“FEZ II is cancelled,” said Fish in a statement on Polytron’s website. "i am done.i take the money and i run. this is as much as i can stomach. this is isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. you win.”
For the record, I don’t believe him, even though I’ve “confirmed” the news with Fish myself over email. I suspect we will, at some point, see (and play) the sequel to Fez, but this weekend’s events provide an opportunity for Fish to leave the spotlight and protect his sanity from the world and, well, himself. Fish speaks too passionately about games to leave them behind. That isn’t some subtle hint, either. It’s my gut feeling.
But how did we get here? It begins with the latest episode of Invisible Walls, a Game Trailers podcast, featuring a lengthy rant from Marcus Beer, a longtime member of the industry now commentating under the named “Annoyed Gamer.” The podcast was discussing the recent turn of events regarding Xbox One self-publishing, and how both Fish and Braid designer Jonathan Blow used Twitter to criticize the press for running towards both of them for quotes about what was, then, still a rumor coming from Game Informer about the news. A rumor with some legitimacy? Sure, and while it eventually proved true, Blow was upset reporters were asking for commentary without more information (for example, the revenue share ratio) and Fish lamented the press seeking a quote before everything was confirmed. Fish's divisive nature is easy traffic.
“But, of course, the press, wanting to get reactions, they went to a couple of indie developers. In this case, Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish, because those guys are the self-styled kings of the indie genre. They’ve been on Indie Game: The Movie, and they’ll turn up and quote for anything and everyone. And Ms. Fish and Blow, or BlowFish as I’m going to call the two them right, because while they may be moderately tasty, they’re also kind of lethal. [They] decided to go bananas and bitch and moan to Game Informer, in particular about “How dare you, how dare you ask us questions about this story! I’m sick of you guys wanting my opinion on this story!” Both of them, both bitching away. And I’ve just got a little message for the BlowFish. Gents, you are the guys who did Indie Games: The Movie, and some of you looked relatively normal in it, one of you looked like a total tosspot in it. You can’t have it both ways. You’re successful game designers, you’re indie game designers--hurrah, good for you, you fucking hipsters. Let’s get something out of the way. If you are successful and you want people to promote your games, and you go to the press and give them quotes for anything that pertains to your shilling your next title, when the press, then, come to you and say “this is something that’s pertinent to the indie scene, let’s talk to BlowFish because BlowFish are successful and they are, you know, supposedly these pioneers” don’t get fucking snicky about it, alright? Jesus, you should be grateful that these guys consider what you say something of use.. Me? I think the both of you are a pair of tosspots. You may make good games. Well, Blow makes...Blow makes a good game. Fez, I’m just not into at all. I’m just not into it. I respect people that do [enjoy it]. My own personal opinion, though? Having seen these wankers over and over again, bitch and moan--Phil Fish in particular, though.
Other Commentator: He does come across as whiny.
Beer: Whiny? He’s a fucking asshole most of the time. I’m an asshole, but that’s what I am, that’s what I do. I suck it up. But what I’m saying is that if you guys want the promotion the next time around on your Fez 2 or...what’s the follow-up to Braid, The Witless? Witless? Whoa! Yeah, c’mon. I would like to say to every outlet who got dismissed by BlowFish, fuck ‘em. Next time they have something to shill, say “yeah, not so much interested.” It is a two-way street, it’s a symbiotic relationship. You guys are out there, you have to suck it up.”
Game developers do not owe us anything, and I don’t owe them anything. It’s archaic to view the press-developer relationship as strictly symbiotic, and is indicative of an old view of the press-developer relationship. Do I often rely on developers to open up and allow me to tell their stories? Yes, but it’s an optional dance we do the tango to. No one is indebted to the other once that exchange has run its course, and that's the end of the road. If you're on a writer/journalist making this argument, that's really bad.
Fish caught wind of Beer’s comments, and exploded on Twitter.
("Compare your life to mine and then kill yourself" is a Futurama quote, but that's a bit besides the point.)
That’s just a taste. Beer eventually responded, and offered Fish an opportunity to discuss his commentary on camera, but Fish wasn’t interested. Over the next hour or so, Fish continued to vocally express his displeasure, speaking more broadly about his feelings about people slinging crap his way, and the toll it takes on psyche. It ended with Fez II’s abrupt cancellation, despite having been announced only recently.
I spent the weekend largely disconnected from the Internet. Like Fish, I’m a public figure, someone who puts themselves out there and deals with what comes back--the good and the bad. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve grown a thick enough skin to deal with rape threats targeted at my wife simply because I’ve had the audacity to talk about sexism in video games. Nor am I proud of being able to withstand pot shots from anonymous jerks about my deceased father. These are not traits that will ever be mentioned in my resume.
We all handle criticism, especially the vitriolic kind, differently. I stopped responding to jerks, and ask people to come in my direction through email, private messages, or questions over Tumblr. Over time, it's produced excellent results, but not pulling the trigger and snarking back at a jerk is hard. Vocal game designer Hideki Kamiya tells people to fuck off. Fish responded by yelling, stirring the pot, and unironically latching himself to a photo of known troller (he probably would have hated that term) and comedian Andy Kaufman.
Some of his comments are indefensible, and some, I suspect, he wishes he could take back.
But I know the good of the Internet, too, and I wish Fish had, either, seen more of it or reminded himself of what it produces. I’ve had my moments with the Giant Bomb community, but so much has been tremendous.
I mean, look at this stuff.
When my father passed, the Giant Bomb community started a thread with well wishes about my work and anonymous comments about my father, a person none of them had ever met. I kept that thread bookmarked on my phone during the first week of my father’s passing, and would often head into the bathroom, page through the thread, not really reading anything, and cry. It was a showing of genuine compassion by a group of people who only knew me from what I put out there. When I needed them, they had my back.
And that's to say nothing of how we pulled together for during the passing of the irreplaceable Ryan Davis.
Whenever someone gets under my skin, I reach into my bag. Tucked into a pocket are a series of letters, private thoughts from people who have reached out over the years, thanking me for one thing or another that I've been involved in. Most of them bring a tear to my eye, and each reminds me why I'm still doing this.
99% of the Internet has been nothing but nice to me, even when it’s a backhanded compliment. It’s easy to focus on that 1%. That 1% is vile, hateful, spiteful, jealous, mean, and would likely be as venomous in a public place as they are with a badge of anonymity. Many are probably teenagers who will grow up and learn to regret their ignorant actions, but some of them aren’t, and those are the people who scare me the most. But I can’t spend my day worrying about the 1%. I wake up every day trying to make the other 99% happy.
I hope I’m doing an okay job of that.