Gone Fishin'

Phil Fish doing something controversial just seems to be one of those things that naturally and periodically happens. Every month we get a full moon, every year we get Christmas, and every now and then people get mad at Phil Fish being mad at something. In case you haven’t heard the story in full (if you have, feel free to skip ahead to the next section) this time round Fish has officially cancelled Fez II, citing the continual bashing he’s received as a game developer as the reason. He says that there isn’t one particular clash that has made him make this decision, but the thing that seems to have pushed him over the edge was his recent spat with GameTrailers’ Marcus “Annoyed Gamer” Beer and the series of interactions following that. You see, Game Informer recently reported that “Sources” had told them Microsoft would be reversing some of the Xbox One publication policies and allowing indie developers to self-publish on the console. The site tried to reach Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow for comment, as in the past the two have been very outspoken about the process of independent publication on Microsoft’s machines, but both told them “No” and took to Twitter to complain about the situation. You can see Fish’s comments here, here, and here, and Blow’s comments here, but the short version is that with some annoyance, both said that they saw little point in them commenting on rumours.

Phil Fish: Professional Rascal.

Fast forward a little, and on a new episode of GameTrailers’ show Invisible Walls, Marcus Beer reprimands both Blow and Fish for snubbing Game Informer, using terms like “Tosspot” and “Asshole” to describe Fish specifically. He stated that there’s nothing wrong with “Being an asshole”, but that it in rejecting the advances of the games press outlets, Fish and Blow were making a very poor business move, as they were threatening their chances to use those outlets to “Shill” their new games when the time came. This then spiralled into a Twitter argument between Beer and Fish that you can read here and here. Fish accused Beer of character assassination and telling outright non-truths, saying that he didn’t snub outlets, he just wanted them to wait until the actual news developed (the report was eventually confirmed by Microsoft), and he demanded an on-camera apology. He also threw some less professional remarks in Beer’s direction, including calling him a “fuckface”, a “limey fuck”, and declaring “Compare your life to mine and then kill yourself”. Beer responded to all of this by saying that Fish alienates people who communicate with him, that he would be happy to talk it out with him on camera, and that in the case of this breaking news story “A simple ‘no comment’ would have sufficed”. Some side-parties got involved, this argument went on for a little longer, and eventually Fish announced via both Twitter and the Polytron blog that Fez II was no more.

A Battle of Commentators

It’s a complicated situation and I think both parties acted pretty poorly, but let’s start with Beer. Beer was by far the more polite and rational side of the Twitter argument, but I think it needs to be highlighted that what he said on Invisible Walls was very questionable. His childish insults and condonement of himself and Fish being “assholes” were problematic for obvious reasons, but it was his statements about how Fish and Blow should have conducted their business with journalism outlets that I think harbour less obvious problems. I believe there is an issue with a lot of sites out there drawing traffic to themselves by essentially reporting non-news. By sticking “Rumour” or “Report” in front of articles, sites have for a long time been able to report dubious claims from sources that they can’t or won’t name, and profit from it. I think there’s real worth in reporting on some rumours or information from sources you can’t name, but they only deserve to be given so much attention if you can’t yet provide any evidence for them.

Now you could say that you trust Game Informer to not publish that type of piece unless they had solid evidence, but I also think it’s reasonable for a professional game developer to look at Game Informer’s “we heard from sources” claim and say that the story does not have enough substance to it to merit commenting on, and that doing so contributes to a bad practise where gaming sites rush to the rumour mill to print claims that they can’t properly back up. This is what Fish and Blow did and I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, while I don’t think Game Informer are some big bad guy in all of this, if they’d have just waited a little longer, they probably could have had a confirmed news story with input from Fish, Blow, or both. Again, it’s not as if those guys have exactly been hesitant about speaking on the issues of the Xbox and indie publication in the past. Beer might have called Game Informer’s piece a “developing story”, but I think the term “developing story” is a poor way to obscure that there actually was nothing within their news post to prove that any of what they were saying was true. Beer is also correct that Fish and Blow could have just said “No comment” and moved along, but while I think Fish went slightly overboard in exactly how rude he was about the topic, ultimately I believe he and Blow speaking out probably did more good than if they’d just shut up and said nothing.

I guess he's at least living up to his namesake.

Another problem wrapped up in this is that fans can become distrusting of gaming press outlets or developers if they suspect that they’re talking about what they are not because they want to, or because they think it’s good for their audience, but out of business interests that are hidden from outside parties. Beer says that both Blow and Fish should be doing exactly that and causing the press to do the same. I don’t know about you, but I think one thing that the world doesn’t need any more of is people who instead of being honest and open, are more marketers whose dialogues with others are actually thinly-veiled attempts towards financial gain. I also don’t think we need to see respected gaming websites advertising games in the form of news articles just to fulfil business partnerships.

