Bad Faith

Ok, last one I promise. Last one. Maybe.

The most frustrating thing this past week or so has been watching an enormous wave of abuse being thrown around in an entirely similar playbook manner to what we’ve seen before, and videogames internet ignoring the bulk of it, turning in on itself and navel gazing about the claims nestled within the abuse and not the abuse.

It seems we are entirely willing, when it suits us, to let one of our peers be thrown into the grinder, not question the veracity of the claims and sit back whilst it continues. we are happy to let Angry Internet seize the discussion, suck more and more people into it and to let perfectly nice people be subject to this abuse. When if we stepped back for a second, it’s entirely fucking obvious that this has so little basis in any sort of reality. I should add ‘still’ in there somewhere, really. ‘Still’ willing to let our peers be thrown into the grinder.

I’ve found myself saying this often of late but has the past three years or so meant nothing? Has watching this play out with the same tricks over and over again just become so normal that we nod and talk about it instead of condemning it as the bullshit it is?

Are we able to ignore that no-one was especially angry about any of the things they’re angry about until some agitators began to spread this stuff around? Are we so blind as to not be able to notice how disproportionate this response to inconsequential things has been? And has no-one noticed it is happening to a company that the angry eye of the internet had already found people there to be angry about?

Instead, we buy into the idea easily that yes, indeed, there must be substance to these claims. And we know there’s substance because we can see a list of these quotes that prove it. We know there’s been a massive marketing push to get this small team into AAA so of course it must be the hype cycle, it must be this, it must be that. We turn this shit inwards instead of looking at it and calling it what it is. Bullshit.

I went back through a few years of interviews. Not to prove these things were never said but to get a feel for how the hype cycle went. Molyneux hold me, there’s even an RPS interview about trying to manage the hype cycle and working to get people towards understanding what this silly dream of a game is. Most of the interviews are fairly low-key and yes, the odd ‘incriminating’ quote that fits the story the internet has invented is there. They’re also tempered by stuff the internet has chosen to ignore. You know, the bits where they offer in great detail how the game works, how the procgen is likely to produce a lot of rocks, repeatedly how there is no multiplayer but the universe is connected. And yes, to say so often that the game is singleplayer.

You know, the bulk of the words in pretty much all the interviews. If everything wasn’t on fire right now, it’d be funny reading back over so many ‘shame this is singleplayer only’ comments but as it is, I’m finding it saddening.

They’re just all really fucking modest videos and interviews, especially by videogames standards. I watched the so-called really incriminating videos and TV interviews in full. The supposedly oh so you don’t do that Colbert video is however many minutes of pretty much what the game is with a silly joke slapped over it. Angry Internet has cut out one line and put it on loop. Proof! Yet it’s so innocuous and daft a video really.

Of course, there is a simple answer for this disconnect between modest interviews and the anger. Sean of Hello Games is a liar, it’s a front he puts on, it’s all part of the con.

*whispers* He’s having you on, you can’t trust developers. *slips away*

The original ‘list of things missing’ Reddit post everyone linked to before the guy who wrote it took it down was a response to a community eating itself. Suddenly, a few weeks before release, all these angry people appeared being very angry about lies, broken promises and especially no multiplayer. A dude wanted to defend his community when people said it was so many angry people with no substance so he set off to find that substance.

Couldn’t have been done a dafter way – just listing stuff and asking for proof if it was wrong, not finding the stuff first. He deleted it after it got seized on by the angry internet as irrefutable proof that Sean Murray was a liar, that Hello Games are terrible. That wasn’t his intent, wasn’t what he wanted.

For the angry internet, it was and continues to be a gift from the gods.

Obviously, someone else put it straight back up the day after and it continues to be linked to as proof that the anger is justified and justifiable. Its purpose now, to turn any natural disappointment into anger.

Watching people who make games join in the discontent has been saddening. The proof of Hello Games being terrible isn’t proof, it’s a conspiracy theory that allows angry people to continue to be angry and suck more people down with them. We’ve seen this before, we’ve been here before. It is cut and paste videos that you must watch now to understand, put together in a way to just focus on stuff that fits the conspiracy. It is edited comics spammed round because they’re easier to go viral with, it is lists of evidence that only fits the bad story and anything that doesn’t is the work of shills.

It is about creating a belief first as a belief is so much harder to shake. Shout it loud, say it often, dump it everywhere until the shit vortex consumes everything. It’s easier to drag in normal stuff like box stickers when everything is up for question, no stone to be left unturned. The anger feeds itself, perpetuates.

It’s the stuff of a certain angry internet playbook. And I’ve watched so many people I know fall for it this week. Puncturing this belief has felt impossible. It must be true. Shut up. Hello Games should have done this instead, are we to blame for this? Something must be done! And meanwhile, there are discussions about the ethics of videogame marketing, angry people are insistent the press should hold no quarter and developers absolutely must be held to account, and the press would be wise to remember that they too are complicit in this and should be held to account too. I’m sure I’ve seen this stuff before, I just can’t place where right now.

And people continue to be abused. Nice people continue to have their reputation smeared across an internet looking for someone to blame because everyone is angry now and they weren’t angry three weeks ago but everyone just accepts someone must have done something for the internet to be this angry else why so much anger? No smoke without fire. Hello should have said some magic words to make it stop. Have we not noticed yet that all the words in the world can’t make a portion of the internet stop and go away? Have we not seen enough? Will we have the magic words when it’s our turn?

I’m sure it’s all a coincidence that the bulk of the aggressive grumbling started to build as Hello found themselves under the spotlight of some of our fringe. I’m sure it really is a hype cycle to blame, I’m sure it really is a press that needs to hold developers to account. I’m sure it really is about ethics in videogame marketing because what else could it be?

The internet never gets it wrong, right? Have you seen how low the metascore is? Proof. Proof.