Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
Artistic representation of a random internet user reacting to a two month game delay.

Artistic representation of a random internet user reacting to a two month game delay.

As someone who has been immersed in gaming and internet culture for decades, I am no stranger to how fans with flammable passions can spew heated and sometimes hateful rhetoric about their favorite properties online. Random internet users can generate massive amounts of rude discussion, harassment and sometimes even threats about everything from Mass effect 3‘s end to arguments about review scores.

Still, part of the response to news from the Nobody’s Heaven slowdown in recent days seems fundamentally different in a way that worries me.

The basic news discussed here is pretty boring by gaming industry standards. Nobody’s Heavenwhich developer Hello Games has been aiming for a June 2016 release since last October was first rumored and then confirmed to be pushed back to early August last week.

This kind of short-term lag happens all the time in the gaming industry, but you wouldn’t know it by the way some people apparently reacted online. “I received tons of death threats this week,” said Sean Murray, founder of Hello Games tweeted on Saturday. “But don’t worry, Hello Games now looks like the home of Home alone(Later tweets suggested Murray was deal with the threats with good humorat least).

The extreme response extended to the mere report of the delay. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, who first wrote about the delay as a rumor, shared a message he received from a Twitter user threatening to “come over, say hi to you and fuck you… sounds like you have a death wish. We will find you. Be afraid human, we are coming for you.” Elsewhere on the Nobody’s Heaven subreddit, users did questionable sleuthing to question the report, driving each other into a foaming rage over what turned out to be a reporter accurately reporting the news.

There is some risk involved in over-analyzing and inflating the importance of these kinds of random internet comments. Nut picking is the relatively small number Nobody’s Heaven fans who reacted to the delay with irrational levels of hatred risk making the entire community around the game look bad for no good reason. These threats come from a small subset of the small subset of people who respond to the game online, who are a small subset of those reading about the game online, who form a small subgroup of those who will eventually play the game.

Simply writing about these comments risks drawing attention in every way to many people who are probably trolls just looking to provoke a response. The people apologizing to and defending Kotaku and Hello Games certainly don’t get that much attention.

And, as Alexander Sliwinski of Bithell Games points to Twitter, this sort of thing is not entirely new to the industry. “Why is getting death threats in games suddenly news?” he asks. “Are we just talking about it openly now? This has been going on for over a decade.” On the other hand, if this is a common problem in game developer circles, then it’s one that developers have been largely silent about in public, probably for a variety of understandable reasons. All of which suggests it’s a problem that we should be doing more to expose on the rare occasions when it becomes public.

The fact that a game this quiet can elicit such a rabid overreaction from fans is a little unsettling.
Enlarge / The fact that a game this quiet can elicit such a rabid overreaction from fans is a little unsettling.

In any case, there’s something about this particular overreaction from certain fans that has been upsetting me all weekend. Part of it is that Nobody’s Heaven is not the kind of game that you normally expect to provoke this kind of frenzied reaction. Not to generalize, but there’s a correlation between the level of macho, adrenaline-fuelled violence in a game and the amount… shall we say politely “heated discussion” it provokes online.

Nobody’s Heaven has some shootouts, but it’s overwhelmingly a game about the wonder of exploring a near-infinite cosmos and the joy of discovering new flora and fauna generated by a wondrous generative algorithm. The fact that even this one game can inspire this level of blind Internet rage is surprising, to say the least. (The fact that Nobody’s Heaven launching on PS4 and PC, but not Xbox One – thus invariably embroiled in the internet rage machine that is the endless console wars – may have something to do with the situation).

There’s also something disturbing about what generated this response in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, I’m used to Internet commentators fussing over various aspects of their favorite entertainment. Even if I don’t support the level of unreasonable bile seeping into the discourse (bile that Devin Faraci analyzed pretty well at Birth Movies Death), I can at least somewhat identify with fans who get so wrapped up in a story that they develop a sense of ownership over the story.

These responses to the Nobody’s Heaven however, procrastination goes far beyond the feeling of exasperation over narrative decisions and takes on a sense of exasperation over small business decisions about release timing. I’ve seen similarly overheated reactions to game pricing or platform exclusivity announcements in the past, but no more than a six-week difference in release date.

One Reddit user tried to explain, if not defend, the level of personal outrage the delay has caused for some fans. “Many of us have been looking forward to this game for years,” he writes. “When we were less than a month away from the release date and we got a delay, that was pretty crushing news for a lot of us. Those of us who have taken time off should hope we can reschedule. Those of us who have done that let children who were also excited about this game, they have to explain that they have to wait until school starts.”

Yes, of course, that sounds awkward. It doesn’t sound like something that could reasonably be expected to give rise to death threats. The fact that this needs to be said at all and that the state of internet discourse has hardened to this point is an issue worth noting, even if there are no easy answers.

By akfire1

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