Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Trolls Devour Fish

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2013

Crab mentality. It’s a thing. Individually, crabs could escape an open-top bucket. But if you add other crabs, and they’ll keep pulling each other down as soon as one rises, so that none can escape. Now, it drives me crazy when people brush off criticism by saying, “Oh, they’re just jealous.” Nine times out of ten, that’s nothing but B.S. However, there really are folks who feel they can best build themselves up by dragging others down.

Then there are those with an overdeveloped schadenfreude, who take pleasure in suffering of others. Like the bored girls in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, who used accusations of witchcraft to get at those they had feuds with or, eventually, anybody they weren’t fond of.  The bullies.

And then there are people whose world doesn’t seem to extend much further than five feet from their nose. The kind of people who not only voted for, but campaigned for EA to be voted the worst company in America. Twice. Seriously, guys? I mean, I will rant and rave about EAs practices all day, but does always-on DRM even compare to the way that some of these companies have ruined peoples’ lives and pillaged the economy?

These sorts of problems have always existed, but the immediacy and anonymity of the Internet has made it worse.

I’m not the kind of loudmouth Phil Fish is. This is probably one of many reasons why he’s sold something like 100x more copies of his game, Fez, than I have sold of mine. It’s also why I rarely see the kind of venom directed at me that he has had to put up with daily.  Being outspoken and self-promoting garners attention, and not always of the good kind.

This weekend, Phil Fish decided he’d had enough of the abuse, canceled development of Fez II, and has ostensibly left game development for good. The haters claimed their prize. A crippling loss to indie games? No, probably not. Was Fish guiltless in this? Also no, probably not. The guy loved attention, and made a number of controversial statements and actions that multiplied his publicity. And it worked to his benefit much of the time. The worst thing you can be as an indie is uninteresting. Fish is anything but.

But the negative aspects – the death threats, the constant hate, the verbal attacks – got to be too much. So he quit. Maybe forever, maybe just long enough for the hate to die down so he can settle back into just making games.

Sadly, this isn’t just about Phil Fish. It’s a problem throughout the industry. In fact, it’s a problem across all kinds of entertainment media. And I really, truly do not understand it.

The Penny Arcade Report talks about this disturbing phenomena at some length.

And yeah, it’s disturbing. It’s creepy. And it is wrong. Straight-up: it’s evil, and it’s wrong.

The only thing that’s gonna stop it is social stigma. When the trolls are shunned – when they no longer get the attention or the approval they seek by attacking whatever seems to be under the spotlight – then maybe things will change. Not entirely, but they may be better.

The weird thing is that the best tool to facilitate this may be the vector by which most of these attacks are delivered: transparency into the development process, and direct contact with the game creators.  For normal people – this is a great thing. If you are interested, there’s a face and personality to the game, there’s some insight into the design process, and while you may not agree with everything that gets done, you may at least understand. And if you don’t care, you don’t care. You may like the game and not care one bit about what went into making it, and that’s fine. You may enjoy the stories behind the game, but not care for the game itself… and that’s fine. You may not care about any of it… and that’s fine too. And for 95%+ of the folks out there, it works, life is good, and we get better games out of it (IMO) due to the two-way communication that takes place.

And I don’t have a problem with open, constructive criticism. That’s fine, too. That’s how things can improve. That’s the reason Microsoft backed off on some of their extremely shortsighted policies for new and upcoming products recently. There’s definitely a time and place for honest, passionate criticism. But there’s a wide gulf between criticism and out-and-out attack. There should be some boundaries ruthlessly enforced beyond which even passionate protests should never go.

And it goes both ways! Seriously. Just ‘cuz you are the creator of a game, or just because you’ve got a lot more followers on Twitter, or are the admin on some forum, does not give you some sort of divine right to be a jackass. Treat everybody with respect. Sure, you can ban / block / ignore those within your field of influence if they are perpetual trolls. But the respect needs to go both ways. If nothing else, because you are dealing with human beings (at least we assume so, though there are a minority that refuse to act like one). For another – these people may be ignorant of some of the aspect of game development or game fandom or whatnot, but that does not automatically make their opinion inferior to your own. Treat everybody like they might be your personal hero going incognito until they’ve proven themselves unworthy of such. And at such point, the best way to fight a troll is not to engage them, but to deprive them of oxygen (attention).

I don’t take any joy in seeing Fish’s retreat from online pressure. I really don’t. If anything, I worry that this will embolden the trolls, the bullies. We really don’t need this. We don’t need game developers hiding behind PR walls and ignoring all feedback from their audience because each hateful comment hurts enough to nullify twenty notes of praise. We don’t need toxic communities where those attempting rational discussion get threatened and banned because they are resisting the mob mentality. We don’t need virtual lynchings of developers that result in them losing their jobs over something stupid they said on Twitter. I say stupid things on Twitter all the time, so I’m really sensitive to this!

As communities of gamers, we need to have some basic empathy and respect for each other, and for the game developers. Why shouldn’t we? We have mutual love of these games. Sure, we have conflicting opinions, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to argue those opinions with each other, because we’re so passionate about these things! That’s great! But we need to do better as a community, and be able to do this without devolving into nothing more than a bucket full of crabs. Because ultimately it is all of us who are being dragged down to the bottom.

Update – GameZone.com: I’m Deeply Worried About Fez Creator Phil Fish, and You Should Be, Too.

UpdateCliffy B’s Open Letter to Phil Fish (Dynamite Fishing) (Some great advice on how to deal with the trolls).


Filed Under: Biz, Geek Life - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – it was pointed out to me that in its own way, this article is feeding the trolls. D’oh! Hey, let’s just be nice and respectful to each other, ‘K? Fortunately, that’s rarely a problem in this particular corner of the Internet.