Turning back to Fish himself, I’m not going to try to defend the large majority of what he’s said. Telling Beer to kill himself was a new low that made me lose a lot of respect for the guy, but among the insults and the empty attacks are a few genuinely insightful and emotional statements. Statements that if Fish had posted without all these acerbic strikes at others, might have come across as something that made a few people empathise with him. Here are a few quotes:

“You decided to personally insult me and my work. That causes me great pain.”

“I want you to know that you hurt me.”

“I don’t think you realise how much this shit hurts. What did I ever do to you?”

“I’m being attacked constantly. And I can’t fight back? Ever? Yeah that seems fair.”

“Consider how you’d react to this kind of shit if you were me. Consider it’s been going on for years now. You’d take the high road?”

Blowback

As much hurtful and ill-advised crap as Fish might have said to other people, he’s a human being, and when human beings lash out it’s usually because they’ve been hurt in some way. Just like any figure in the public eye, especially a controversial one, Fish has had to endure years of repeated verbal attacks from thousands of different strangers, people who’ve never met him and yet feel okay posting very offensive statements aimed at him, and it isn’t fair. The societal expectation seems to be that people are just allowed to throw hostile comments and serious insults at these public figures without any kind of personal consequences, and while I don’t condone Fish’s actions, his mortal sin ultimately seemed to be treating others the way people treated him.

People yell at man; man yells at people.

I find it interesting that when people call Fish all sorts of names or tell him to commit suicide that’s “Just the internet”, but when Fish shows the slightest bit of hostility in the other direction, he’s meant to be the arsehole of the industry. There’s a cognitive dissonance where people understand why some of the things that Fish says are so hurtful and offensive, but then mentally neglect the obvious conclusion that every time they say something similar directed at him, it’s also hurtful and offensive. Fish is in some ways the monster the gaming community created; he attacks others for a large part because they attack him. Some of us are being shown a little piece of ourselves in the mirror, and we don’t like it.

The Wrong Opinions

Heck, the attacks on many opinionated figures in gaming, including Fish, aren’t just about them throwing insults around, but them not having the opinion everyone wants them to. When he half-jokingly said “Fuck Japanese games”, there weren’t just people frustrated at how rude he was, there were plenty of people appalled that Fish wasn’t validating their opinions on Japanese games. The same applied when Fish lashed out at Nintendo’s consoles. Again, the way in which he chose to voice his grievance was not remotely okay, but the flood of people who felt that Fish was somehow socially obligated to like Nintendo products also didn’t represent something very helpful within the community.

We see this kind of mentality at work among gamers all the time. A reviewer doesn’t give a game the score fans want them to give it, and they’re out for his or her blood. Look at Jim Sterling for example. Think he comes over abrasive in what he says or has been unpleasant and ignorant to other people in the past? Fine. But there’s also a large group of people whose primary gripe with Sterling is that he gave games like Deadly Premonition and Assassin’s Creed II “the wrong scores”. Remember when Jeff worked back at Gamespot and “only” gave Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess an 8.8? Those kinds of arguments are still happening. It’s easy to forget because the smarter of us have largely managed to remove ourselves from the kinds of places where these arguments happen, but there are still people mad that reviewers “only” gave a game a 7, or an 8, or were one point off what the reader would have given them, or have any opinion at all that differs from what the reader thinks their opinion should be.

No caption here, I just love this shot of him.

There seems to be this a narrow-minded idea of what the subjective opinions on games are meant to be, and the opinions which fall outside of these patterns are seen as less valid, less worthy of attention, or just plain wrong. We should be embracing diverse perspectives and differences in opinion, not rejecting them, because we have so much to gain from them. We shouldn’t be telling Fish “Don’t say fuck Japanese games”; we should be telling Fish “Work out a more civil and constructive way to say fuck Japanese games”.

We also shouldn’t define people by a few bad quotes. Fish has made enough snappy and attacking comments by this point that I think it’s fair to say he is often off-putting and alienating to too many people, but there are also a lot of people who have judged Fish and people like him based on one or two bad things they’ve said. It’s a needlessly pessimistic way to look at people, and it doesn’t help anyone. There is an additional problem where the statements of public figures who are already infamous receive more scrutiny that those who are less disliked. Notice for example that everyone lashed out at Fish for the Japanese games comment, but that when Jonathan Blow agreed with and expanded on Fish’s point, or when Keiji Inafune commended Fish on his comment, those things didn’t provoke a fraction of the same outrage.

