“I just need to shoot something.”
That’s what I told my friend the other day as I loaded up some random first-person shooter I’d purchased during the Steam sale. It’s very rare that I’m actively looking for opportunities to shoot things in a videogame. Usually, I’m more interested in games for different reasons. I want to explore worlds, put myself in the mindset of someone else, or just distract myself from the problems of the day. This time, though, I wanted to look those problems right in the face, and shoot them… right in the face.
Why the sudden change? The internet had turned on me. I’d published my opinion about something on the internet, and as a result, the masses had come at me with pitchforks and torches and mean words.
I knew better than to lash out. I put my head down, typed out concise and polite responses, and got out of there. But at the end of the day, I still found myself craving the dulling effect of bourbon and violence.
As much as I try to be a better person, I always find myself frustrated and anxious about these sorts of things. I have this personality quirk where I desperately want people to like me. I invest in people because I want them to invest in me. I empathize with people because I want them to empathize with me. I have a one-sided contract with the internet: I’ll be cool to you if you are cool to me.
When the nameless people on the internet violate that contract, I fly into an internal rage, berating the wind, the rain, the rising and falling of the sun, and the natural forces that cause this sort of internet backlash to happen. I should expect this, but I am an optimist. And when someone on the internet challenges that optimism, I don’t know what to do with myself.
So yeah, I guess you could say I felt for Phil Fish when he abruptly and intensely announced the cancellation of Fez 2. Fish, like me, may have assumed the best of people. But slowly and undeniably the internet proved him wrong. Fish wanted to create something and offer it up to these people to enjoy. Instead, he was thrust into a meat-grinder that left him drained and exhausted.
“I don’t want to have to get off Twitter. I love Twitter. But it also invites SO MUCH UGLINESS into my life,” said Fish. But Fish didn’t quit Twitter.
He quit the game industry. Why is that? What is it about the game industry that causes so much ugliness, not just among fans, but among the supposed professionals that call themselves press. Why do we have industry professionals who go by monikers like Annoyed Gamer, who gain an audience by being negative, hateful and angry on a regular basis? What is behind the incredible success of Zero Punctuation, the admittedly smart and thoughtful Escapist video-pundit who verbally rips game after game to shreds? Why is online trash-talking so quickly warped into something shocking and inhumane uttered by otherwise nice, adolescent boys? Why does this culture thrive off of destruction?
“I just need to shoot something.” That’s what I told my friend.
I needed to vent. That’s what I told myself. So I spent the next hour running head-first into human-shaped forms, aiming a gun at their face, and killing them. I ripped out their hearts and put them in my virtual knapsack. I killed efficiently and spectacularly. It was fun. It made me feel better.
Then, I went online, read another mean comment, and lashed out. I had typed the pithy and pointless words and hit enter before I could even stop myself.
“Well, with Richard now in snippy defensive mode,” said the next comment, “I don’t really see a point in continuing the conversation any further.’
“I fucking hate this industry,” Fish told Twitter. “there’s not a day that goes by i don’t fantasize about leaving it. but that would only make you happy, right?”
He just needed to vent. That’s what we told ourselves. Then twenty minutes later, Phil Fish finally did it. He’d fantasized enough.