The price of fame

Via Zubon on KTR, we have this Penny Arcade report about a dev quitting his job over negative feedback/threats over Twitter. Zubon’s post is an attempt to help raise awareness for the situation so negativity/threats slow or stop. I couldn’t stop shaking my head reading both posts.

There are many aspects to all of this, and I’ll cover some of the basics before getting to the main point.

First, fame is what it is. When more people know of you, more people have an opinion of you, and those will range from very positive to very negative, no matter who you are. There are people who hated Ghandi/MLK (insert whoever you deem ‘good’), and right now there is a Facebook support group for Boston terrorist bomber #2. Trying to convince everyone who knows about you that you are ‘good’ is a fool’s pursuit.

In all but the rarest cases, you have to do something to earn fame. And then you have to keep doing something to maintain fame, especially in today’s ADHD world where fame cycles are closer to 15 seconds than 15 minutes. It’s very easy to NOT be famous, and lots of people try VERY hard to be famous. Fame has its perks, ranging from getting into an MMO beta to becoming a multi-millionaire getting paid 100k for Tweeting about your toothpaste (Kardashians). With those perks however comes the attention; it’s a tradeoff, and always has been.

Twitter itself is not air; you can live without it. Very few jobs REQUIRE you to be on Twitter, and even fewer require you to read what’s there. Much like fame, when you get on Twitter you (knowingly or not) accept the tradeoff of getting your message out with getting attention for that message, and as already covered; any attention is going to be good and bad. That Twitter is a part of the anonymous internet amplifies this, sure, but that same internet amplification also makes getting the attention you were looking for easier. Accept both or neither.

On top of that, let’s not pretend that being a game dev or reviewer is some extra burden beyond a ‘normal’ job. Normal life comes with social ‘issues’, be it office politics related to promotions, after-project credit/blame distribution, who gets into a college and why, invitations to parties, etc. Dealing with negativity is a basic aspect of life, and the only way to fully avoid it is to place yourself in a bubble forever.

Similarly, the attention/response ratio is the same here as well. Become a very popular game dev and you will get ideal death threats when you change game balance, yup. Go to enough parties and eventually someone is going to punch you in the face over a misunderstanding. Do really well at work and certain people are going to try and bring you down. Again, that’s just life. Game devs and reviewers are not special snowflakes dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Want to test it out for yourself? Start a blog, get popular, and then write how WoW sucks and watch the hate pour in. Someone might even call you evil. At that point you can curl up into a ball, start crying, and ask the sky why this is happening to you, or you act like most people would and chuckle, brush it off, and continue on.

Finally, let’s cover the severity of the threats. Are most of them serious? Nope. Is there a chance one of them is? Yup. Does that chance mean you should report everything or never get famous? Up to you. There is also a chance you will get into a car accident today, so it’s up to you whether you want to drive into work today. I’d also suggest considering never going outside, lighting strikes and all. Point being, there is always a risk to things and your life can be cut short at any time; you can either obsess over it or play the odds wisely (don’t smoke, don’t be fat, etc) and make the most of things.

If the game dev felt his fame was causing more harm than good, that’s his choice, and I’m not bashing him for it. At the same time, let’s not martyr him or pretend that fame-based issues are something new or unfair. They just come in 140 characters now.

29 Responses to The price of fame

  1. Ettesiun says:

    I understand all your point but strongly disagree on one point : we are able to change this mentality. Not alone. Not total change in one minute. But little by little. To be bullied is not acceptable even if it is classic. But one century ago you could have been killed because you were gay, or two centuries ago killing duel was considered acceptable because of insult ! Mentality and people can change with time, but only if we fight for it.

    Yes unfortunately death threats are usuals. But can we changes things ? Yes slowly. And one good.way to.do it is to raise awareness of the problem.

    • SynCaine says:

      Laws change because of the majority (or a powerful minority) want them changed. So while we don’t have segregated schools anymore, we still have racists. We don’t need laws to protect those with thin skin, and ultimately that’s what this story is about.

