Jennifer Hepler, a Bioware writer developing Dragon Age II recently quit her job after she received a barrage of threatening forum posts, tweets, emails and phone calls, which endangered her life and those of her children.
There are several reasons for this, including an old interview where she said she did like combat in game to Dragon Age II’s new relationship feature where players can engage in heterosexual or homosexual relationships (as well as interspecies and multiple relationships). She has been insulted based on her looks, her ideas, and has been called “a cancer.” Even though she has often received threats and insults, it has only recently escalated.
Hepler has spoken about why it is so difficult for women in the videogame industry to flourish:
It’s something that comes up in almost every conversation with female developers. Overall, people seem to try to shrug it off publicly and fume privately, and younger women contemplating the field are reconsidering whether they have the stomach to handle what it currently asks of them. That’s the biggest risk, in my opinion: that we will lose out on the talents of people who would make fantastic games that we would all be the better for playing, because they legitimately don’t want to make themselves into targets. A lot of the best artists and storytellers (and quite a few great programmers too), tend to be sensitive people — we shouldn’t lose out on their talents because we are requiring them to be tough, battle-scarred veterans just to walk in the door.
This is not the only time in the last year where the gaming community has threatened those who work on games.
David Vonderhaar recently received death threats last month for a patch for three weapons in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 which caused them to slow down the firing rate. Gamers told Vonderhaar to kill himself or that he should die in a fire, simply because three of the weapons now fired slightly slower than before.
But here’s the big problem - when fans react this negatively to change, why should developers ever try anything new?
Think about it - if the fan community reacts this violently to an optional relationship feature and a decreased firing rate, how would they react to major changes in gaming? What would be the incentive for new talent to join these developing companies when they could find themselves the targets of death threats and violence? You might think “Well they are just threats, it’s not like anyone would act on them,” which is easy to say if you’ve never had death threats thrown your way. No one can know how a single person can act, and if they can find your phone number, what other information can they access?
Games of the 21st century are amazing, innovative, and are striving to be the better than the ones that came before them, but when fans threaten those who want try new things to make games better, why would they even bother trying? When the loudest of the fans decide that change is ruining what they love, they are in turn destroying the incentive to innovate, and making the artists to bring to life these worlds and characters to censor themselves because they don’t want to be accosted. The best art can come from the wildest minds, those who are free to experiment, so when we put down writers and developers for things we don’t like, aren’t we sending a message to the other developers and writers that we will not tolerate their new ideas? That they should keep games exactly the same? Is that really what we want?
This is merely something to think about, but as gamers we have an impressive sway over what developers make both with our voices and with our dollars. And, as always, with great power comes great responsibility.