Because Nobody Asked: Of Beer And Fish
It’s been an… odd weekend.
Within hours of my last post that had mentioned the spike in social media drama that seems to be enveloping the video game industry and the media that covers it, a war of words between Marcus Beer (of GameTrailers fame) and Phil Fish (Fez developer) erupted and wound up ending with Fish canceling his Fez sequel and apparently walking away from video games altogether. Much of this transpired publicly, on Twitter, while followers of both watched in disbelief… myself included.
As far as I’m concerned, both men are in the wrong here.
Beer came off pretty strongly against Fish at the onset via an Invisible Walls podcast, using some choice language and negative sentiments. Fish chose to engage Beer on Twitter, words were exchanged– including Fish signaling to Beer to “kill himself” (the full tweet, “compare your life to mine and kill yourself”, is cited by Fish sympathizers as a quote from Futurama)– and things became heated. The exchange ended badly, with both men angry and offended, and Fish later went on to tweet that he was cancelling Fez II and, eventually, removing himself from video games.
It’s possible that Beer regrets his choice of words to some extent. I would guess that he would do it differently if given the chance to replay the events leading up to his encounter with Fish. There’s a fine line between being critical and being offensive, and sometimes it’s easy for people to cross it. He tweeted some time after the exchange that he was taking into consideration all of the feedback that he’d been receiving that day. If Fish hadn’t retaliated publicly, it’s likely that Beer is the obvious “bad guy” here.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
As has been Fish’s modus operandi, he chose to use social media to go on the offense against those who criticize him. He did this after receiving criticism and negative response regarding his controversial GDC comments in 2012 about Japanese games, even telling one Twitter user, “suck my d*ck. Choke on it.” From that point forward, Fish’s Twitter account has volleyed at times between protected and public, and he continued to be a controversial and acerbic. Some have appreciated his candor, but others have found him to be offensive and insulting. Unfortunately, Fish has found that taking your battles public when you don’t have strong support to back you can backfire badly.
Social media is a great tool, if used correctly. You can share things with people across the miles. You can get your opinions heard. You can promote and sell yourself and/or your work. You can network and share things with people who have similar interests. The problem with social media is that, when it’s not used correctly, bad things can happen. Public fights with others can permanently be on the record, even if they’re deleted by the source. Literally thousands of people can see what is posted– whether it’s an inappropriate picture, a highly controversial thought, heat-of-the-moment threats, and more.
Social media follows you… it’s that powerful.
Fish oftentimes didn’t use social media the right way. In this case, Fish didn’t have to take to Twitter to demand an apology from Beer. Other forms of private contact to Beer or to GameTrailers, outside of the public eye, would have been appropriate. Fish had grounds to demand an apology, or at least an open dialog with Beer to clear the air. Once he decided to engage Beer in a war of words, and once it got ugly, Fish had no case for sympathy. Not from me, and not from many others watching this fiasco take place. It became the Twitter version of a drunken bar fight, where nobody felt bad for either combatant because they were both being awful people that night.
As to Fish’s claim that he’s tired of the “abuse”, it’s understandable… to a point. Fish has consistently failed to acknowledge that a lot of the “abuse” he’s been taking comes as a direct result of his own words and actions. If you’re going to dish out criticism and vitriol, then you have to be willing to take it in kind. He should have learned, or had colleagues and friends advise him, that he needed to be more humble in the public eye. After his initial comments at GDC and the waves of negative feedback he got, he should have figured it out. He either didn’t figure it out or simply refused to change. Once you’ve turned the court of public opinion against you, it’s on you to make changes and try to get people to see you differently. Fish never did that, and it ultimately drove him out of video games… if he actually follows through and walks away for more than a week.
I will say this about the negativity that Fish has received: The Internet can be a very cruel place. We see this far too much. One example can be taken from this Tumblr account (Caution: NSFW language), which chronicles some of the reaction that Treyarch’s David Vonderhaar in response to some recent changes to Call of Duty: Black Ops II. I’m reasonably certain that some of the comments that Fish has received over the last 16 months has been close to, if not equally, vile. We tend to be defaulting to hateful and violent language when things happen that we don’t like or when people say things that we don’t agree with. This trend has to stop. That’s not to say that we can’t disagree with others or that we have to like or approve of everything that’s said or done, but we have to think about what we say. How can we say it differently, respectfully, and civilly? That responsibility lies with each and every one of us who uses the Internet to interact with others, and we need to start accepting that responsibility.
While I’ve never been a big fan of Phil Fish, it’s undeniable that he’s got a gift to create games and it’s unfortunate that he was driven away from that. I feel sorry for those who may not see a sequel to Fez or any more games that Fish would have set to making. It’s unfortunate for Marcus Beer that he now has to deal with waves of negativity and anger himself, likely from both within and outside of the industry, and it will be interesting to see what develops this coming week as the embers cool. I hope that this incident incites a little bit of soul-searching in all of us, and gets us to think a bit more about using social media appropriately and focus on just being nicer people.
I got in front of the camera over the weekend and put forth some more immediate reaction, if you’d like to hear it:
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Since 1976 and beating his dad at Telstar PONG, Pete has been playing video games. He grew up ar arcade rat, spending time either playing coin-ops or watching others play, before getting his first console-- the Nintendo Entertainment System-- for Christmas in 1990. He went on to buy most consoles that hit the market between 1991 and 2007.
Pete began writing video game reviews back in 1999 before landing his first reviewer job in early 2001. He went on to write reviews, along with video game sales analysis, opinion pieces, and news articles, for the next 12 years before walking away in 2013.
Pete launched the Retro Unscripted project in January of 2014, which was a series of videos filmed without edits, scripts, or professional equipment. He still makes the videos today. He also returned to writing in May 2014, joining the Retroware writing team; he currently pens a bi-weekly series of articles under the Consoleation brand for the website.