      • poohbum says:

        Are you really that deluded? Most laws are passed under both majorities or large minorities.
        Can you still have racists when you get fired or jailed if even thinking race exists? So are you saying laws should only be used for CERTAIN people on a certain issues which have thin skin? The irony is that we live in the most thinned skin society ever, and will only get worse as government gets bigger.

        @ Ettesiun
        Wow way to suddenly change the topic to politics/sexuality! Who gives homosexuals death threats now days? You are more likely to get death threats if you go against homosexuality. “We fight for it”? You cannot fight against the opinion of the past, they had that view and they had it for a good reason.

        • Rammstein says:

          Your rant, while nonsensical and insane, was still strangely enjoyable. Thank you.

        • coppertopper says:

          Going to 2nd Rammsteins thoughts. Your diatribe is what brings big government into things like steroid use in sports, and like Syncaine mention, all things ‘thin skinned’ and mob related.

  2. nekomancer says:

    Syncaine – one major difference between your example and “plight” of developers/celebrities is that you are “Syncaine”. You can simply “chuckle and brush it off” when you receive threats to your dog/wife/children. I expect it would feel differently were those threats aimed at your real name and exact identity.

    • SynCaine says:

      It takes about 2 seconds to connect SynCaine to my real name. I’ve always understood that. Anyone who is blogging that thinks their RL can’t be found is just fooling themselves.

  3. tithian says:

    You are posting under an alias, so of course threats don’t mean anything to you.

    Even better, you get less than 0.1% of the feedback these people get, day in and day out. What would you do then, quit reading e-mails, forums, twitter AND facebook? Especially when your entire PR revolves around these mediums nowdays?

    This is not about the severity of the threats, but about the magnitude of the issue. Receiving 100 threats per day, even the trollish ones, WILL wear you down. And at that point, you just say “fuck it, I’m done”.

    The fact that people are also conditioned to accept this entire situation as the norm, is very distressing.

  4. zubonganai says:

    As I said, I’m still rather surprised at the place where the debate is being held. “Can we at least agree that threatening to murder someone is bad?” Vast numbers of people are loudly shrugging or, like SynCaine, shaking their heads. Because, hey, suck it up, murder threats happen.

  5. Azuriel says:

    Death threats are bad, but what is the solution here? Throwing everyone into jail?

    I agree with SynCaine insofar as a certain amount of nonsense is unavoidable. And besides, what has bullying “awareness” ever changed in any high school anywhere in the world, let alone outside of it?

    Unless we start issuing death threats for making death threats, it will exist.

    • buboe says:

      We don’t need to throw everyone in jail.
      But starting with people who make threats of violence, rape and death over the internet might thin the herd a little.
      And your link isn’t really a relevant one.
      Carter didn’t directly threaten anyone.
      He responded sarcastically with a hypothetical scenario about violence. This is a mile away from the sort of stuff Vonderhaar and others face.

  6. Mekhios says:

    Phil Fish is a special snowflake with a very thin skin. He is also a hypocrite as he acted the same way to others many years ago (people have very short memories). He decided to air his problems over Twitter (no one forced him to) and then received the expected internet backlash.

    He had one of two choices – man up or get out of the kitchen. He chose the later. I expect he will take his red Swingline stapler and move to some remote tropical paradise so he can preach to the locals about the evils of humanity.

  7. Whorhay says:

    Death threats that can’t be distinguished easily from a joke aren’t acceptable whether issued over the internet or in person. If the behavior is persistent then yes the person making the threats should be hauled into court to face the music. Following the laws of the land is required if you want to be allowed to participate in society.

    Bullying has and probably will persist because there are all sorts of ways of doing it and frankly most people bully others in some way or another. I think that the violence of bullying has decreased over time but only as our society has grown less tolerant of physical violence in general.

