Saturday, July 7, 2018

Private Goes Public : GW2

Inventory Full doesn't purport to be any kind of journal of record and I frequently decline to acknowledge (or even notice) major events in the MMO world. Still, when something newsworthy happens in the main games I play, or at the companies which make those games, I do make a bit more of an effort to tag it here, if only because this blog is supposed to work primarily as a kind of personal diary.

Even so, there's a good chance I would have skipped over this week's latest firestorm at GW2, had it not finally gone supernova and burned itself out in spectacular and somewhat unexpected style yesterday. In reporting the events here, I find a satisfying synergy that signifies, to me at least, that blogging is very much not dead: were it not for bloggers I follow, I might not even have known about the whole sorry farrago until it was over.

I don't propose to rehash the entire saga in excruciating detail. I first heard about it via Jeromai, whose post has a link to a reddit thread that includes, close to the start, a reposting of the Twitter exchange that set the whole thing in motion. The surprising - and to me surprisingly encouraging - conclusion of the affair is covered in some depth in a post and comment thread at Endgame Viable.

I'm particularly grateful for the coverage given by those blogs because my regular news source, MassivelyOP, once again chose to preface their report with a gloss so nuanced and slippery that for the hundredth time I found myself considering my options on where I might find a reliable and comprehensive source for MMO news that didn't come with so much baggage.

For anyone who hasn't followed events as they happened and who doesn't care to click the links, the gist is this: one of the GW2 writers posted a lengthy series of tweets on her personal Twitter account, going into some considerable detail about the difficulties of writing for a protagonist (The Commander) who represents the player character in the narrative. It was an interesting read.

Did she really say that?
A GW2 player, who is also very well known and respected in the GW2 community as (to use the somewhat uncomfortable current buzzwords) an Influencer and Content Creator, tweeted a polite, intelligent and entirely innoffensive reply. The ANet employee (my deliberate and highly relevant choice of descriptor) responded sarcastically and dismissively, whereupon the Influencer acknowledged the response and withdrew, gracefully.

Had it ended there, so much, so little. But it didn't. The discussion spiralled out of control, dragging in gender politics and descending into exchanges of insults between, on one side, the ANet dev and another ANet employee who chimed in to support her and on the other... the whole of the internet.

Reddit gets a lot of stick for stirring things up but reading the linked thread above what I see is measured, intelligent discussion. Also, and more importantly, a much-needed collective defence and support network for an entirely innocent internet user who, out of nowhere, became the focus of attention for someone who perceived they had an authority to which they were not, in fact, entitled.

There have been some attempts to flip this narrative to portray the developer as the prey of a baying internet mob and I'm sure there are vast quantities of repulsive comments swilling around the periphery from the usual suspects, who jump any bandwagon rolling to wave their tatty, tattered flags. The thread I linked doesn't do that. 

Instead, as the person who started it concludes in a short summary at the top, "we stood up together as a community to defend two innocent people from hateful words". Well, I didn't. I don't have a reddit account. After this, though, I feel perhaps I should.

All this arguing just makes me tired.
There is always a tendency for an "us and them" attitude to develop between customer and supplier, audience and artist. In all walks of life people who feel themselves to be on the inside refer to those on the outside as "civilians" as though holding a job in  sales or accounting was akin to being in the armed forces. Bad things are said between work colleagues about those they work for all the time.

That's accepted as inevitable, even if not approved. (I personally don't approve it or participate in it in my own workplace, or not at least as a matter of course. There can be moments of frustration that need and deserve a venting but if it becomes a habit then you're probably in the wrong line of work.)

What everyone knows - or should know - is that, as an employee, you do not express these feelings and opinions directly to the customer or client. You very definitely don't express them volubly and vituperatively in a public forum visible to the entire world. And, crucially, when you choose to preface your opening comments with a statement that specifically identifies you as the employee of a company, which you name, everything you say thereafter can and will be taken to represent that company.

If you want to keep your thoughts and opinions private, don't put them on Twitter. Or reddit. Or, indeed, in a blog that someone other than you can read. You certainly do not choose to use one or more of these platforms to describe someone as a "rando asshat", when that person is not only well-known in the community that surrounds the primary product of the company for which you work, but has been specifically picked out for praise and reward by your own work colleagues (the Influencer in question has an NPC in-game named after him for the sterling work the Fractal Team felt he'd done to promote that aspect of the game).

Think happy thoughts.
Neither do you blithely state that you don't have to pretend to like customers when you're not at work as though that permits you to openly dislike them to their faces when you are self-identifying to them as an employee of that company in order to add weight to an argument you are making about the work you do for that company. Well, not if you want to go on working for that company. Which you pretty soon won't.

All in all, an object lesson in how not to be a professional writer - when the nature of your professional status is reliant on a paycheck from a named employer. J.K. Rowling can have all the Twitter spats she likes. Her views are hers alone and if her publisher doesn't like them they know what they can do. That's a different kind of professional writer entirely. You want that kind of power, go create the next Harry Potter.

In terms of freedom of action and self-expression, working as a writer for a video game gives a person no more leeway than working in the customer service department or the mail room. You will have signed up to the same company standards of service and you will be expected to abide by them in the same way.

