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Phil Fish : cyberbullied out of games?

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

There are lots of reasons to love the internet, but something I hate about the internet is the Lord of the Flies like anonymous sniping that goes on.

What I hate, is the way people can wear each other out, masked behind an anonymous title. People wear their mud mask as they flog someone online, they pick them apart, make personal attacks or repeat misinformation all from behind a mask.

What people don’t realize is that this amounts to cyberbullying, it is encouraged by the anonymous nature of the internet but they are bullying real people.

I don’t claim to be an expert on cyberbullying, but I’m writing tonight after reading what happened to, Phil Fish, the indie game developer known best for his game, Fez, and for his part in the film Indie Game, The movie.

The short story is that Phil Fish worked for years creating Fez, and during that time fell into conflict with his business partner while creating the game, and finished by himself. Solo. If you’ve seen the film, you know it was quite stressful and very compelling because he was human. I don’t know how anyone can watch that and not have their heart go out to Phil. He did it though, he finished the game, and it has become a huge indie success, so much that of course, Fez II is, or I should say was, under development.

What happened this past week though is that Phil got into a heated war of words (140 characters or less) with Marcus Beer who criticized Fish.

Here’s another thing I hate about the internet; it’s too easy to blast someone in real time, instead of waiting until you run into them at the family reunion, or in the coffee shop or the next convention a year down the line. You know, in other words when you’ve had time to process your anger and simmer down and not retaliate in real time.

After the heated war of characters between Fish and Beers, Phil Fish announced that he was shutting down production on Fez II, in short saying that all the pressure and hate he receives from the game community has been too much. So to be clear, it isn’t necessarily the back and forth with Beers that has prompted him to shut down but the community at large. My article here is not even about the war between Beers and Fish, but rather the accumulation of hate posts I’ve seen that followed the heated battle.

Reading posts online I can understand Phil’s point. The number of times I’ve read people blasting him, are astounding. Understand these are people who don’t know Phil but can’t wait to blast him apart.

Now let me interject something personal here. I am not proud of everything that has ever tumbled like vomit from my own mouth in my life. Meaning I’ve said things I regret and can’t believe I’ve uttered. They’ve flown out of my mouth before that prefrontal cortex could stop them. I hope that doesn’t make me a despicable person in my ENTIRE life, when I lose my temper, or say something incredibly stupid, and I’m not at my best. I confess though, I have not been perfect and I am profoundly haunted by the things I’ve said or done at my worst times, and always hope to become a better person, a better father, a better husband, a better friend.

Unless you are like the Dalai Lama who meditates for hours every day, I believe that as humans many of us are not always at our best, and indeed we live in a culture where there is continual stress that typically centers around work.

Personally, I can’t imagine being exposed to a constant barrage of snarky comments online. The few I’ve received for videos I’ve posted on youtube have the effect of feeling like real personal attacks. I feel my pulse quicken. That’s just one snarky comment, Phil Fish is exposed to a vast number of attacks on him as a person.

In the end it feels like nothing short of cyberbullying to me, to see people lob one insult after another at Phil Fish and join in. Obviously people know that Phil Fish DOES read what people say about him (although he shouldn’t) and they are joining in, sort of Lord of the Flies ready, to stab the pig with homemade spears while they hide masked in digital mud and feathers.

The charges are that Phil is arrogant, a baby, and other things… okay, we get it. Phil has reached his tolerance level, that is not our business, take your own inventory, do your twelve steps and get out of his business. An adult needs to step in now, tell the kids to put down their spears and let Phil get back to his craft without worrying about an onslaught.

Look, it’s true, Phil Fish has had an emotional response. I’m not here to argue whether Beers or Fish said something harsh or hasty.

Having read what he wrote on Twitter I haven’t concluded that he is an evil or bad person. I’ve concluded that someone pushed his buttons and he responded when he shouldn’t have. Watching Indie Game, I already concluded that Phil is a sensitive and creative person. Did he keep it all together in the film? No, that’s part of what made him compelling but he was under pressure others in the film were not under, without the support network to help him through it. It’s that intensity that is likely responsible for his creative work as well. Creative people often are the sensitive people in our culture. They may take things harder than others who can let it roll off their back, that doesn’t make them bad or mean people, it’s part of what makes them unique individuals. Instead we live in a world where if you are hurt we hear, “Walk it off” or “Get over it”. To me these are phrases that should never be uttered to anyone and those are nice phrases compared to the things I’ve read online.

My advice to Phil Fish is to take some time. Unplug from the internet right now and in general unplug from that barrage on the internet forever. Take a break, let things simmer down.

Pull back from the general discussion online and any heated debates and make your own decisions, make your art for yourself first and please don’t remove yourself from the Indie game scene, creative individuals are needed to challenge the perception of what games are or should be.

I want to believe that there is a place for indie people, creatives like yourself to make games.

My advice to everyone else commenting on Phil Fish personally, is to put down the spears. Stop and think if you should say something online if you don’t want to say it from behind the anonymous mask you wear and consider whether the beast is really “out there”.