    We are of course much more aware of these things happening now than you would have been even a couple decades ago because of advances in communication technology.

  8. carson63000 says:

    Can we summarize this blog post into one sentence: “it’s all his fault for being too sensitive, not the abusers’ fault for being abusive”?

    • SynCaine says:

      I would say its more like a girl crying “rape” because a guy in a bar smiled at her.

      • Solf says:

        Are you seriously likening death/rape threats (even if over Internet) to the “guy smiling at a girl in a bar”?

        Really?

        Death/rape/violence personal threats are never okay. The only ‘excuse’ could be that the guy doing the ‘threating’ is absolutely, positively, 101% joking. In which case he’s simply an idiot. But over the Internet you can rarely be sure of anything like that.

        Frankly, this piece of blogging make me think much of less of you Syncaine — however little this might mean to you.

        I can see your point about overreacting and knowing what you get into when you get ‘famous’. But it doesn’t make threats okay in any way or shape.

        • SynCaine says:

          I am, but I’d say the bar incident is actually a bit more serious since it happens in person.

          The internet is 99.999% trolling. You have a better chance of dying in a car crash today than you do in someone following through with a murder threat, yet you are still going to get in a car, aren’t you? Just like you’re still going to log into the Internet and probably have someone tell you they are going to murder/rape you (assuming you play the right games, or are e-famous enough).

        • Solf says:

          Err what?

          Smiling is more serious ‘incident’ than threatening someone (over Internet or otherwise)? Either you are out of your mind, you’re trolling me, or your country is even more weird than I thought it is (whereas smiling at someone equals at least harassment I guess).

          That aside, if we take your Internet example as ‘truth’ (99.999% trolling), just *how* does it make it okay to make threats to anyone?

          (thinking about it again I think I have an inkling as to what you’re might be thinking, but I’d like to hear it from you if possible)

        • SynCaine says:

          The smiling can lead to a report of rape/harassment, which even if innocent, can result in a lot of frustration. There are countless examples of someone “crying wolf”, and even when ultimately that comes out, until then the accused goes through hell.

          Compared to some internet forum threat? I’ll take someone behind a screen name typing they are going to kill me every single time.

          You are getting too stuck on the whole “is it ok” aspect. That’s a non-factor. Whether we say its 100% ok or 100% not ok, it doesn’t matter. Someone is typing “I’m going to kill you” on the Internet right now, and that is going to continue to happen every second of every day. The issue is what are YOU going to do about it? Ragequit your job, or brush it off and continue living like everyone else?

        • tithian says:

          @Syn

          I think you’ve been spending too much time in LoL.

          You’re assuming that trolling is somehow acceptable behaviour, while it’s still abuse (although on a milder scale). You’re assuming that words cannot harm anyone, when in fact there are kids/teens that have killed themselves over such casual “trolling” on the social media sites. But I’m sure they just belong to that “serious” 0.001% and they just needed a thicker skin and to HTFU.

        • Solf says:

          Wait, wait, are you seriously suggesting that smiling is not ok? In bar or otherwise? Basically I’m sorry, it seems like the entire US nation is trained to smile all the time (which is not necessarily bad / nor it is not necessarily good) [at the very least that's the impression I got from my few visits over there], so what are you talking about here? I think you’re putting far more into that ‘smile in a bar’ than the words seem to convey directly.

          And as to the other subject — “Whether we say its 100% ok or 100% not ok, it doesn’t matter” — I’m going to say you’re dead wrong. I usually try to not deal in absolutes, but this time I’ll go for it.

          It totally matters. It matters, because if people (as a society) will start to universally think it is not okay, it’ll go away. It won’t happen tomorrow or the day after — but it will. But ONLY if we realize that it is NOT ok. As long as we dismiss it as “it doesn’t matter” it will only grow worse.