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    For having received my tiny bit of hate/threats/bashing for running a small MMO (for some reason these 2 words sound strange together…) I’m fully aware how rough it can get to just try to provide entertainment to people.

    However … You either act like the adult … or pile on it … It’s easy and cheap to say but that’s the only thing you can control; How you behave yourself.

    I feel no joy/sadness over the Fish thing. I just think it’s ridiculous the guy couldn’t see how things were constantly escalating and instead of trying to find the breaks he just kept pushing the gas pedal. It doesn’t excuse anyone’s behavior but paint me unimpressed by the whole thing.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Fortunately, I’ve only received a tiny bit on my end, too. I think it’s a combination of a relatively small audience (D’oh!), and having a relatively mature audience that knows how to act like an adult (cool!).

    I do have sadness over it. Yeah, my impression of Fish from IGTM and from what he’s done / said over the years is that he’s got some growing up to do. I’m pretty glad a lot of the things I did / said in my early 20s was never recorded or (hopefully) remembered by anybody.

    But it really comes back down to that whole lack of mutual respect and basic decency. I shy away from the word “etiquette,” but we sure as hell could use a dose of that, too. I mean, the Phil Fish thing is something where you could claim he brought it upon himself. But what about Jennifer Helpers? Jade Raymond?

    I know, I’m probably screaming about the ocean tide, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Except maybe try and behave at least somewhat reasonably myself. I make mistakes, I pop off at the mouth sometimes, and I have probably offended people far more than I might imagine. I feel bad about that, and will try and do better.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I added an update with some excellent advice from Cliff Bleszinski on dealing with trolls. This excerpt – pardon the language – is awesome:

    “The other key is to absorb all of that hate into one big fireball of motivation inside of your belly and then pour all of that energy into your work until you can unleash one big giant motherfucking HADOKEN upon the community that wins awards and sells millions and then the haters will truly be eating a giant bushel of dicks as you roll in a pile of money, acclaim, and community love.”

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    “I mean, the Phil Fish thing is something where you could claim he brought it upon himself. But what about Jennifer Helpers? Jade Raymond?”

    Yeah that’s why I deeply hate that so much focus has been put on this specific case (but eh, the opposite would have been surprising) because the real question is lost in the noise due to the fact that the guy was so happy to sound like a jerk/bully himself (as the few examples you linked and the many others out there).

    And that’s the sad thing. At the end of the day this story won’t be helping people like Jennifer Helpers and Jade Raymond because we’re always telling ourselves “why did he have to do his best to make things worst”.

    Just as an example, no matter how hard I try I cannot find a happy ending to a tweet sounding like this: “i just won the grand prize at IGF tonight. suck my ****. choke on it.”.

    Still no excuse for anything but it’s like he was thinking there wasn’t anyone like him on the web …

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    oh and source for the tweet I quoted: http://thewiredfish.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/phil-fish-tweet.jpg?w=640&h=307

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    “I know, I’m probably screaming about the ocean tide, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

    oh and I wanted to say that I don’t think your screaming about the ocean tide. I often argue with my wife when she says stuff like “well there’s nothing to do about this stuff”. It might take time, it might be difficult but things do change slightly if people start to care a bit.

    We did stop to burn witches eh? Well at least here … So yeah, things can change but nobody said it would be easy.

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I ran a hard-core PvP game where players thought gaming the administrators was a legitimate tactic. I’ve had things said to me that would make hardened criminals hide under their bed clutching a stuffed animal.

    So, while I won’t argue that people aren’t raging assholes when they feel safe via anonymity, I fall on the side of the fence that says that Fish really went out of his way to encourage this sort of thing. He was abrasive, and that reputation got him a lot of attention that benefited him personally. As Dave points out, he gave abuse to others liberally, so I really feel it’s disingenuous for him to play the victim now.

    Not that I think abuse should be accepted. But, again, Fish dealt in abuse, something that others like Jade Raymond has not, from what I have seen.

    So, while I’m saddened that there’s one less person making games, I do have to look on the bright side: there’s one less troll out there spewing the garbage for us remaining to have to tolerate.

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    “So, while I’m saddened that there’s one less person making games, I do have to look on the bright side: there’s one less troll out there spewing the garbage for us remaining to have to tolerate.”

    That … but I’d add that there are thousands more that are doing a good job that we don’t hear about and they still don’t rely on harsh comments to make a name for themselves. So I’m not saddened that supposedly he quit. There are plenty of people out there trying to get noticed without making drama every single week. He was one guy. Not the indie representative …

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’ve never played Fez, and I’m not fond of people who throw out confrontational statements for no good reason other than publicity. And it sounds like he’s done that. But I still hope he comes back. I don’t know whether this is a stunt, whether he really means it, and whether he’ll change his mind if he does. Maybe he’ll be back next week. Maybe he won’t be back at all. Maybe he never left. But I hope he keeps on trucking, grows up a little, and learns from it.

    And the trolls can go back under their bridges, please.

  • Xenovore said,

    It does suck that the trolls piled on Fish, and I do hope he doesn’t stay away forever; he’s got talent. But . . .

    . . . he gave abuse to others liberally, so I really feel it’s disingenuous for him to play the victim now.

    This exactly. Don’t be a dick; especially, don’t be a dick on the internet, or you will reap what you sow 1000-fold.

  • BarryB said,

    Empathy? Respect? I was wondering in a pair of published essays a decade ago whether the dissociation of the Web from any social cause-effect psychological “breaking” system wouldn’t result in quite a few people letting out their sociopathic kid to hurt others as badly as possible. Why does this surprise anybody? Cherish the intelligent, appreciative comments. Toss the rest as the garbage that’s only to be expected. Surely this isn’t advice that Penny Arcade finds new.