It's not an easy thing.
Even before I went on hiatus last week I had already caught wind of this, and I knew that it was something that I was going to have to talk about. I just wasn't sure how I was going to talk about it. This isn't an easy subject to approach by any means, and it's only been made more difficult by the fact that it's so polarizing.
To those that may not know what I'm talking about, it's in regards to Phil Fish seemingly leaving the industry behind after having an argument with Marcus Beer that escalated to an angry number of twitter postings which finally culminated with Fish's announcement that Fez II had been cancelled and that he was bowing out.
It's no real secret that from the time that he first gained community attention, Fish has been somewhat of a notorious figure. Perhaps the best example of this came when he publicly slammed the state of Japanese game design during a Q&A at GDC right after Indie Game: The Movie had come out. It was something that I actually covered here at the time when I posed the question of whether people were in the right to walk away from Fez, which has been an incredibly well received game, over their concerns not with the game itself, but with the attitude of its creator.
Certainly the tirade which started with an incredibly blunt, “your games just suck” was something that raised a lot of eyebrows. Even though some that were in attendance agreed with him regarding the current state of the industry in Japan, putting it forward in such a non-constructive way wasn't a move that earned Fish a lot of support from people in general. It seemed that ever since he was spotlighted in Indie Game: The Movie that the volatile personality that he displayed there became somewhat of a calling card, or at least an expectation from those that dealt with him.
If you look at the argument that served as the beginning of the end, it's hard to call either man anything other than childish. Beer's comments (starting at roughly 2:50) consisted of insults like "tosspot", "fucking hipsters", and "wankers". It seems rather clear that Beer's fellow commentators are not comfortable with the attitude he's taken, but neither of them can really say anything at that point because he's already far too into it.
Fish's rebuttal didn't take any higher road, with his comments on Twitter included phrases like "media leeches", "inconsequential limey fuck", and statements like "it must be frustrating being such a small commentator, only being able to ejaculate vomit out of your mouth from the sidelines" and "unable to create beauty or add to the world in a meaningful way, you sit in judgement, masturbating." There is a note of hypocrisy as well, since another one of Fish's tweets says, "attacking my character and the quality of my work, nice job" which is something that he then proceeds to do, although he did admit that, "i don't believe in the high road."
The argument here isn't over whether Fish could conduct himself better, although I would argue that his volatility certainly had a hand to play in all of this. Rather, my problem is that so many people are just downright celebrating him leaving. No matter where I've gone, there have always been the same slew of comments that amount to the following thesis: "Phil Fish was an asshole and I'm glad he's gone. Screw the games he made." there are people treating this like a victory over some tyrant rather than one man having a very public breakdown and just not being able to handle it anymore.
I can understand disagreeing with someone about their stances, passionately, I've had some debates myself after all. Still, even before this (although since this is coming from Fish himself please consider his bias) the fact that people apparently told him that, "they're going to pirate my game because they dont like me. gamers are the worst fucking people."
I want to disagree with him. Lord how I want to disagree with him. And yet, I'm not sure I can. I know that a majority of gamers are decent, ordinary people, but more and more it seems like a very loud and very vocal minority can't simply just avoid people that they dislike. They go out of their way to antagonize, to rile, to insult and enrage. It seems that these people want to drive others, those they see as problematic or just annoying, completely out of the industry one way or the other. To them this is a victory.
To me, it is a loss, and it's also proof that indeed, some gamers are the worst fucking people.
And it is a loss. Whether or not you like Fish, whether or not you find his attitude wanting -- I know that I certainly do -- and whether or not you actually liked or even played Fez, there were a lot of people who did play Fez, and while they may have disagreed with how Fish handled himself, they still wanted to know what he had to say. One of those people was Jim Sterling, who did an impromptu Jimquisition about Fish last week after the news broke.
I mentioned it on Facebook when I posted the video, but I think that it's worth mentioning here too, I think that this particularly struck a nerve with Jim, because at the start of his career he was in the same boat, getting a lot of flak from a lot of people. At some point the public opinion on him changed and he grew to be accepted and liked a whole lot more. Whether that's because he toned down his personality a little, like he admits in the video, or if people just came to think that he was raising some good points after all, is something that's hard to determine. What is clear though is that he was in the same boat, and even though he isn't anymore, there are still plenty of people that seem to want nothing more than to see him gone.
