“Another Day, Another Death Threat” – Life as a Game Developer

A useful but also very sad article was posted today to kotaku.com, about the often-hostile relationship between gamers and developers–the people who create their art.

The article is useful because it puts a human face on the industry, and gives the audience a rare glimpse into the darker side of creating games in the 21st century. And it’s sad because although I have been on the receiving end of this sort of madness from gamers, even I did not know the full details of what other developers were going through.

It doesn’t seem to matter what level of developer you are. People feel equally entitled to send psychotic death threats to Robert Bowling, the creative lead of a gigantic franchise like Call of Duty, and Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of the ultimate indie break-out title Minecraft. Savage Morlocks descended on Kotaku for publicly defending Jennifer Hepler of Bioware from attack; they also sent insane death threats to publisher Paradox Interactive when they were dissatisfied with the release of Hearts of Iron 3.

Before anyone asks, the answer is yes–I do get the same shite, and so do other developers at Kerberos Productions, the studio I’ve been working with for the last eight years. This stuff is real, it really happens, and it really happens to me. I’ve gotten plenty of psychotic mail over the years, and I still do.

Making you guys aware of these things is not really intended to make you hate humanity, however. It’s more about demonstrating that certain kinds of behavior from the audience have real (and really unpleasant) consequences for creators. And I would like to ask, as a personal favor, that you be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, at least when you’re posting to public forums where a lot of people congregate.

Just try to remember: development studios and publishers are staffed by human beings. The vast majority of people in this industry are working hard and doing the best they can on any given day. No one is perfect. Bad things happen to good people, good studios, and good publishers every day. No one involved with a project has to be an evil or inferior human being in ANY WAY for a project to run into trouble. And no game can satisfy all members of its potential audience, even if it is regarded as excellent by the majority.

The problem is that the audience for gaming has gotten very narrow-minded, narcissistic and empathy-challenged in recent years. And it isn’t just us! The whole society is becoming increasingly defective in this same way–Geek Culture is simply in the vanguard and ahead of the curve, as we are in all other things.

The facts we have to face are that…we have all done something like this at one time or another. We’ve all gotten ourselves into some kind of nerdrage Hulk-Out over some trivial damn thing, and made some other human being into the Enemy because they Ruined Everything…whether by changing something that we were passionate about as children, screwing up something we were looking forward to, failing to create the art that we would have created in their place, failing to agree with our every opinion…you get the picture.

If someone gave out a name and phone number for the guy who canceled Firefly…I wouldn’t want to be living on his block, much less be that guy. And I imagine that things got a little grim at chez Lucas after Greedo fired first, too. Certainly I have nothing good to say about the revision of the old films, even today.

Point being: while we may all think we’re just “blowing off steam”, “telling it like it is”, “expressing our views”, or whatever other halo we paint on our angry ragebeast venting…we’re also speaking and acting like lunatics in public. And public lunacy, like influenza, has a tendency to spread, and often to get worse as it spreads. When we find ourselves in a situation where our venting is going to become part of a feedback loop that is going to wind a large group of people up into a psychotic mob…we have a responsibility to take a step back, realize we’re all marching straight to Spooky Land, and try and tone things down to something more sane.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to see this if you’ve been on the receiving end of the pitchforks and torches, obviously. But a lot of gamers would probably veer off from this behavior if they had any human contact with their developers, or had any reason to believe that their words and actions were affecting real people.

I hope that articles like this one will start to change things for the better. Just remember, when you’re standing in a crowd of 100 cyber-people all yelling and shaking their fists: one of every 100 of you is going to take your collective rage as a mandate to act. While the rest of you are still yelling, he’s going to leave the assembly and climb the clock tower with a sniper rifle.

I’d appreciate if you’d stop loading him up with ammunition.

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About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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4 Responses to “Another Day, Another Death Threat” – Life as a Game Developer

  1. Carla Holley says:

    Excellent, Arinn. Thank you!

  2. THE MAN IN BLACK says:

    Death Threats are illegal. Report them to police. If more people were investigated by police for making death threats maybe they’d shut up once in a while.


  3. AlpsStranger says:

    Now that we’ve got another moral panic after the tragedy in Sandy Hook it’s doubly important that people chill out. Han may have shot first, but we need to make sure the only guns the public associates us with are made of polygons. We don’t want to wait two years for our games as they are reviewed bureaucrats, trust me.

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