Demands

Then there’s an issue where people become outraged at developers because they’re not making exactly what they want or it’s not being made the way they want it. Gamer self-entitlement is not a myth; there were people everywhere who were attacking Fish purely because he wasn’t making the game they wanted fast enough. If you want to politely criticise him for that, that’s fair enough, good even, but creative professions are stressful enough for people without them being insulted for not bending to everyone’s personal whims (realistic or otherwise). This is not an isolated case. You can see the droves of people frothing-at-the-mouth furious at Day Z developer Dean Hall for daring to take some time off of working on the game. I could link you right now to a collection of comments from people who think a CoD designer’s children should be raped because they don’t like the new Black Ops II patch.

Cyberspace is a fickle mistress.

In fact any time anyone doesn’t like the game they’re playing or get the game they want, from Valve to Bioware, they feel the need to act like children about it. People feel that they are owed months or years of diligent and strenuous work by talented people purely because they want the end products, and it’s not fair. I know that there are many that in response to this would once again chorus that all this is “Just the internet”, but if you truly believe that, think about why it wasn’t “Just the internet” when Fish started insulting people.

Hypocrisy

Returning to that last quote from Fish’s Twitter rant, the “You’d take the high road?” one, I think many if not most of the people harassing Fish would actually be doing the same thing, if not something much worse, in his position. Not only are people angry at Fish for counter-attacking after they throw insults at him, but when he does say something insulting, people just insult him right back, failing to see the irony. You can go to his cancellation post right now and see not just the mass of users yelling at Fish whatever horrible things spring to mind, but also people repeating verbatim the insults Fish has made before and they’ve taken exception to. Surely anyone can see how hypocritical this is. Even in places with comparatively better discussion spaces, there are still a lot of people mocking and laughing at Fish in a way they definitely wouldn’t approve of if it were the other way around.

Amazingly, many still expect to be able simultaneously verbally abuse developers while demanding games from them. Some of the people attacking Fish obviously don’t care about Fez, but many others do. These kinds of attacks rarely have consequences for the end user, but just this once the community may be reaping what they’ve sewn. Perhaps Fish will change his mind or Polytron will continue development on Fez II without him, but personally I don’t think it would be too bad if the gaming community were shown that their actions can have negative impacts for more than just other people, because the problems in the community’s attitudes stretch far beyond the way people have acted towards Fish.

He's just a dude, y'know?

My “We shouldn’t offend other people” blogs have gone down very poorly in the past, but I mean what I’m saying. As much as I may disagree with people like Fish, or voice how they’ve acted like dicks to other people, I still have sympathy for him and those like him. Phil is an outspoken, honest guy, with an insight into the industry, and a true talent for what he does, and more importantly he’s a person like the rest of us. Week in and week out he has endured repeated online verbal abuse, and while things would obviously be going much better if both Fish and his detractors had learned to cool things, and if Fish had learned to ignore a lot of the unconstructive attacks out there, that’s not an excuse for people treating Fish and many other devs the way they’ve been treated. If we think the way Phil Fish acts is crappy then we need to act better than him, not worse. Thanks for reading.

6 Comments
6 Comments
Posted by Slag

Well I don't know why your "we shouldn't offend other people" blogs haven't gone well, but I thought you did an excellent job here.

I will say I think this problem has almost nothing to do with Video games or the videogame community and we should accept that any claims that it is. This is a social media problem. It affects almost every sub-community that I know of. From political groups, to Celebrity gossip,to music afficiandos, to hobbyists it's everybody.

It may be more noticeable in the gaming community given the youth/immaturity of many gamers, but this is hardly a unique problem to our hobby.

The more extreme comments Phil Fish got on his own website, and the Call of Duty guy got for some minor balance changes are just horribly wrong they are probably illegal. You say those kinds of things to somebody in person and it likely will not end well.

I'm not sure why people feel entitled to threaten violence to anyone they please or worse yet treat as something to be tolerated. I think people may misinterpret the first amendment to mean freedom from consequence of speech, which isn't the same as freedom of speech. Whatever the cause , it needs to stop on places like twitter before it gets bad enough that something really tragic happens and ultimately the government steps in to create some enforcement regulation we'll all regret. The mob mentality that sometimes takes over that service in particular gets really disturbing at times.