What frightens me is the idea that this is the eventual fate of everyone that falls outside the curve of what people want and/or expect from those working within the industry. Bigger developers are lambasted for not caring, but indie devs are then nailed for not caring in the right ways or expressing themselves correctly. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of room for criticism, because if there wasn't then I wouldn't have written nearly as many things as I have for this blog. Still, I think that at a lot of points here it's not even criticism that's being levelled anymore, it's just avaricious garbage. When people are saying that they're glad you're leaving and that you cancelled your game, then what motivation would you ever have to come back?
And let's face it, at this point I really do doubt that Fish is ever going to come back. Because if he does, then what? All of the people that are celebrating his departure are just going to turn around and say "oh look, he was just being a prima donna, all bark and no bite. He needs us more than we need him" and a thousand or more other things. Basically, the people that are against Fish would just pick up right where they left off. So, all of those that wanted to see more stuff from him, that wanted a Fez II, are pretty much just out of luck.
To those that say, "Oh, well he just needs to man up and get a thicker skin," I think that what Jim said in his video has a very good point:
"This assertation [sic] that people like Phil Fish, and other outspoken developers who get a lot of shit need to have a thick skin. Ah, the fact he lasted as long as he did, with the amount of abuse that guy got, indicates he had a pretty thick skin to begin with.
"This is one thing people don't get, is when they insult you and they become the straw that broke the camel's back, and you snap at them and have a go at them or just defend yourself the first thing they'll say is that 'Oh, well I thought you had a thicker skin than that. You should learn to take criticism.' They said after insulting you and/or your family, and they don't realize that they're comment number 1000 of 1000 that week.
"A thick skin is just that: thick. It's not impervious, it's not invulnerable, and it's not infinite. It gets ground down, it gets worn away, it gets eroded. And it needs to heal, to grow back in time, and if you're getting a constant stream of abuse, then ... you know, you're going to snap. You're going to get sensitive, you're going to get raw. And it's not that you suddenly got all butthurt and that you're always like that, it's just that you got so much shit that, you know, someone said the wrong thing at the wrong time after your HP bar got depleted. And they landed the K.O., to put it in gamer terms."
No cliff, regardless of how rock-steady it is, can hold against the tide forever. Perhaps Fish was already an easy target, but did the fact that he was so really justify all the hatred, all the smug sort of posturing now that he's gone. There are a lot of "well, I told you so" comments going around now that Fish has bowed out, and I think that in a way that those are just as bad as the ones openly celebrating. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy from the beginning.
I cannot help but wonder how many people may be considering going into game design in the future, and how many of them, if or when they learned of this had deep second thoughts. To say that this is the fate of every small developer is of course untrue, but at the same time this community can be so entitled and so utterly relentless: one mistake is like a drop of blood in the water; it's enough to get you into really deep shit, so deep that you may not ever be able to get out of it again.
Perhaps it is that we, as a community, are sometimes just as responsible for the decrepit state of the gaming industry as the big boys are. We're not, on the whole, an unforgiving lot, but those that are more than make up for it. And when the rest of us just sit back and watch and say nothing, does that not make us complicit as well? I'm not asking that people fight Fish's or anyone else's battles for them, but can we not at least agree that some of this behaviour is beyond ridiculous?
It's great that gaming is more popular than ever, but popularity does not grant immunity from faults or a get-out-of-jail free card for them at any stretch of the imagination. If we're going to progress, then I think that the time needs to be taken to look at some of the very real, very pertinent problems with how things are conducted and how we conduct ourselves.
In the end, at least for now, Phil Fish is gone. Some are happy, others are sad, most are just noting it as a passing event that won't ultimately matter to them one way or the other. However, we have lost something, because we have lost what he could have and would have ultimately given to the community, whether those games would have been good, bad, or simply mediocre. Now, we may never know, and that is a loss, no matter what anyone else says.