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“Be nice to him, Dean.” Someone said that to me in a meeting this week. Something about my behavior suggested that I might not be nice all of the time, and so it was a good reminder to watch what I say because words matter. I need those reminders now and then, and so I am passing them along to gamers.
Be nice. Be kind.
“The joy of sharing has been driven from me.” Those are the words of Ron Gilbert, the director of the new Return to Monkey Island game, a title that fans have been waiting decades for. Gilbert said in a personal blog (since shut down) that he will no longer post about the game due to online abuse.
Echoing what my colleague Rachel Kaser said: This is why we can’t have nice things. I have no idea why abusers feel so entitled that they had to harangue a game developer who is working hard on reviving a game series that hasn’t had new content since 2009. Other developers like Neil Druckmann of Naughty Dog and Cory Barlog showed sympathy for Gilbert. They have had their share of abuse too.
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Barlog was on the defensive after a rumored release date announcement for God of War: Ragnarok came and went.
“Dear all,” Barlog said in a tweet, “if it were up to me I would share all the information when I know about it. But it is not up to me. So please, be patient. I promise things will be shared at the earliest possible moment they can be. We make games for you. We get to make games because of you.”
Barlog had to also remind players it was not OK to send “dick pics” to one of Sony’s game developers in hopes of getting information about the game’s release date. And low and behold, rumors of Ragnarok’s delay turned out to be untrue as Sony announced it would debut on November 13.
Journalists are often targets of that abuse these days. A Twitch streamer felt it was fine to criticize journalists for saying that Diablo Immortal, which had committed the sin of trying to make money in a mobile game, was fun. I’ll wager that the people who hate Diablo Immortal are outnumbered by those who think it is fun or the microtransactions are avoidable.
I’m lucky that I fly under the radar most of the time, as I’m not nearly as high profile as many of the targets of online abuse among journalists or game developers. I get flack for writing about NFT games and criticized as a corporate shill. I also get messages about my poor gaming skills on a near-daily basis from total strangers who remember my poor Cuphead gameplay.
They wonder why I’m still employed after my shameful gameplay of Cuphead’s tutorial and first level back in 2017. I put the video up because I thought it would be funny, but people were offended that I could be so bad and still get paid to be a game journalist. Their view of my incompetence was (somewhat) justified as I was only able to get through three levels of that game. They thought the same after I did a lousy job solving a puzzle in a Doom Eternal video. I felt that wasn’t fair, as I eventually went on to finish the full game. But in both cases, I was “ratiod.”
I received tens of thousands of comments during those times and a few death threats. People didn’t realize that the main part of my job wasn’t reviewing games. It was picking apart an earnings statement from a company like Roblox or Electronic Arts and telling people what it means. I had to warn my local police department that strangers didn’t like me and they might come after me or my family. During those times, I felt depressed, as if this abuse was never going to end. I learned it was pointless to try to argue with the entire internet. But in each case, it passed after 10 days or so. This too shall pass.
And many people spoke kindly to me while I was under fire. Those people restored my faith in humanity. I remembered those times when I saw an influencer getting pilloried recently for no good reason. I told her to hang in there, and it would pass. She thanked me.
I was reminded of this as Cuphead: The Last Delicious Course DLC debuted recently. I tried playing some of it while no one was watching at a demo event. It wasn’t very productive, and it gave me flashbacks, though Mike Minotti of GamesBeat beat it on my behalf.
When people bring up my Cuphead skills, I make a joke about it. When they insult me out of nowhere, I tell them to be kind. I’ve become a poster child for unskilled gameplay, and so it’s my job to remind people of the stories I’ve heard. People come to me and say they are too ashamed to share their gameplay on the internet because trolls would come after them. This makes me wonder how we will ever have a civilized metaverse with so much toxicity in the world.
And here’s the thing that I have to repeat: No one should be ashamed of their gameplay. When we start a game, we’re all bad. We’re all embarrassing, so we should not feel self-conscious about it. We beat our heads against a wall, get better, and celebrate it when we’re victorious. If we can’t beat it, we move on. We’re not all professional gamers, so we don’t have hide. I can become competent in a few games, and I’m not so bad at Call of Duty: Warzone. My teammates carry me a lot, but I’ve won 13 games over the past couple of years. While my record is not good, it’s better than 79% of all Warzone players, and my overall game score is better than 94% of Warzone players.
This doesn’t mean that I’m skillful. It means that the vast majority of us are bad. So don’t feel bad about it. And when you’re thinking about being clever on social media and figuring out a way to pile on some poor gamer or game developer, remember a real person is on the other side taking those punches, one after the other, and it is debilitating to receive so much hatred.
We are never entitled to be mean to developers who are putting their souls into their work. They may screw up sometimes and fail to fix bugs or delay their games. But we’re still in a pandemic, and the better way to react to people having a hard time is to acknowledge it and show them some empathy.
Be nice. Be kind. And be patient. That’s all.
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