The internet can be a truly amazing place. With a wealth of information and images that can constantly intrigue us, fill us with wonder, and show us parts of the world that we will likely never see in our lifetime. Unfortunately, for all the knowledge and good that the internet can provide, it does provide one massive downside. It is filled with billions of people. While many of us would like to believe that most people are decent and would treat their fellow being the way they want to be treated. The sad reality is that this is a naive way of thinking. While the internet does allow us to network and meet like-minded people, that for many myself included can often become like a second family. Even supporting us in ways that perhaps family and those close to us simply don’t. Like many things, there are good things and bad aspects of the internet. But lately, some of the worst behavior has been bubbling to the top.
Bungie Begins To Draw Back
As originally reported by Paul Tassi from Forbes, Bungie has been dealing with an increased level of harassment. Not only at the studio, but also directly to the team via their social media accounts. While criticism is nothing new to Bungie and its community leads, as with many service games fans are incredibly passionate and vocal when they love or hate something. This, however, boiled over in recent weeks as one particular member of the team decided to distance himself from the community on social media. Kevin Yanes who was normally a very outgoing lead at Bungie found himself with harassment and threats after it was revealed that a specific exotic weapon would not be returning with a specific perk in Destiny 2. A wide variety of the comments directed at Yanes felt absurd, not to mention what may have flooded into his inbox. This feels like a relatively minor announcement that may certainly have disappointed some fans but should not have led to the social media exodus it was.
As noted in Tassi’s report, even prominent people like DMG04 who is a long-time Destiny 2 community manager have stepped back from places like Reddit and Twitter. Due to the high levels of toxicity that have begun to fester and explode on these platforms. DMG stated clearly in a tweet addressing the Destiny community that “I dream of a day where videogame developers (from any studio) can openly discuss their work without being harassed. Many in the comments say they do not condone harassment. I hope they also stand against it when they find that friends or family are engaging in it.”
Bungie has always prided itself on having an open line of communication with its fans. With in-depth updates, to having developers answer fans’ questions across Reddit and Twitter. It is rare that a developer is as focused as Bungie on giving its community a voice. Now thanks to a loud minority it appears that the door of communication may be closing for good for the studio. The sad reality of this situation is that this is not unique to Bungie in the slightest, as many gaming studios face this kind of abuse at a variety of levels.
God Of War Ragnarok and Elusive Release Date
Sony Santa Monica, the beloved developers of God Of War, who are setting up to release the highly anticipated God Of War Ragnarok were not immune to this. While everything we had seen of Ragnarok looked amazing, the game did not have a release date until very recently. While many fans, myself included, knew that Santa Monica would release the date when the studio was ready. Some of the more eager fans began aggressively asking for a concrete date. Fuel was only added to the fire as several forum “insiders” began spinning fabricated stories about the studio saying the game was delayed to 2023 and the studio hadn’t announced it yet. This whipped fans into a frenzy of speculating whether God Of War Ragnarok would release in 2022 or 2023. This is when once again the toxicity of the community began to bubble to the top.
One developer, Estelle Tigani, fell victim to an overzealous fan who sent a dick pic to her in order to try to force her to reveal the release date. This wasn’t an isolated incident as other Sony Santa Monica developers spoke up in solidarity with their colleagues citing other incidents. The toxicity became so bad that the official Sony Santa Monica account had to tweet out acknowledging this behavior. Stating that “Our fans inspire us, and we understand the passion and desire for more information. But that passion should not be toxic nor come at the expense of any human being’s dignity.” It feels ridiculous that a studio has to make a statement like this that feels like common sense for most people. We have seen this type of toxicity boil up time and time again, unfortunately. From all the hate leveled at Naughty Dog over The Last of Us Part II which included anti-Semitic slurs against the game’s director Neil Druckman. The list of developers who face mountains of abuse online feels almost endless at this. But where does all this hatred come from?
