3 things that have made gaming social media more toxic

Published on Thursday, August 28, 2014 By Brad Wardell In Internet

imageThe game industry has been ablaze for, really, the last couple of years about misogyny within its ranks. This really came to a head in the past couple weeks when an outspoken “indie” game developer was accused of some sordid activities in exchange for media coverage.  

Online culture has a serious toxicity problem. It gets worse every year. Here are 3 things that are driving it:

#1 The tabloidiziation of the gaming media. 

First, I want to emphasize that the gaming media isn’t some monolithic thing. There are a lot of good publications and journalists in the game industry.  But there is an increasing number of people in the games media who would never have made it through the door 10-years ago when ad revenue allowed for higher pay for higher quality work.

It’s not just that the tabloid gaming media publicizes every tawdry rumor or speculation about the individuals involved in making games. It’s that they actively take sides and drive the narrative. This is extremely divisive and thus creates a constituency of people waiting “their turn” to air their grievances.

The gaming media likes to create heroes, villains and victims.  I’ve been portrayed as all 3 even though I’ve never been any of the 3:

  • I was a “hero” because I refused to put copy protection on our games. But I wasn’t really a hero. I believed that we would generate more sales by not inconveniencing our customers.
  • I was a “villain” because I was accused of “sexually harassing” our marketing manager.  But I wasn’t really a villain. I hadn’t actually done anything beyond sending a mean email to an insubordinate employee who happened to be female (and she later apologized publicly).
  • I was a “victim” when Demigod got released on Good Friday by GameStop and our lack of copy protection allowed hundreds of thousands of people to jam up our servers keeping people from playing.  But I wasn’t really a victim because if I had planned better, we would have had a more robust multiplayer infrastructure up before release.

The problem is that the gaming media gets more hits from demonizing game makers which makes their audience angry and causes them to lash out at the appointed villain.  So contextless articles are written designed to make you hate someone, usually people that the article writer already has a problem with. Those articles then live on via search engines perpetuating people being mad and going after the appointed villain. Toxicity is created, spread and maintained.

This is easy to demonstrate.  Right now, Google my name. “Brad Wardell”.

On Google, you’ll find my Wiki entry, twitter and my blogs and probably linked in.  But right after that? Slime. 

Note that I’ve been in the tech/game industry for over 20 years. I’ve done a lot of stuff in that 20 years ranging from writing the first commercial 32bit computer game to designing Start8.

Now, Google search someone the media has exceptional…sympathy for. Go ahead.  Look at the top entries there.  Compare.

For me, the really frustrating parts is how out of context and biased the actual coverage can get depending on what is being covered. The media and the subsequent trolls loved to take snippets or something without any curiosity of the larger context (such as incredibly insubordinate comments from someone – “you need to make an appointment with me before coming to my office area”) in order to create the narrative they want to incite their readership.

The point is, the gaming media is perfectly happy to profit from spreading toxicity into Internet culture.  The only difference now is that people are able to push back against the narratives being foisted.



#2 Professional Victims

The professional victim is an individual who takes advantage of good hearted people.  This is particularly the case in the game industry.  If someone’s media coverage / social media influence greatly outstrips their actual accomplishments, they might be a professional victim.

I’ve been getting death threats and online flames since the beginning. I didn’t go around complaining about it because, like most people, I know that the world is full of jerks and idiots and if they’ve heard of you, they will sometimes target you.  The professional victim, by contrast, will convert trolling into media gold which just so happens to get coverage for their new game or new project.

The professional victim is purposely trying to ruffle feathers and then gain exposer for their project by the outpouring of abuse they take.  But only some people are allowed to be victims. If some gruff man were to start critiquing the fashion industry, any complaints he had regarding the “harassment” he received due to the inevitable insults directed his way would be ignored. 

Professional victims rely on the fact that we don’t condemn intolerance and abuse universally. Because of that, like issue #1, the culture becomes more divisive, more toxic. When people feel they haven’t gotten a fair shake or that their beliefs are being misrepresented, they get angry.

Lastly, a reminder: Trolls customize their insults just for you.  They will pick what they think will upset you the most and use that. If you wear your grievances on your sleeve then it’s just that much easier.



#3 Unaccountability

The typical stereotype of the online “troll” is that they’re some kid.  But the nastiest of the trolls tend to actually be people who actually work IN THE INDUSTRY (or close to it) posting anonymously. 

Sometimes they post as themselves but because they have the correct “politics” they get a pass. One of the worst trolls I’ve had to deal with was the founding editor of Kotaku. He even made a YouTube video comparing me to Hitler (it’s still up if you search for it).  Imagine if the former editor in chief of Kotaku posted a video comparing a female game developer with Hitler. What do you imagine the coverage would be? What does that tell you about the attitudes of some people in “activist” media?

The fact that Twitter and YouTube still allow anonymity for their users is [A] Not surprising but [B] a major reason why we have so much shit on the Internet. People are a lot more reasonable when they are posting as “themselves”.

No easy answers

I wish there was an easy answer.  In a click-bait driven Internet, toxicity sells.  I suspect we’ll be forced to live with that.  But people don’t have to sit back like sheep and be manipulated by it.  They can push back when some “journalist” posts a hit piece and call out hypocrisy on those who complain about “harassment” when in fact they’re part of the culture that cultivates and profits from it.   In the meantime, grow a thick skin and try not to let it affect you.

So that’s my 2 cents anyway for what it’s worth.

TL;DR version:

The tabloid parts of the gaming media shit out a lot of toxicity that lives on forever via search engines. Unaccountable trolls read up on this and then perpetuate the original toxicity by keeping it alive, thus perpetuating the cycle. Meanwhile some cynical people capitalize on the gaming media bias to get career boosting publicity despite their meager real world accomplishments.