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Independency: Fez II: Sticks, Stones and Internet Drama

Column By Lisa Jonte on August 14, 2013

Oh, Internet, you crazy system of drama-creating tubes! Some days I just want to pinch your virtual cheeks, then send you to bed without any supper.

Thanks to your always-on, nothing-is-sacred, every-idiot-with-a-keyboard-is-now-a-journalist information gathering, added to the bad-day-with-no-one-to-talk-me-down immediacy of shooting one’s mouth off, the crash and burn of the game Fez II (not to mention its creator, Phil Fish) was not only predictable, it was kind of inevitable.

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Having read a whole host of commentary on the subject, not to mention having my eyes blistered by the angry mob, I have some thoughts of my own to add, if I may:

1.    Phil Fish is a…

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Fish is a human being, and one that has spent the last several years toiling away on a game that many people wanted to see.

Sadly, this is where I think Indy game designers (and independent content creators of all sort) really get the short end of the stick. Without the corporate machine to shield them from the masses, they’re exposed to any and all commentary that goes their way. The negative comments can be pretty bad; complaints about a finished product that doesn’t measure up, or about the time it takes to get that product out, but anyone creating content learns to expect that sort of thing. Where Indy creators really suffer from that lack of corporate shield is in the information department. Many Indy creators seem to think that they can just work hard, put out some occasional hype, and that’s enough. The problem is, that without a steady stream of information, (or personality masking the lack of new information) fans and detractors alike will fill in the empty spaces with an ever spiraling, ever personal, stream of supposition and assumption, often convincing themselves that this vacuum-filling bile is the same as fact.

And when the game creator (filmmaker, comics creator, author, etc…) makes the mistake of lashing out in public (and online is so very, very public) it only reinforces the bile and sets it spiraling ever faster.

2.    Marcus Beer is a…

Again, a human being. I don’t know the man, (it’s not like we’re all in some big game commentary/journalism club) and certainly I don’t agree with all his opinions, but I do respect the fact that he looks into the camera and gives those opinions to your (virtual) face. And alas, as much as I enjoy selections from the Big Book of Angry British Slang, I do think it’s a bit of a dick move to be hurling personal invective at Fish (or anyone.) If the game is crap, then critique the game and move on. Rarely is there a real, justifiable reason to call someone you don’t actually know names.

And if you must critique a game creator who, for example, doesn’t seem to be creating anything, then crush them with satire. It’s more effective, more entertaining, and never has to get personal. Save the ad hominem spleen venting for the bar, after a long day at a convention. At least then you can blame it on the booze.

Now, having said that, I will also say that being called a “wanker” and a “tosspot” is in no way justification for Fish’s petty invitation for Beer to “kill himself”. In the end, no one looks particularly good here.

3.    Walk a mile in their shoes.

On the Internet, it’s frighteningly easy to forget that your bad day doesn’t negate anyone else’s bad day, or that another’s scheduling snafu or personal opinion is not part of some grand conspiracy to piss you off. Unfortunately, in wild west that is the Internet, the tendency is to hurl invective first and ask questions later, if at all.

We’ve all done it. God knows I’ve done it. Everyone has personal garbage to deal with and everyone has a tipping point. The problem is that without the reality checks of body language, tone of voice and facial expression, it’s all too easy to assume that we, solo creatures facing a screen, are the only ones with a right to pitch a fit. We’re angry or offended and someone must pay. Whether or not the person we’ve chosen to extract that pound of flesh from is actually the right person, rarely enters our heads.

4.    My advice, for what it’s worth.

First, there’s little more I can say to those of us who write about games and the gaming industry than do your research, be honest, try to take the high road and don’t be an ass. And remember, having a platform from which to speak is not a license to say any hateful thing that comes into your head.

For those Indy types who would create those games that we write about, I have two things to say. First, stick to what you’re good at. Second, get someone else to do the rest.

Look, if you’re good at making games, make games. But if you are good at lonely grind of making games, chances are, you’re not going to be terribly good at dealing with the industry or the info machine surrounding games. But even if you are good at dealing with the rest of it, even if you’re gregarious as all get-out, DON’T DO IT. Hire someone, even if it’s only part time, to be your PR monkey and community manager. Eventually, those jobs will expand to more people, full-time, but until then, just get someone to act as your shield and reality check. Having a professional face that isn’t exhausted from 18 hour days of coding, or disheartened by tweeted accusations of hackery or ineptitude, will make a BIG difference in the success of your efforts.

In the end, the best advice I have for all of us, game creators, game commentators, and game players, is this:


What do you think?  Say so in the comments, but, you know, don’t be a dick about it.

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