Game Developers May Need Support Groups
CREDIT: Tom's Guide
The relationship between gamers and game developers is unusually toxic lately. It's getting to the point that creators could benefit from support groups. The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is considering just such an idea to cope with the volume of bile coming toward creative professionals in gaming.
While the advent of social media has made it easier than ever before to get in touch with game developers, this has not been exclusively a positive thing. Polygon recently ran an article describing the massive amount of hatred that developers receive from fans. This often includes rape and death threats, in addition to good, old-fashioned mean-spirited verbal attacks.
Responses to harassment
"We have [encountered] all kinds of personal-level incidents of sexism and developer harassment and LGBT bias," Kate Edwards, executive director of IGDA, told Tom's Guide. "None of these things are unique to the game industry, naturally."
First things first: At present, the IGDA has no immediate plans to start support groups. "It's something we're looking into," Edwards said. "We're getting a sense among our developer community of how big a problem it is."
This is not simply a matter of asking developers to "grow a thicker skin" or "tune out" the noise from the criticisms. A commenter threatening to kill you or your family — whether or not you seriously think the person will go through with it — is not easy to ignore. When those threats come in immense numbers, the odds of someone actually following through increase.
"I have not had a lot of people who specifically raised the issue [of physical threats]," Edwards said. "[We] have sexism and other issues in the industry that go unreported for all kinds of reasons, whether it's personal or organizational … We're trying to elucidate and get a sense of how big of an issue this is."
The differences between criticisms, verbal attacks and outright threats can be difficult to parse. Death or rape threats often require intervention from law enforcement, which is where things can get tricky. If the IGDA does eventually implement support groups, it will be up to individual chapters to work together with local law enforcement when necessary.
Beyond that, there are two main avenues for potential support groups: in-person and online. "IGDA is a virtual, global community. It's very likely that it would take an online form," Edwards said. The group already uses Skype to hold meetings for chapter leaders on a regular basis.
That said, the group has individual chapters all over the world, and if there is a spike of bad online behavior directed toward a particular studio — as happened for BioWare in Edmonton, Alberta after the controversial "Mass Effect 3" ending, for example — a local IGDA group could organize a real-world meeting.
Social media has amplified criticism, and gamers are among the first to embrace new technologies, but hostility toward creative types is centuries old.
"People who write books and movies and music and comics all have a certain level of backlash they get from a certain fan base," Edwards said. "It's always important to foster constructive criticism, and that's a two-way street. The gamer community needs to be respectful of the creative choices made in a game."
Interaction in the online space does not have to be a contest of one-upsmanship, to see who can force the most developers out of the industry.
"Developers should not just brush off feedback they might get if it has a tinge of negativity or disappointment," Edwards said. "As long as it's not openly malicious or openly destructive or threatening, there's a lot of value in that."
Whether or not the IGDA implements support groups, there are a few simple steps that both fans and creators can take to reduce the amount of hostility online. Edwards suggests that if you dislike a game, be respectful and constructive rather than dismissive and threatening.
For developers, Edwards recommends that if a fan tears into a game you've created, try to determine whether it's a personal attack or just an angry criticism born of disappointment. Of course, there's no reason for either side to ever tolerate threats of violence.
"If it becomes threatening, they need to contact local law enforcement or take whatever other steps they need, to make sure they're personally protected," said Edwards. "This kind of thing can be identified, and the perpetrator will know that this behavior is not appropriate."