Monday, 27 February 2012

The Case of Jennifer Hepler

As usual, leave for a little while and everything goes to shit.

Today and for what I believe will turn out to be a lion's share of the upcoming week I'm going to be talking about the recent events surrounding Jennifer Hepler, a writer from BioWare that has recently come under a lot of fire from the Internet. There's a lot here that can be said about the issues, the subsequent backlash, and the sides being taken -- unfortunately very little of it is positive -- that aside I think this is an opportunity to ask some questions that don't otherwise come-up, including one very odd one that I'll get to later this week.

For now though it would be prudent to lay the groundwork. In case Hepler's name doesn't hold any meaning for you let me start off by giving a brief list of what she's done at BioWare: most of her work has centered around the Dragon Age series, with her writing a lot of the Dwarf related material in the first game; in the sequel she also wrote the scripts for Anders, Bethany, Leandra, Elthina, Cullen, and Sebastian Vael. Now, whether people think that she's done a good or bad job with any of this writing is beside the point in this case, but what she has (and perhaps importantly what she hasn't) written for is going to come up later, so bare it in mind.

So then, what's the big deal? Did people hate her writing? Well, maybe, but that's not what this shitstorm started over. No, what ignited this recent cavalcade of misery is something that Hepler said quite some time ago in an interview for a no defunct blog:

>Q: What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

>A: Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games... I'm really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly -- I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory, and I can't read a game map to save my life.

>Q: If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

>A: A fast-forward button. Games almost always include a way to "button through" dialogue without paying attention, because they understand that some players don't enjoy listening to dialogue and they don't want to stop their fun.
Yet they persist in practically coming into your living room and forcing you to play through the combats even if you're a player who only enjoys the dialogue.

I'm not sure if that emphasis in bold was placed by the person that posted it or was present in the original interview itself, but those statements are what people are now taking issue with. The fact that Hepler doesn't enjoy video games and would like to be able to skip some of the content that she doesn't like in order to get to the content she does -- it just so happens that in this case the content she doesn't like is seemingly the gameplay itself -- went unnoticed for months if the time of posting on that forum thread is correct. Recently though the comments came to light again for whatever reason and people went absolutely ballistic.

Rants at her ranged from people making statements akin to "she's the cancer killing Dragon Age/BioWare/Gaming Itself" to the ever so classy ad hominem attacks; suffice to say that the words 'fat', 'dumb', and 'bitch' and varients thereof were thrown around an awful lot. There's more, more than I could ever physically or mentally be able to sift through but rest assured the amount is not small.

In order to look at this entire thing I'm going to be breaking it down into its component parts: there's Hepler's comments and her stance, as well as the position (as in her employment) that she's in, there are the ideas that she brought up and why they're controversial, and there's the people that surround this on both sides, whether to defend of decry. In looking at each with as level a head as I can manage I hope to make some sense of this utter mess. I realize that it's sort of only related to games in a tertiary way, but it's something that I think is important nonetheless, so here's hoping I don't screw the pooch.


  1. I actually agree, sorry overzealous manchildren of the internet. Because, honestly, sometimes there can be gameplay that's so egregiously ridiculous, either hard or boring or something I don't want to play through that I'd rather be able to ignore or bypass it if I just want to get to the next part of the plot. Why shouldn't it be an option?

  2. I feel bad for Hepler. But to address the topic at hand, on whether everyone in game creation should be crazy about games: no. Absolutely not. There's a certain bias loving games instills one with, a bias ensuring you don't look at your work as objectively as necessary. And not every component of a game need be created by a gamer.

    I'm not even sure the producer has to be in love with games. I can think of certain advantages to having a producer who isn't a gamer.


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