Let Them Talk

The headline said it all: ‘The 10 People We Hope Will Shut the F*** Up at This Year’s E3’. I didn’t have to read it to predict which developers’ names would be on the list – Denis Dyack, David Jaffe, Peter Molyneux – and upon scanning Crispy Gamer’s July 10 feature, those names were indeed present, along with Cliff Bleszinski and Kudo Tsunoda.

The reason those names popped into my head is not because I wanted them to shut up, but because I’d been approaching the subject of developers whose public statements polarise journalists and gamers alike for the last 18 months or so, but had yet to actually get around to it. And this was even though just the week before Silicon Knights president Dyack had gone on the 1UP Yours podcast and stirred up a hornets’ nest with his pointed attacks on message boards like Gaming-Age Forums. So when a link to the Crispy Gamer piece turned up in my inbox, it seemed like the right time to do exactly that.

These developers and others aren’t the first to rub journalists and gamers the wrong way. Still, in the old days when magazines like this one were virtually the sole source of information about this medium, the amount of exposure that readers had to any one developer was relatively limited. Some, like id Software’s John Carmack, would speak directly to interested readers through their .plan files, but magazines ruled the roost with editors serving as gatekeepers.

The rise of the internet, however, brought with it a plethora of news outlets, blogs and community sites, each one serving as a vehicle for more developer access to their intended audience, to say nothing of comments sections and message boards where any quote, statement or post can be dissected ad nauseum. So what might have been a comment to one or two outlets in the past can now be delivered to several in a series of interviews; rehashed in turn by several more; and chewed over for days in the forums where the uninhibited discussion that pseudonymity enables all too often degenerates into insult and ridicule. And, unfortunately, the echo chamber that results makes maintaining a sense of proportion about a provocative remark difficult, to say the least.

Crispy Gamer’s list was undoubtedly meant to be taken in good, snarky fun. But the STFU headline perfectly encapsulates what’s wrong with this attitude, however unintentional. How many times have I or another journalist wished that developers would be less buttoned-down and more open; give us less parroting of the company line and more honest exploration of even difficult or controversial subjects? The same can be said of certain readers, who want less spoon-feeding and more truth-telling. But the STFU mentality isn’t designed to foster debate, rather to shut it down. Rather than engage the message, some would rather tear apart the messenger.

It’s one thing to see that attitude coming from those who frequent forums under a pseudonym. It’s another thing entirely to see this view being espoused by journalists – the list is credited to ‘Crispy Gamer Staff’ – who I’d think would understand that we all benefit whenever a developer freely and frankly airs his or her thoughts. Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that developers are immune from criticism or that they shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny. But STFU isn’t criticism, it’s attempted intimidation. Why attempt to silence any developer when their words provide an opening for the kind of further inquiry and pointed questions that will generate more fruitful discussions?

At the same time, there seems to be a misunderstanding among certain developers like Jaffe and Dyack who have waded into message boards only to find, at times, a less-than-welcoming reception. They think that because they share a lot of the same interests and passions as the posters that they can be ‘just one of the guys’. But, as Jaffe says his own wife astutely pointed out to him – after an outpouring of criticism that followed some remarks he made about why he felt PlayStation Network games were superior to those on Xbox Live Arcade – he can’t just be one of the guys. His words will always carry more weight and engender a stronger response than those of the hoi polloi. (It’s a lesson that served me well given the reaction to my comments to MTV News about the racially charged imagery in the second Resident Evil 5 trailer.)

So to developers I say speak your mind, hope for the best, expect the worst, and understand that more speech doesn’t always equal more understanding. In other words, it’s generally best to say your piece as clearly as possible, then move on. As for journalists and message posters, well, we would all benefit from a bit more RTFA and less STFU, don’t you think?