YouTube Evangelists and Weaponizing the Audience
One of the biggest challenges of being online, especially in a social media setting, is the anonymity of the experience. While some people may feel comfortable talking about their lives, post photo’s of themselves, and interacting with people in a more personal way, social media allows people to feel safe from repercussions. By using a randomized user name, a stock image, and a nonsensical bio, they are free to stalk, message, and lambast whoever they please with almost no “real life” risk to themselves. While threats are often an extreme case, they are becoming increasingly more common as more developers begin to open up about their experiences with this dark side of fandom. But what drives these extremists? Much like our political sphere, there is a widespread group of writers, and content creators who will stoke the darker side of fandoms. All in the pursuit of the almighty click and that sweet sweet ad revenue.
I want to avoid generalizing within this critique of the content creation space. There are many writers and video creators who do an excellent job of balancing critique with civility. However, there are creators that thrive on drumming up their audience into a fever pitch of anger. This was done marvelously during the microtransaction/loot box push during the PS4 and Xbox One era.
While there was great criticism and feedback from a wide variety of creators, how EA and some other companies tried to squeeze more money out of their customers during this time was truly terrible. But some content creators found a great profit spike in riling up their audience about how egregious (insert game here) was being and why you should be mad about it. This created an army of people who ultimately did not care about the game in question, or even have knowledge about the game. But don’t you worry they had a very strong opinion about it and you definitely were going to have to hear about it on every social post or video about the game.
Do I honestly think these creators mean to stir up abuse directly? I want to believe no, but some creators seem to revel in the drama and look to capitalize on it wherever possible. When called out on this behavior, they will attempt to play it off as a joke or that they were simply trolling. These creators may believe this, but the fact of the matter is that if you have a moderately large audience it is impossible to make sure every single one of your subscribers doesn’t take your words and turn it into a hate crusade. However, creating an environment of accountability and not encouraging toxic behavior would go a long way in solving some of these situations. If people weren’t constantly stoking these fires, they would likely not explode as often as they do. One thing I try to keep in mind as a creator and writer is that my audience represents me. The last thing I want to do is be the reason another person is treated poorly.
The Importance Of Feedback
Abuse is never ok, but what about honest feedback and questions? There are many fans who have genuine questions and concerns about their favorite game. How do they voice their concerns? After all player feedback has been such a critical part of the success of a variety of different games. From No Man’s Sky to Fallout 76, the communities of these games played an essential part in turning these games around. Sometimes feedback can change an entire direction of a game and turn it into something truly special. I think if both developers and fans are honest and candid in their communications important growth can be made.
If you want to communicate with the development team of your favorite game places like Twitter and Reddit have often been the go-to for many. There are other options, from studio-run forums, and even reporting bugs to support are ways we can help the games we love to get better. Being respectful, concise, and descriptive will go a long way for your feedback to be heard as well. Hopping into a forum and stating something like “This game sucks because (insert developer name here) doesn’t care about the PVP community” does not really help anyone. Why does it feel like the developer isn’t supporting the PVP community? What are some things as a PVP player that you would like to see that would make you feel acknowledged? If you start explaining what specifically you dislike about the game, developers will be able to sit down and look at all the feedback they receive and narrow down exactly what fans aren’t happy with. There is a possibility that the specific thing you dislike may never get addressed, and that is an unfortunate part of game development. It is impossible to keep every single fan happy.
What you don’t want to do is go to an individual developer’s social media page and hurl endless tweets or direct messages at them about all the things you hate about the game they work on. Being able to unwind and step away from work is important for so many of us, and gave developers are no different. Maybe they just want to talk about their favorite anime, movies, or whatever. Just because they work on your favorite game, does not mean they owe you every waking minute of their time.
It Is Not Too Late To Stop Things From Changing
As many developers like Bungie have begun to second guess how transparent they are and how they will communicate with fans in the future, it is not too late for passionate and level-headed fans to fight back and reclaim these points of communication. By giving concise and intelligent feedback, calling out trolls, and standing up for not only developers but also other fans. Maybe, these lines of communication can remain open. While you will never 100% stop harassment and bullying, showing empathy and having intelligent conversations between developers and fans. This hobby might just be a little bit better because after all, gaming is for everyone.