Friends, I am having trouble writing this post, which means if you see it, it’s probably a poorly written missive that only digs deep enough to allow me to call it “content”.
Something that’s always on my mind is the value of engagement. With social media being the “New Great Satan” there’s a lot of electrons spilled on think pieces that talk about how bad social media is for society. Everyone has access to a platform (sometimes many) and everyone can use their platform in any way they see fit. Love something? Gush about it. Hate something? Condemn. Facts be damned because graphs and numbers are boring; rage-face and spittle are what drive views and glue the Internet together. For some reason people really like to hear horrible takes on pretty much anything, and since like begets like, our measure of “engagement” seems to have sunk to a level best described as “poorest loser wins”.
I can say that this blog doesn’t get a lot of engagement; it’s rare when I get a comment, and my view stats are abysmal for someone who has been doing this for almost 20 years. I have switched URLs, switched formats, and most worrisome of all, have switched voices throughout the years. My posts aren’t consistent in timing, content, or presentation, and since I have noticed it, I’m sure that others who used to or who still read this blog have noticed it.
I mention this because it’s this understanding that has often made me question whether or not to release or even draft posts on particular topics. Believe me, there are tons of posts in my unpublished pile, some complete and some not. Some were started with a full head of steam because I was angry about or invested in something, pro or con, which writing helped me regulate, making the release of such a post kind of pointless to me in the end. Others never got started because I pulled a mental thread to it’s personal conclusion: Who will read this? Will it matter? Will I come off as another rage-and-spittle content creator? Will people think poorly of me for speaking my mind if they find out that I don’t toe their line?
The answer, I suppose, lies in the value of a voice. One of the criticisms of social media is that it’s too easy to say something we’ll regret and have it preserved for all time, as evidenced by the many “this has aged poorly” RT’s we might see on any given day. I believe that for a lot of people, the act of being seen saying something is sometimes worth more than pretty much anything else they can do. There are hashtags. There are “Twibbons” and avi-overlays that are meant to carry a message even when the content is going on about other things. Being seen as an advocate or opponent is important if someone somewhere is taking a headcount, but who needs to know where a person stands at any given point in a situation? It’s not like we’re officially picking sides for a shooting war — yet.
My content isn’t produced to make anyone else feel something about me, although — like many — I have posted content which gives people insight into who I am as a person. I firmly believe that this is human nature, a way to connect with people. Solidarity is a powerful drug regardless if the cause is for good or for ill. We want the people who matter to us to know about us so that they can think well of us and might consider turning to us the next time they are looking for someone to confide in, someone to help out, and someone to care. We want to be remembered, albeit on our terms, which is why I believe so many people are quick to jump on campaign bandwagons as it signals to those we care about that they can care about us. In that regard, I do care about how my content portrays me, because I want people to like my content and, by extension, like me. Some posts that I think about or write run counter to that desire, and end up on the burn pile.
What is the value of a voice compared to the value of a conscience, or a soul. Heavy shit, I know, but this is the point I want to make: toeing someone’s imaginary line on social media is something that some people require when something or someone throws down. “If you’re not part of the solution,” they’ll say — on line, of course, in full view of the world — “then you’re part of the problem”. Who determines what response is an acceptable “part of the solution”? Do I need to post with the requisite hashtags or change my avatar to assure my contemporaries that they should continue to follow me because to not do these things I am considered “part of the problem”?
Case in point, and bringing this post into more familiar realms: ActiBlizzard, their culture, and how the community responds. I have said nothing on this topic; I do not play ActiBlizzard games, and I have never fawned over Blizzard the way many people do, so I have no moral quandary when it comes to “do I or do I not” play their games (not a flex, just a point). Some people do right now, which I can appreciate because as a community, gamers are fickle. How many times have people lambasted EA for some shenanigans, only to throw wallets a few weeks later when some hyped product is released? This isn’t the first time Activision or Blizzard have been in hot water, yet they still seem to be doing OK financially while being raked over the coals socially. Remember Riot’s issues, similar in flavor to ActiBlizzard’s current situation? Consciously I bet you do; subconsciously they might operate or have announced something that you really, really have to play.
Does that put people into a precarious position to say one thing and do something else completely counter? Maybe it does this week. The gaming scene is like a conveyor belt of controversy that has no off switch and only increases in speed week by week. If it’s not some revered company being revealed to be a den of shit, then it someone you have never heard of suddenly becoming someone you wished you’d never heard of. We only have enough bandwidth for a finite amount of crap, and that’s OK because if we were to be as consistently militant about our outrage in a year as we were on day one, about “voting with our wallets” as our initial outpouring of rage on social media would lead people to believe, the games industry would be a smaller, less flush place than it is.
Somehow we come to terms with this dichotomy not because we learn to balance our appearances with our desires, but because we are more aware than we were yesterday, or last week, or last month. Some voices are crucial — those who break the stories, or who share their experiences with us. Some voices are less so if they only serve to make people feel that they’re being seen as coming down on the right side of history. Unless people have the steely fortitude to turn their backs on things that make them happy then this community will never stop playing Blizzard games or buying EA products.
What we should hope for is that the community stops with the unfettered hero-worship of corporations. The amount of appreciation that people lavish on Blizzard, or BioWare, or any other game dev company is just fuel for the kinds of fires that allow companies to believe that they can get away with far more than the kinds of companies that you and I work for could. Untempered praise can lead to ego, and ego can lead to a sense of impunity and entitlement, where forgiveness will always be just one E3 away, or one sexy cut-scene, or one graduating class of starry-eyed game dev students who believe in the adage “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. What we probably don’t know about even the most staid studios might amaze and disgust us, because abhorrent human nature has no preference for industry. So as long as we don’t know about the inner workings of our favorite companies, and so long as our favorite companies can keep offering the perks and bennies that drive game-dev graduates to their doors like so many zombie hoards, we’ll just assume that providers of entertainment are worthy of our undying devotion to sexing up aliens or attending lavish blow-out conventions…Until they aren’t, and then we have to reconcile being seen taking a moral stand with our desire for that sweet, sweet upcoming release. Companies are not people; they exist to make money. Thankfully the game industry is populated by people who who do love what they do, and who take pride in their work and want to produce the best game they can. It’s the good people we should support in all ways, not the trademarks.
It’s a problem for everyone, although not equally. No one should fear going to work. No one should be made to feel lesser than others at their place of employment. I have been in those kinds of situations, and I’m not even in game development. Talk to a game developer, look at a game artist’s portfolio, read a forum to see what kind of shit CM’s have to deal with and you will understand that when it comes to game development, there are no lessers. When it comes to human beings, there are no lessers. Hierarchy, “boys-clubs”, and cliques be damned. No one should be exposed to treatment the likes of which we’re learning about in this ActiBlizzard situation.
For those of us on the other side of the screen, we can and should do what our conscience demands, not what our contemporaries on social media might demand. Remember that withholding dollars as a means of punishment is punishing the most vulnerable at the company; the executives and higher-ups are still going to get their golden parachutes in a re-org or if they become the sacrificial lambs, but the QA people, the rank-and-file devs and artists and network managers are the ones at risk. Unfortunately we can’t only pay those who deserve it and withhold from those who create problems for others; it would be amazing if we could. Those who slink back into the shadows will benefit from your support, yes, but so will those who support walk-outs, reforms, and equality in the workplace.
Speak out if it makes you feel better. Stop playing a company’s games if that makes you feel better. Write long-ass, rambling posts if it makes you feel better. Or play those games if they make you feel better. You know how best to assuage your conscience, and you’re the only one you have agency over.