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April 23, 2018
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Why I canceled my Wii U game

by Brandon Sheffield on 03/31/16 07:15:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Yesterday, I made a statement on twitter, one which I thought was rather small at the time – that we would not be bringing our next game to Wii U due to the firing of Alison Rapp. A lot of interesting things happened since then, and the story and our place in it has gotten bigger, and since people keep asking me for a comment, I'll just do it here, on my own terms.

First, I should say that I do not know Alison Rapp. We've never met and never talked. My statement was less about her as an individual - it was in support of all those who have been harassed by the darker corners of the internet, largely because they were women.

I should say also that I am not a fan of her much-discussed essay regarding the sexualization of children in Japan. While I agree with part of the premise, namely that the West should not push its particular ideas of right and wrong on the rest of the world, I disagree with the core proof in her argument – that lower rates of child abuse and rape in Japan are indicative that pornography may be helping. Japan does have some of the lowest rates of reported rape and abuse, but those stats have been increasing as laws rise to support such claims. Many publications, including the Japan Times, support the idea that the lower rate of rape reportage is likely just that – lower reportage.

--

When I made that tweet, it seemed that the sole reason for her firing was the harassment she received over the last several months, stemming from the Angry Internet wanting someone to blame for changes to some Nintendo games, and finding a feminist, Rapp, to pin it on. She fit the narrative of who they wanted to see fry, and it didn't matter that she a) was in marketing not localization, and b) said she would've really liked to see those Xenoblade Chronicles X boob sliders anyway.

Nintendo has since made a statement that they fired her for having a second job which as in conflict with their terms of employment. They also stated that they do not stand for harassment of anyone for reasons of race, religion, or personal views. Many have asked whether this makes our symbolic gesture ring hollow – my response is this:

If you stand against harassment, you have to actually stand against it. You have to stand against it while it's happening, not after you've let someone go, when it's convenient and easy. You have to stand against harassment when it's difficult and painful and awkward and inconvenient, because that is when it matters. Otherwise it's just words.

I stand by my decision because I want to see this industry change its attitude toward the women it employs. Our small games aren't going to make a difference to Nintendo's bottom line, but the discussion that surrounds it might make a difference to our collective conscience. 

--

As the day wore on, yesterday, that initial tweet blew up. 1,200 retweets and counting, and tons, I mean tons, of hateful comments pointed in my direction.

I learned from hundreds of people tweeting at me that:
- nobody cares because nobody has heard of us/me
- nobody wants our stupid walking simulator anyway (we are not making a walking simulator – we were planning to bring out a new version of our small puzzle game Gunhouse)
- nobody would ever buy our games because they're bad
- nobody will buy our future games now
- the people who would not have bought our games anyway are somehow going to affect us financially because now they're definitely not going to buy our games… even more??
- I'm an idiot because she wasn't fired because of harassment and becoming a liability in that regard, it was because of her essay, “do your research.”
- I'm an idiot because she wasn't fired because of harassment or even the essay after all or for any of the things we said before it was because of another job and was completely unrelated and obviously everybody knew this and “do your research.”

Of course there was also a larger, wider-ranging number of personal attacks that aren't worth getting into. It's stressful to look at twitter when it's full of hate (thanks to the people who were nice, by the way!), but it's nothing compared to what would've happened if I were a woman. Imagine!

Looking at the profiles of these people, I saw a lot of pain and anger. I saw a lot of people feeling like someone was ruining their lives. I saw people feel like I was doing them personal harm by taking away this game they'd never heard of (especially since I hadn't named it), and didn't want to buy anyway. 

I saw a lot of trump supporters. I saw a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment. I saw a lot of pinned tweets stating that cyberbullying isn't real, because “just walk away from the computer.” I saw a lot of people saying “you defend child pornography,” while they themselves used an avatar of a sexualized 12 year old anime girl. I saw a lot of anger toward women.

But I also saw tweets about being bullied in school, tweets about bad home lives or difficult situations they're in. It was interesting to see how a large number of folks felt themselves to be part of a marginalized group that had suffered under the hands of others.

It was interesting also to see their subsequent tweets about how women are ruining everything and taking over the internet. This juxtaposition of bullying women while feeling as though they themselves are being bullied was striking. I don't agree with their stance at all – when you look at employment, pay statistics, and opportunity, women are a marginalized group by any description, in America.

But it is clear that a large number of these men feel like women gaining a little of the power that had been denied them previously is a continuation of the bullying they faced in the past. These men have finally found a group that supports them, even if that group is, ultimately, pushing a lot of hate against women and other marginalized groups. They feel that the pushback against their pushback is bullying them, because they are used to being the one bullied that they can't see it another way. They've been unable to lift themselves out of that mindset, so when someone says “hey, the voices of women should also be heard,” they feel, “you're not hearing MY voice anymore!” 

I'm not excusing their actions, or their words, but it's helpful, at least to me, amid this torrent of vitriol and hate, to remember that these are actual human beings. To paint them all with the exact same brush takes away your ability to try to understand them and to move forward with the discussion. Don't condone it – but don't shut it out completely. 

I don't believe it's currently possible to have that sort of dialog on twitter with the hundreds of individuals who are telling me I'm the worst person on the planet. But I do believe that if we're ever to have a discussion about these problems in the game industry, we have to look each other in the face as humans, and see each others' fallibility.

--

Back to Rapp, then. Nintendo fired her, and certainly the reason on paper will be her second job, whatever that job may be. But would they have decided her other job was a fireable offense had she not already been under scrutiny from the internet, which had indisputably arranged a large-scale campaign to get her fired? Would they have dug through her tweets to see whether she still supported a stance she made in an essay that is linked on her linkedin page, which they certainly saw when they hired her? We will not get these answers, but they strike me as murky territory.

From our side, we had planned to bring one of our smaller titles, Gunhouse, to the Wii U as a market test, to see whether it was worth bringing our larger games to Wii U, NX, or 3DS, depending on how the market shakes out. Developer friends had told me it was pretty straightforward, and we had a working build that we could've launched simultaneously with our iOS/Android versions in a couple months – it was nearly done.

Detractors will say no big deal. And in the sense of Gunhouse as a game, no, it's not a big deal for Nintendo whether our game is on the Wii U. But there are larger things at stake – we need to start a discussion about larger companies standing against harassment, and I would submit that smaller developers like us speaking up is the first step in that process.

I don't know for certain why Alison Rapp was fired. But I do know she was harassed for months with very little support from Nintendo. When Intel found itself under fire for pulling ads from Gamasutra in response to gamergate, they reacted by building a $300 million diversity initiative

This is what it means to be a tech industry leader. Don't just say you don't support harassment. Do something about harassment. Do something to help. Be a positive voice for change, and use your vast resources to take care of the people under your employ – and beyond. By setting a standard here, Nintendo could pull the rest of the industry along with it, and actually do something about cyberbullying, online harassment, and workplace inequality.

Until that changes, my position stands.

And for the rest of us, we need to recognize that this isn't about gamergate – it's not about one specific movement or another. It's about systematic marginalization of women in the game industry, and you can be for that or against it, but the time has come to stop with the “wait and see” approach, and start trying to make positive change that you can believe in.

If you'd like to follow our exploits, we're at Necrosoft Games, and you can get at me on Twitter. Let's try to be nice to each other.


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