Let’s start with an understatement. You may have heard that I failed miserably in playing a demo of Cuphead, and the video I posted mocking myself has gone viral on the internet. My game crime: I was so bad at playing I was deemed unfit to be a game journalist. My Cuphead gameplay video from Gamescom blew up, inspired rage, and spurred discussions about the death of game journalism across Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter. I unintentionally created my own tweet storm. If you are angry about this video, I apologize to you.
It was a failure to communicate.
I’ve been vain enough to wish for a big audience for my stories or social posts. Now I have one, thanks to my penchant for oversharing. The only stories that I’ve written which have generated more traffic are a tips guide I wrote for Until Dawn, and a 7,000-word investigative story about the defects in the Xbox 360 game console. I only wish my two books on the Xbox business generated as much attention as the Cuphead story. It is a humbling experience.
The more people looked at my poor gameplay, which I myself labeled shameful, the angrier they got. I played the tutorial so ineptly — failing to read the onscreen instructions to jump and dash simultaneously — and then went on, failing to conquer a single level. I said it was hard, and the fans saw my gameplay and decided I was a poor judge of difficulty. By a ratio of more than 12-to-1, the ratings on the YouTube video are negative. It wasn’t just the troglodytes of the internet who hated it. Most people hated it.
I intended it to be funny, and I apologize that I so misread the tone. Not just the tone of the video and the story. I mentioned from the first sentence that I suck at Cuphead. As my colleague pointed out, I misread the climate in which it was received. I apologize that so many expected the best from me, and they got horrible gameplay. I apologize to my fellow game journalists, as I just made everybody’s lives tougher again. My own responses to my critics revealed my ignorance on a number of facts. In fact, platform games like Cuphead are not my specialty. Mike Minotti of GamesBeat plays them, and he will likely do the formal review of the game when it comes out on September 29.
But he wasn’t at Gamescom in Germany, and I was.
I came back with video that I thought was unusable, but my colleagues thought it would be funny, too. I didn’t make a weighty judgment about whether you should buy Cuphead or not. I wrote a slice-in-time preview. It was naively devoid of context that possibly could have headed off that anger. So many people didn’t realize that this wasn’t a serious review. I was messing around at first, and I wasn’t focused and serious until I had warmed up.
But there are things I will not apologize for. Stand by for more on that, if you’re willing to read more than 140 characters.
Another game journalist (and some say “shitlord”) saw my video. He clipped it to the 2.5 minutes of the most damning inept gameplay, and he posted it to his followers. He used me to condemn all game journalists, raising the smoldering issues around Gamergate and its focus on game journalism ethics. His post was political propaganda for the disenfranchised gamers, the sort who went from Gamergate to the alt-right and elected Donald Trump as president.
Before he got to it, my video had maybe 10,000 views. Afterward, the Gamergaters, or hardline reactionaries — or whatever we would like to call them — believed this narrative fit into their views about game journalists just fine. They called for my head. They said I should fuck myself. I should be fired. I had brain damage. I was retarded. I should kill myself. A couple of comments were racist. I’m not trying to overplay my victimhood, but you get the picture.
I despise how this was triggered by a viral post that represented the worst of fake news. This was my own little Black Mirror episode, where I was the target not because I was a victim, but because I had perpetrated a wrong against this mob. It was not unlike the heat that Google endured after firing James Damore, who wrote a controversial diversity memo.
Some critics were quite funny, like one who said I had discovered the Dark Souls of tutorials (Yep, even I know that Dark Souls is a hard game and comparing games to it has become a cliché). I could see how “pulling a Dean Takahashi” would be a joke about incompetence at games. Still, it was a bit hard to laugh, because they were so expert in their cruelty and so gleeful at my expense. It has made me rethink my own little putdowns, like how I enjoy dissing Mega Man, one of Minotti’s favorite games. Cruelty comes back to haunt you.
Last weekend, I started getting lots of mean tweets and comments on my video. One of them, Mr. Serious, called me out. I responded to him with something thoughtful, and said I wondered why the commenters were so mean. To my surprise, he apologized, and said it was the first such mean comment he had ever left. He said he looked up my bio and was jealous of my job, where I got paid to play games. I thanked him for my apology, as it restored my faith in humans on the internet.
Perhaps he just needed more context. I say I get paid to play games. But that’s a partial truth, and it causes so many assumptions to be made. I am foremost a business and technology writer who focuses on the game industry. I’ve written 14,882 stories in my 9.5 years at VentureBeat. That is 30 stories a week. But I do about a dozen or so game reviews per year. I go to a lot of preview events where I play, but most of my job is writing about game and tech companies. I have 21 years experience covering games, and 26 years covering technology. My own view is that a lot more people should be paid to play games.
My critic, by the way, has posted 196,000 tweets, or 13 times more than the stories I have written at VentureBeat. Between us, I’m not sure who has more time to actually play games. But I don’t have a lot, and I bemoan that fact. In a 15-hour work day, I’m lucky to get an hour of game time. But I don’t hate my job, as some critics have said. I’m not waiting to give my job to someone who is more eager and enthusiastic. I love this job. Not because I am a skillful or prolific gamer. Because I have fun. I live for little moments, like when Mike Morhaime, the CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, thanked me for 25 years of good coverage.