          Now since you didn’t answer my question about ‘how it makes it okay’ — I’m not sure if you consider threats/thrashtalking okay by themselves. To make it crystal clear — laying aside any overreaction and thin skin and what not — is it okay to write on the Internet, let’s say, “you bastard you destroyed my favorite [in-game] gun, I’m going to come over and kill you and rape your entire family”? Is it?

        • SynCaine says:

          @Solf – It is, because its inside a game or on the internet. The environment matters. If you say that to someones face, you will likely catch a beating, because its a different environment with different rules. Rap music contains plenty of threats in lyrics, some rather direct; are you saying its time to ban such lyrics? Or do we accept them because we understand the environment? The smiling example applies the environment aspect as well.

          @tithian – You don’t want me to get into the whole ‘bullying’ nonsense and ‘social media’. Short form, I find it a complete joke. The only reason its news right now is because more people are aware of it, and more people can make noise about it thanks to twitter. There was plenty of bullying prior to the internet, yet somehow society made it.

        • Solf says:

          Environment matters, but it doesn’t excuse threats.

          Threats/violence against fictional characters (as e.g. in a song/movie/fiction) may be acceptable.

          Threats against real people are not (not matter how frivolous).

          If some rapper makes a song basically saying “kill all blacks” he ought (and I hope would) be jailed. It would be a different matter if in his song an imaginary KKK character makes this kind of statement/threat versus another imaginary group of people in the song.

        • tithian says:

          Since I know a person whose sibling attempted suicide due to all this “fake bullying”, I beg to differ.

          I find it very sad that you think common decency towards others is a luxury we can do without. If this is the current state of american society, yikes….

        • SynCaine says:

          You are misreading me. I’m not saying bullying today is fake. I’m saying bullying today is not much different than bullying pre-internet, other than the fact that someone can tweet about it to their followers.

          It’s not a new and emergent issue. It’s human nature, just displayed in 140 characters.

          The decision to bully, just like the decision on how to react to it, is up to each individual.

        • tithian says:

          I think that bullying is indeed different ; it’s much harsher than it used to and it’s much easier to form a mob mentallity. Being bullied by three kids at school is a whole different affair than having the entire school poking you. Even if the harrassment coming from each individual is milder, the sheer volume will amplify everything.

          I totally get what you’re getting at, I’m guessing at around your age and from my perspective, the world we grew up in was much more innocent. I remember walking to school when I was 6, for something like 10 blocks, all by myself with no fear of having anything happen to me. I mentioned this to a mother the other day (wife of a close friend) while asking why parents don’t do the same now and she looked at me like I was the spawn of satan.

          While there is much hyperbole in the whole ‘dagerous world’ aspect, the truth is, some of those dangers are very much real, even more so today. I’m all for having kids rough it out a little and not being sheltered 24/7, but I can see the other side of the argument as well.

          Are we Off Topic yet?

          Anyway, Jester had some things to say on the (original) subject and I think I agree with him the most. on’t have the link, but I’m guessing you’re following his blog anyway.

        • SynCaine says:

          If twitter was around when I was in HS, half my class would be in jail for bullying or worse. I had this talk with my friends recently, including some teachers, and the stuff that gets reported today is a complete joke vs what was going on ‘back in the day’.

          If anything, social media has already towed all of this down, because you CAN’T bully a kid to the point of absurdity without someone noticing. Back then you easily could, and when reported it became a straight he-said she-said item. Today everything is on youtube thanks to an iPhone.

  9. Tierless Time says:

    Excellent post Syn. Were living in an interesting time where people have platforms to be more vocal than ever. Companies seem to want us to follow them on social media, but we tend to feel that gives us the right to give them feedback on the product we are following. I suppose it’s a trade-off.

  10. buboe says:

    Seriously? He should just brush this off?
    Someone threatened to tie a guys family up and rape his kids because he nerfed a gun in COD.
    You’ve noted in the comments above that it would take about 5 minutes to find him IRL.
    That is the context this conversation is operating in.
    And there are no excuses.

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