simply believed Quinn's initial accuser and then assumed that Quinn and her developer friends were creating a conspiracy of victimization via staged hackings.
But those rationalizations only apply to Zoe Quinn's situation. Why does it seem like the gaming community more than, say, the community of people who are passionate about film, seem to be prone to this sort of outrage? We've seen it aimed at David Vonderhaar, Anita Sarkeesian, Jennifer Hepler, Adam Orth, and Stephen Toulouse. We've seen the video game community assure that EA was known as 'The Worst Company In America' for two years in a row. People at BioWare received death threats over the ending of Mass Effect 3. Heck, these are only the incidents we know about from people in the industry who are willing to discuss the topic. Some people are fearful about revealing their identities to talk about the harassment they experience because it can always get worse. I could keep listing examples, but this is all nothing new. It has been going on for years.
It is painfully obvious that this kind of behavior, this mass of vitriolic virtual hate, should be completely unacceptable. Yet the reactions I see from commentors and forum posters on various sites seem to be ones of apathy or of finding enjoyment in the spectacle, as if these attacks have nothing to do with the people standing on the sidelines. Many point to a 'vocal minority' as some sort of mysterious and elusive culprit behind these attacks, as if that somehow makes hundreds of personal attacks each day better. Who greets that vocal minority with silence and allows that kind of ugliness to fester? Others claim that there is some sort of formula where Developer X says Y and earns response Z, which makes developers the ones at fault for bringing the harassment upon themselves. However looking at the examples in the previous paragraph, very few made what could be considered incendiary statements. For crying out loud, David Vonderhaar changed the stats on a digital gun and received hundreds of threats. Was it really his fault for doing his job balancing Call of Duty? The aggressors are at fault in almost every case and yet the wider gaming community has come to accept this sort of behavior as par for the course. We either sit silent or reach for the popcorn bucket.
Personally, I've reached my limit break for sitting silent and accepting a mob mentality ruling the game industry.
The real issue, the one that exists underneath all of the hateful things that are being said, is that we have forgotten the importance of respect. Look no farther than YouTube comments or most comments sections at all for that matter. We don't know how to talk with each other without slinging insults at each other. We have forgotten that it is okay to dislike someone or be angry or bitter without lashing out. It is the difference between a reaction and a response. We have become an internet culture that finds it acceptable to merely react like an animal, rather than respond like a human being. A reaction is immediate and emotional, while a response is considerate and rational. The instant we resort to name calling, insults, or belittling we have give into reaction and lost the argument by virtue of having nothing else of value to say.
This is not what Extra Life is about.
Everything about Extra Life is for the kids. As a result of that core focus, I believe that Extra Life has one of the most loving, caring, and genuinely respectful communities in the gaming space. I know that we already ask all of you to give what you can to support Extra Life, but I'd like to ask one more thing from all of you. Take the values that you share as a community and demonstrate them in whatever other online groups in which you take part. Maybe this isn't the best solution, maybe it seems a bit trite or saccharine, but I think it is better than saying nothing at all or fighting hatred with more hate.
Let's just be excellent to each other.
Feature originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 08/22/14