Sometimes, it’s hard to be succinct. This might be one of those times. If you don’t know who Jennifer Hepler is, then don’t worry. Until this morning, I didn’t know who she was either. But then I did some reading. You see, Jennifer Hepler works for BioWare, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts that usually focuses on Role Playing Games (RPG) for console and PC releases. BioWare is most famous for Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Wars: The Old Republic series of games.
As any good politician will tell you, the past never dies. It just waits until you are running for election and then shows up in a smear commercial. For Jennifer, this moment came last week, when someone took a photo of Jennifer, photoshopped a few choice words next to her picture, as well as excerpts from an interview from five years ago, describing how her least favorite part of video games is “playing the games.” But the story doesn’t end there. No, this sordid tale involves a flame war on Twitter, a series of terribly misogynistic writings, and perhaps worst of all – the sense that “gamers” are an immature lot of developmentally arrested men-children who are incapable of rational thought.
This is the kind of behavior that justifies the FOX News stereotype of the basement dwelling, antisocial nerd. This is the kind of behavior that makes the Spike VGAs look like the perfect gamer show — because it’s crass, immature, and it sports the emotional depth of a wet paper towel. That’s how gamers look when something like this happens. – Jim Sterling
You see, Jennifer opined (years and years ago) that video games should have an option where you can skip the action, fighting, or gameplay scenes if you wanted to – the inverse of the commonplace “press start to skip the cutscene” tactic employed by… everyone. Jennifer thought that players should be able to get right to the story. As a matter of fact, last year’s L.A. Noire employed the tactic, allowing you to skip a gameplay sequence should you fail three times.
While these quotes have been circulating the internets for a while now, what caused this to suddenly turn meme? Twitter.
When Ms. Hepler joined Twitter, she was just getting used to the notion of hashtags when things took a turn for the absolutely disgusting. I got a helluva lot angrier reading some of these pathetic tweets then I did when I found out three days after the Grammys that they let Chris Brown on stage. For reals.
Unfortunately for Jennifer Hepler, she was on Twitter for all of three minutes before the tweets rolled in, ranging from ridiculing her weight, calling her uncouth four letter versions of vagina, and her appearance. I wouldn’t dare repeat some of them here, but I have no problem linking to it. You will see that Hepler has since closed up her Twitter shop, and for good reason. Imagine your phone blowing up every five minutes for it to say “Someone on Twitter thinks you should swallow a frisbee at your earliest convenience,” or “Some 20 year old is angry at you for including a gay character in Dragon Age Origins. He kindly requests you die in a fire.”
Hepler probably could have done without saying “I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can’t get either.” A subtly hilarious rejoinder, sure – but not exactly a PR dream. Nor does it help that BioWare GM Aaryn Flynn called a specific person a “fucking moron” after he called Hepler “the cancer that is poisoning BioWare.” There are three things to note: 1.) the supposed “moron” who accused Hepler of having “pig disgusting fetishes” is now apparently contemplating legal action against BioWare (?). 2). Aaryn Flynn actually seems to have endeared himself to some fans for coming to Hepler’s aid. 3). BioWare President Ray Muzuka issued a statement supporting Hepler, decrying the abuse, and pledging $1000 to Bullying Canada.
I’m not going to explode in a liberal rage here, even though I could (should?). It’s easy to get worked up over the misogynistic messages, or to assume that a number of persons “blame” Hepler for ignoring the ““Straight, White Gamer”. (In short, a player of Dragon Age II complained that there wasn’t a way to “disable” homosexuality in the game, as you are able to take on a number of romantic entanglements. BioWare essentially told that person to get over himself.)
No, instead, I am going to quietly seethe over this, because I am ashamed. I’m embarrassed to be a gamer (for 20 years and counting) because this incident speaks volumes about the subset of people who are part of this group. As Jim Sterling wrote about the incident,
“It is the height of entitlement to believe you can say whatever you want, as hurtful as you like, and not expect a word of retort.”
I am a gamer, yes – but I wholly disagree with the sentiments put forth by any of those idiots. I actually think condemn is a more appropriate word.
While you open yourself up to the world when you join Twitter or Facebook, and should be able to expect some criticism regarding your line of work, the way Jennifer Hepler was disparaged and verbally abused on Twitter is profoundly unacceptable. That is not the discourse a human should have with another human being, let alone a customer and a business. It’s sad that something like this is going on in the right half of my brain, when the other half keeps checking on Amazon to see if my new Playstation Vita has been delivered yet.
Unfortunately, I think the adage doesn’t apply here. The customer isn’t always right. In this case, the customer is terribly, terribly wrong.