All I'm saying is a little consideration and politeness would make the internet a far far better place.

fwiw Marcus Beer did what I previously thought to be impossible, he made me sympathetic to Phil Fish.

Posted by Claude

They all seem like a bunch of pampas asses if you ask me. I'm important, I'm an artist, I'm a personality on the web. Fuck both of those bags. I play the games.
Fuck both of you. I pay. I play. You get to do your thing. Now go commingle and bitch all you want. Both are full of shit and over saturated with their own personalities.

Posted by Bollard

I have a lot of respect for Fish, both as a developer and for all the shit he has to go through. I can understand why he lashes out often - I can't say I wouldn't do the same given his position and the fact he has free will to say whatever he likes. Not being limited by having a publisher and such gives him the freedom to speak his mind - for better or for worse. Sure that go kill yourself line was a Futurama quote, but there have to be lines at some point and he crossed it again.

Despite all that, I really think that Beer proved he doesn't deserve a place in games journalism. Regardless of the quality of his actual work (which in my opinion, is pretty low - his entire act is pandering to an audience that I'd put on a level with YouTube commenters), he didn't act professionally at all, when it was his job to do so. Sure, Twitter is public, but Fish wasn't going out on a public show representing a company and calling people assholes. I don't understand how people like that get jobs.

Sadly though, considering the state of games media in general people like Beer will not only get through this with their career unscathed, but probably better off than they were before because of the increased recognition. I would love to see games media have more integrity some day.

Regardless of all that, well written piece Gamer_152. Thanks.

Edited by civid

Great blog, I especially loved your thoughts on gamers constant "demands" from game developers, like they fucking owe us anything and your point that loosing Fez II will hopefully give a lesson to some gamers is spot on.

Also in my mind a hipster is someone trying to fit in by being special, by trying to be someone he is not, and doing it somewhat poorly, a pretender, a phoony. Maybe I'm wrong on that, but I think that description is a lot more fitting on Marcus Beer (he was honest in the past, now he's just milking the fact that people like to watch assholes on the internet being ignorant)

Posted by DevourerOfTime

This is absolutely the best piece I've read about this past weekend. Thank you for this.

Posted by Gamer_152

@slag: I wouldn't say that this problem has nothing to do with the video game community, but I agree that the kind of behaviour we see here is not specific to the video game community. I'd go one further than saying this is a social media problem, and say that any time where you have a barrier or level of dehumanisation we see this problem. Social media is a big part of the issue, but even outside of social media it's clear that politicians, celebrities, any public figure are kind of treated like crap. So when you combine the fact that these are public figures that people don't know personally with the nature of the internet, it leads to really bad things. Now, whether the gaming community have this issue worse than other communities and groups is hard to gauge, but I think that is the case. It's not just that the problem is more noticeable, but I think various aspects of gaming culture and the gaming community come together to mean there is a larger issue than in many other communities.

I think a lot of this hostility comes from people either not getting what they want or seeing someone else as a dislikeable person and lashing out at them, but the whole freedom of speech is one of those concepts that could be a blog within itself. I'm really tired of people yelling "freedom of speech" to try and justify acting like asses over the internet, and at the same time proving that they don't really know what freedom of speech means. Even if people aren't acting this way themselves I think they condone it from others because it becomes normalised, people find it hard to relate being hurt by this kind of thing, it's easy to ignore, we rarely see the true consequences, etc. Of course we'll never get rid of verbal attacks from the internet entirely, but there are places like Twitter starting to take it more seriously, and overall I think any site that wants to be half-respected needs to step it up when it comes moderation. Thanks for the comment.

@chavtheworld: Thanks. I think what Fish did was much worse than what Beer did, but like I said, neither of them acted professionally. I'm not going to say Beer doesn't deserve a place in journalism, but it's pretty crappy to know that GameTrailers probably aren't going to bat an eyelid over this kind of thing. You shouldn't be able to be a professional writer and presenter and just get to act like an arse to people free of consequence, and I think his "So edgy" style of journalism is representative of the fact that a lot of video game community are still pretty immature.

@civid: To be fair to Beer he did retract the bit about Blow and Fish being "hipsters", but the term has been thrown around so much at this point that it feels kind of meaningless. If people are mad at Fish because they think he's arrogant and aggressive, okay, I get that, but people also use "hipster" to attack Fish and people like him for wearing certain kinds of glasses and making indie games, it's silly. If Fez II remains cancelled I don't see gamers really seeing the error of their ways in any serious sense, but I think the message it sends might be a step in the right direction. Thanks for your comment.

@devoureroftime: Thanks, I appreciate that a lot.

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