Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Our Own Worst Enemies

 Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.

I discussed yesterday that the comments that Jennifer Hepler made about gaming were taken a bit out of context, but that even if that wasn't the case that I could certainly understand why people might be upset with someone that they feel doesn't have the proper amount of passion for the medium that they feel is necessary. At the same time though, nothing condones the way that a good deal of those displeased with Hepler's statements have chosen to make themselves heard by: attacks on her appearance, her religion, her gender, calls for her to be fired ... or worse. Is this really the way that we honestly believe that we should be conducting ourselves?

There are two sides to every story, and although I'm quite sympathetic towards Hepler I have to admit that some of the comments she made during the brief period when she had a Twitter account probably didn't help matters. As Jim Sterling comments in his thoughts on the matter:

"Poor Hepler did not exactly help her case, publicly stating: "I just figure they're jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can't get either." Unfortunately, that opened the doors for even more spiteful commentary, because everybody knows you can't defend yourself on the Internet -- especially if you mention that you have a vagina."

I can't really defend a comment like that. I can understand that Hepler probably felt a great deal of catharsis after writing it, but that doesn't mean it was the right thing to do. However I think that the question that really needs to be ask here is thus: could Hepler really have said or done anything in defense of her stance that wouldn't have resulted in more of the same? To be frank I think the answer is no; it's a depressing conclusion to reach to be sure, but hardly a shocking one from where I'm standing. I fully believe that Hepler could have been the most eloquent, civil, and tactful woman on the face of the Earth and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference. In the minds of the people that attack her she's already been deemed guilty, and nothing she can say or do short of admitting that they are correct, resigning, then likely throwing herself off a cliff would have assuaged them. Certainly she could have not responded at all, let the company issue a PR statement or something of the sort, but I doubt that would have been any more effective in this case to be honest.

If nothing else gamers are often called passionate about the franchises and companies that they enjoy. This Gamespot article outlines some of the reasoning behind this better than I likely could. Passion isn't in and of itself a bad thing, but when that passion becomes zealotry and gets twisted to the same ends that we've seen in these cases it basically paints the entire community including those that want to have a reasonable discussion about things as insane, belligerent assholes. Discourse is a way to make things better, but it's not what the people tossing around these slurs want, they want to feel vindicated, they want to target someone they believe is deserving of scorn, and of course to them the mentality of "with us or against us" is often the one leading the charge.

With that kind of image looming in the minds of developers can they honestly be blamed for becoming more and more secularized? Studios probably want to listen to fans, but when there's so few actual points to be made in an ocean of banal whining and outright hostility there must come a point where even the most steadfast throw their hands up and proclaim the ordeal to no longer be worth the headache. Everyone suffers for this, yet how can it change?

And when I say everyone I mean everyone. Even the original attackers become the attacked. I look at the case of one copilotdork. The Destructoid article I linked above mentions him as one of the people getting on Hepler's case. What's special about him is that eventually BioWare GM Aaron Flynn called him a 'fucking moron' and of course copilotdork and a bunch of others soon rallied against this as evidence that BioWare doesn't care about its customers. Now whether any party in this was in the right or wrong it's nonetheless become a nightmare for copilotdork as he's now received threats from people who apparently know where he lives and the names of his family. This is an example of one of the doubtless many sub-arguments and fights that broke out over this, and now here is a man who is having his family threatened over saying dumb shit on the Internet. Does he deserve as such? Absolutely not. Certainly he and many others made rude comments, but no one deserves to have their family threatened over such a thing, whether it be Hepler, or the ones that agree OR disagree with her or anyone else in this whole affair.

It shakes me though, it honestly does. Are we as a collective seemingly little better than a school of piranhas, going insane when we catch the scent of blood in the water? We can come together for great things, the Double Fine Kickstarter proves as much. It seems just as often though that it's this kind of miserable spectacle that draws the attention of both us and the world around us, seemingly proving that gamers are still the emotionally stunned over privileged  that deserve scorn for their hobby of choice. Those that would decry us already have enough ammo (mostly crap they make up, but still) so do we really need to give them actual points like this?

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