It's been a week of introspection in the world of video game media thanks to the Phil Fish controversy in which the developer behind Fez decided enough was enough when it came to personal attacks against him and decided to abruptly cancel the recently announced Fez II and withdraw from the community. People have been talking about what this kind of thing means for the community and how we can change things to cut down on negative energy, death threats, and other garbage spewed by angry people in the cesspool that can be sections of social media. Rob Fahey at Games Industry has a great idea to minimize this sort of behavior: stop encouraging it.
[O]ne other thing that has been thrown into stark relief by Fish's departure is that certain parts of the media, far from trying to clamp down on abusive or toxic behaviour and comments, have actually been thriving off it. There's a new strain of games media "personality" which has emerged in recent years which openly thrives off the primordial slime of negativity and hatred that pollutes so many comment threads and forums around the Internet - a kind of games media "shock jock", a hugely negative, cynical personality who seems to have nothing good to say about anything, who channels the cynicism and nastiness of the darker corners of the gaming world into a slicker and more carefully packaged format. Marcus Beer, who trades as "AnnoyedGamer" and dropped the offending straw on the camel's back when he called Fish an "asshole" on a GameTrailers show, is one such character - there are quite a few others who are cut from the same cloth. The online personas these people present are calculated to justify and validate the kind of gamer who participates in flinging hateful abuse at public figures within the industry.
I recall, when I first started writing about games professionally, being absolutely stunned at the existence of some really cynical and unpleasant people in the games media - people who had simply been at these jobs for too long, had fallen out of love with games but had found themselves, presumably, with no marketable skills that would allow them to work elsewhere. It was an unsettling experience to go to events or travel abroad on press tours with people whose eyes glazed over if I talked about games I'd enjoyed recently, or who openly and with curious pride announced that they hadn't played a game in years. They were always a small minority, but they were generally not very pleasant people overall and they were always around. The Games Media Shock Jocks give the same impression - disgruntled men (for they are always men) who don't like games much and seem unhappy with their lot in life, but have found an outlet in cynically stoking the fires of discontent among angry, hate-spewing teens. Awful, soul-destroying work if you can get it.
I've never understood the popularity of these personalities who sit in front of the camera episode after episode and profanely rant about new games, old games, and everything in between. I've tried to understand what makes these shows entertaining, but I just can't bring myself to sit through it. There's enough anger and toxicity in society these days as it is without me inviting more of it into my world via a YouTube link. I like to think that I do my part to improve things by speaking well of games I enjoy. Sure, I have criticisms, but I never outright slam a game without backing up my opinion and I certainly never wish death, rape, or violence on someone who works in the business. Angry teens are going to be angry teens, sure, but that kind of behavior and personality should not be encouraged by the community's elders. People need to set a better example. Hold up things you like and explain why you like them. Show your favorite forum a fantastic game the other members may have missed. Set a positive example and stop encouraging the shock jocks to further their unneeded craft.
The more I think about it, the more gaming social media is like the river of slime flowing underneath New York City in Ghostbusters 2. As I'm sure you'll recall, the pink psychomagnotheric slime responds to and amplifies emotions. Feed it rage and it makes people near it angrier, but give it good vibes and it'll make a toaster dance. We're all swimming in that river of slime when we participate in gaming social media. The decision we need to make is whether or not we want to drown in that slime as it smothers us or use it to make the Statue of Liberty parade through Times Square. For more on this topic, join Blake Grundman and I as we cover this issue on Episode 101 of the Power Button podcast in which we discuss the negativity in the community and how it impacts developers and other public faces in the industry.