This week in one of my university lectures we somehow got into a conversation about a guy named Phil Fish and everything that was wrong about him. You may know him as the guy who made a successful indie game named Fez, and then cancelled its sequel, called all of his fans morons and attacked the dignity of his critics, and through all that quit the games industry in 2014. Later that day I came across a Kotaku article that actually defended him for his supposed passion (it claimed he wore his heart on his sleeve – which just sounds like bull); at that point I just thought really? That guy should be proved on matters of holding fast to personal convictions?
He might have been may have been likable or sympathizable before the debacle surrounding Fez and Fez II between 2012 and 2014, and may have been OK if a little melodramatic in his appearance in Indie Game: The Movie, but he ultimately proved to be nothing more than an oversensitive who just can’t handle criticism without mouthing off, and considering this is the same dude who released a game that, for all its success, had a lot of bugs that weren’t fixed before release. He at one point denounced all gamers as “the worst fucking people”. When he said on Twitter that gamers “don’t deserve” Fez II, one person pointed out that it was because people bought the game and loved it that he even became successful, and Fish simply dismissed him as an “entitled gamer”. When he and fellow indie game designer Jonathan Blow (the creator of Braid) were criticized in a rant by Gametrailers journalist Marcus Beer for declining to comment on the news of Microsoft allowing indie self-publishing on the Xbox One, Fish responded with a venomous series of tweets to him, including an invitation to commit suicide. And I dare you look at his Twitter feed from August 2014: it’s a mess. At one point he was also arrogant enough to claim that he was the “genius voice of a generation”: a kind of phrase you may already associate with rapper Kanye West, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. After the feud with Marcus Beer, he announced that Fez II would be cancelled and that he would be quitting the games industry. Even after that though, he went on 4chan pretending to be a Fez fan, just because some anonymous guy called him a loser. At some point in 2014 he attempted to reform his company, Polytron, as an indie publisher, but the company got hacked (possibly after he got involved in the Gamergate controversy, siding with Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian), leading him to quit the games industry again, and he made a big whine about gamers being terrorists and how video games are dead and people should mourn video games. Yikes.
That in mind, this guy should be praised for “wearing his heart on his sleave”? This guy, this toxic internet personality who buckles under pressure, is unable to handle criticism without biting a guy’s head off, and for all his past conviction about video games being the ultimate artform and his big talk about being very successful and not going away, he caved in and left the games industry, never to return? This man is being treated as though he is a noble, courageous personality? As though the alternative is being a slave to PR?
Just because you’re oversensitive and can’t handle criticism doesn’t mean you can (or should) be lionized as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, and it doesn’t mean you actually have any great or noble convictions to be worn on your sleeve. There should be a noticeable different between those things. I’ve come to see that I hate this assumption that if you’re not constantly angry and pernicious all the damn time, especially on the Internet, you’re weak, a slave to everyone’s opinions, a conformist. Surely you can be a passionate, bold, strong-minded person proud to wear his/her convictions on your sleeves (as I often feel I do), and without needing to lash out at everyone for no good reason or being very oversensitive. Better still, surely you can deal with people in a sane and reasonable manner, even deal with a professional environment and its hardships, without needing to sacrifice one bit of the fire of your conviction and your selfhood! True strength can mean more than just the tendency or will to bite people’s heads off over your beliefs – or, for that matter, your insecurities. Being a bold, passionate, strong-willed character, perhaps, need not mean constantly having angry outlook or feed, or always making a big to-do about it, or at least that’s what I’m starting think.
And you know what, I tend to see stuff like this outside of the games industry, and particularly in politics. Why is it that toxic individuals are the ones who are usually viewed by their supporters as being brave and bold and hyped for the press who make a big deal out of their malignant personality and their commitment to it? You hear about people like Kim Davis, a bigoted woman who was hyped as a politically incorrect figurehead and hailed by her supporters as fighting government oppression of traditional values, but all she did was refuse to issue a marriage license to gay couples – thereby refusing to the job she signed up to do – because it contradicted her religious views on gay marriage. You have Phil Robertson, the star of Duck Dynasty who made several statements exhibiting a hatred of homosexuals, and similar statements where he tries to dress it up as love, but people actually defend him for his statements, to the point that you have people like Ted Cruz claiming he represents what Americans are all about. You have Donald Trump, the current Republican front-runner and easily the most poisonous Republican candidate of them all, who insults and lies his way to the top and encourages outright violence against protesters, and people believe he’s a tough guy who tells it like it us, even though he lies. He’s even called a fighter, even when he’s hardly had to fight for anything in his life. Toxic personalities are hailed as brave, even when they’re just assholes. What about those who who strive day-to-day to fulfill their convictions instead of spending time spreading venom? Will they be recognized for their heroism?
I hate the notion that being a passionate and firmly convicted human being correlates to being an asshole, an oversensitive individual, a troll, a bigot, or compensating for something. I believe that living an authentic life, where you remain by the side of what you believe in with a firm conviction and have a passion for your life and convictions need not mean you being a horrible person all the time. It’s hard to do, and I want to see how it can be done myself, but as someone who wants to cultivate true strength and power, I am willing to embrace that. And I think it takes a kind of balance that’s difficult to achieve, at least for most people, but if that’s what true strength and true freedom will mean, that balance may be worth exploring.