I don’t mind playing hard games now and then. Dark Souls wasn’t my type of game, but I had a tough time with Wolfenstein: The New Order, and it was joyful. I usually play Call of Duty games on a notch above the normal difficulty setting, because I like the challenge of playing some battles over and over. I have the most experience with shooters, simulations, strategy games, and quirky games. I do specialize in some games, like the Total War series, and I dabble in many others. That’s the only way I can do this job. I would like to get better at playing.
In all of my 45 years or so as a gamer — yep, since the original Pong came out — nobody ever denied that I was a proper and legitimate game fan. Until now. People who watch the Cuphead video assume that I could not possibly be a game fan. I lack the skill. I don’t deserve to be paid to play games. But during all of the time I have written about games, none of my bosses cared about exactly how good I was at playing. They required basic knowledge and competence, but not skill on an esports level.
You might argue — or even scream — that you’re not asking me to have pro-level gaming skills. Maybe you’re just disappointed because I failed to demonstrate competency comparable to a child or a pigeon when I did not follow the on-screen instructions to overcome the second platform in the tutorial. I agree … when it comes to that isolated example of my first time trying Cuphead. But that’s not the only example of me playing games on YouTube. You can see me jump over crates (really!) in Knack 2, operate a vehicle in The Crew 2, and navigate Egypt in Assassin’s Creed Origins. I’m not dropping 360noscopes in any of my footage, but all of these should give you confidence that I’ve seen a controller before and know how to use it … you put it in your mouth so you can hit all of the buttons at once with your teeth. (Ed’s note – If you want elite pro-level gameplay, PC gaming editor Jeff Grubb wants to talk to you about getting 14-kills in PUBG one time.)
This gets to one of my biggest fears about the video and its impact. I regularly release videos about how bad I am. My kids can regularly beat me on the couch as we play Mario Kart. I relish telling people that my kill-death ratio in Call of Duty is 1-to-2, meaning I get one kill for every two deaths of my own. I wear my failures in games as a badge of honor, in part because it signals that I am a fan of games and I enjoy them. I don’t want to take the humor out of games and make us afraid to admit when we suck at them. It has helped me bond with so many strangers over the years.
It took me 2.5 minutes to get through that tutorial. After a full 26 minutes, I still wasn’t done with the first level. What if it took an hour more to beat that level, and then I turned on the recording? No one would have called me out for being a bad gamer. And it would have been so dishonest, like many polished gameplay videos on YouTube. I have received many secret expressions of relief from other bad gamers, who admit that they are bad but aren’t comfortable saying that publicly. My critics have said I’m like an outsider, a game journalist, who doesn’t play games. I am looking down on them and disparaging their hobby. They want someone “authentic” instead.
Guess what? Unskillful gaming is authentic.
Here’s where my nonapology starts. Gamers need to stop being mean to those who aren’t skillful. They don’t need to put others down to elevate their own subculture. Games have gone viral. They’re more popular than ever, reaching 2 billion people around the world. They have become a $108 billion industry. It’s silly to look down on games.
That industry will grow bigger, and gamers will get better games, if we embrace the new gamers. We don’t need to dumb games down. We can have adjustable difficulty, so that the unskilled and skilled alike can play. We can make tutorials even easier than the one that I failed at so miserably.
No, I’m not blaming the developer for my own shortcomings. I respect the designers, even if I didn’t truly understand at first the games they’ve made. I would just like to make sure that they make their games for people who are new, or noobs, as well as hardcore fans. As Nolan Bushnell, cofounder of Atari, said, games should be easy to learn and hard to master. (Yes, I know Cuphead’s tutorial isn’t that hard to learn).
No, I’m not celebrating mediocrity, like the Antonio Salieri character in Amadeus. I’m arguing that all gamers, casual or hardcore, deserve recognition. We are not all going to be esports stars who rake in millions of dollars. But we’re going to be the masses of unskilled players who make the game companies, including the makers of Cuphead, as rich as they can possibly be.
I feel like I’m still inside the tweet storm, and it is hard to see beyond it. But in the middle of all of this, I’ve noticed kindnesses.
My fellow journalists have come to my defense. Minotti mentioned that I broke a story on Blizzard canceling Titan (even if he slightly misremembered it). Kat Bailey of US Gamer pointed out that I wrote that Xbox 360 defects story. Brian Fargo, the CEO of InXile and the personality in gaming that I have covered longer than anyone, said, “I don’t like them picking on our Dean!”
There are people who I haven’t talked to in years who have come to my defense. One fellow said he worked with me years ago. Another asked him if I sucked back then. The fellow replied, “He was always kind to me. …” That kind of thing keeps me going, because I do believe in the karma of kindness. My friend Luke Stapley in China started picking fights with people who were trashing me. Thanks to the friends who have my back.
I appreciate the thought, but I hope we can elevate this conversation beyond a civil war. To me, bringing back a little civility, tolerance, and kindness to gaming and the internet is what we so desperately need.
Updated at 12:30 p.m. September 8: Added a new paragraph with links to competent gameplay footage and to avoid implying everyone was asking for esports-level skill.