If you don't like that, start your own video game company and make your own rules. Be your own Derek Smart and see where that takes you...


  1. The particular angle the media channels are taking to cover the whole sorry affair quite boggles the mind, when the main issue at hand is as you describe above and the rest is deflection that brought out a deluge of the opposing extremist positions to clash with each other.

    Unless, of course, the underlying drive is to angle for as many clicks, views and comments as possible - in which case, I sincerely applaud their strategy and hope they get some good commissions out of those stats.

    1. The issue is actually much deeper, in my opinion. It's a manifestation of the current progressive push to make everything political. In that respect, outlets like MassivelyOP are "aligning" themselves (a term used to describe what happens to civil society in totalizing situations) with the larger progressive direction

      In MassivelyOP's case this was first obvious when they posted an article about the Trump tax cuts. The justification was that the tax cut would "effect" the gaming industry. But if that is the case, then everything that happens effects the game industry, including the weather. Where's their weatherman? You get the idea.

      When outlets "align" then everything is framed through the identity politics lens: oppressed group vs. oppressor group. This means the present case is not interpreted as a writer treating a polite fan rudely to the detriment of her employer. Instead, the participants are slotted into their categories: oppressed (female writer in game industry) vs. oppressor (male gamer/male YouTuber with male gamer audience), whether that bears any resemblance to what happened or not.

      For the record, I believe there is misogyny in pockets of gaming, and have witnessed some of it, particularly directed at guildmates. But the left has become so totalizing (as MassivelyOP's current state reveals), that I think they are the greater threat. The moderates need to clean house.

      Will that happen at MassivelyOP? Not so sure. They are patron-based now, so perhaps they have chosen their audience. Then again, perhaps that audience is smaller than they believe.

      - Simon

    2. IThat wasn't the problem I was having with the Massively news item I linked - not at all. I self-identify as a left-leaning, liberal Social Justice Warrior type and my problem with M:OP's house style is not remotely that it panders too much to my political perspective (or indeed any political perspective) but that it treats almost all news primarily potential for sarcasm, snark and in-jokes that the regular M:OP readership and particularly the more prolific commenters lap up. If I thought the introduction to that piece had genuinely reflected a concern for the gender issues raised in the discussion I would have had no problems with it: sadly I didn't read it that way at all. I thought it was labored, unfunny sarcasm.

      I would like news stories to be reported as news stories, not point-and-laugh in jokes. That's my issue with the available sources. I actually love snark and sarcasm but not in what ought to be straight, factual reportage.

  2. It probably is Jeromai.

    People are turning getting angry about things into an art form, sadly.

  3. I'm really happy you wrote this, Mr.B. The sites that I had read about this had made it a gamergate story - I'm quite partial to reading a lot of gamer behaviour as gamergate stories, it's why I read those sites - but this one didn't look like it.

    It looked like someone trying to make a GDC presentation via Twitter, which is ridiculous; and arguing from authority when the plebs dared to offer their input. And as anyone knows who argues from authority: if there's someone with more authority, you might get a nasty surprise.

    So thanks - in spite of what I'd read already, this seems to me to be the correct account.

    Mind you, why anyone in their right mind would think Twitter was the right forum for considered discussion, is beyond me....

    1. Thanks. I think I benefitted from not having read any of the surrounding furor, only the direct accounts and re-posting of the original dispute. Gender undoubtedly became an issue after the fact but as far as I can tell from reading the exchanges that derived from the reactions of one of the principles and the subsequent side-taking that followed.

      I would never discount or dismiss the relevance of a gendered response to any situation. The very way we think and react is formed and shaped by a lifetime of experiences, not all of which are under our conscious control, or of which we are even aware. In this case, however, I felt the question of what the writer did or did not feel and the degree to which that might or might not be considered appropriate was irrelevant to the much clearer, unequivocal central issue, which is what an employee can or cannot expect to do and say when identifying as a a paid representative of an employer.

      Also, yes, why anyone would use Twitter for long-form presentation of any argument whatsoever beats me...

  4. Anonymous thank you - your input basically is what most people feel yet don’t post in forums. Seeing this angry reaction to customers by creators is nothing but bad for those companies trying to make money. And what is the point of video games backed by mainstream publish?

    1. Anet would appear to agree. I was surprised to see the decisive and swift response, which they would have known would itself be controversial but ANet, unlike other MMO houses, have always kept their staff on a relatively tight leash. I could quote any number of altercations between individual game developers and players/customers from other MMOs I've played that would make this little spat look like polite exchange of opinion. SOE used to employee virtual attack dogs as their primary interface between the public and the company and there was a prolonged period when the official forums had to be closed because Big Sony was concerned at the damage interactions there were causing to the brand (or that was the rumor at the time - the forums certainly did close).

  5. Hi.

    3 of your 4 first links all point to the same URL. The only link which is different is the one on 'conclusion'

    1. Thanks! That was a mess! Somehow I'd managed to copy the correct address and add it onto the end of the wrong one on the one link. You'd think that wouldn't work at all but it went to the first part. Another was just wrong. The other two seemed okay but I redid them all just in case. Should all be working now.

      Thanks again for letting me know.


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