You can be punished for being a jerk and it not be another abuse from the patriarchy.
Prologue: Safety Measures
This is a story about Jessica Price, and it is getting extensive coverage in several places. I am going to attempt to explain the situation to you, and my opinions on it, in the most straightforward and detailed way that I can. What I?m attempting to avoid here is the overwhelming bias that has been associated with any coverage of this topic, at least at first. People who support Price?s firing have been called out, people who oppose Price?s firing have been called out. I hope to present my personal opinions in a clear way, saying, ?This is what happened, now THIS is what I think and feel.? I hate that it is necessary to explain this concept, but that?s where we are.
Part 1: What Happened
On July 4th, the name Jessica Price started showing up all over the net in different game outlets. Price, a now-former employee of MMO development house ArenaNet, was fired after an altercation on Twitter. A man who defended her, Peter Fries, was also let go by the company.
That?s the gist of the story there, but of course there?s more to it. What is frustrating as someone following this story is the amount of editorializing that has plagued it from the beginning. No outlet I?ve seen has attempted to report this as a set of facts, but instead laid out a moral argument along with the story. Polygon started their article thusly: ?Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company?s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company ?folded like a cheap card table? when confronted by toxic fandom.?
Jessica Price?s altercation was with one person in particular, not a mob. Unfortunately, after this specific back-and-forth, she was indeed bombarded with responses through Twitter from all sorts. The original person was Deroir, a streamer and ?brand ambassador? for Guild Wars 2. He?s based in Denmark and has opinions about a game he spends most of his time playing and is paid to play. Here?s where it all went wrong. Price wrote out a lengthy and thoughtful Twitter thread about how she and the narrative team for Guild Wars 2 have to think about writing around the player character. Her argument being that the player character in an MMO has to be written in such a way that the experience of the world is what?s written, not the character?s actual self. That needs to remain malleable so that players can attach their thoughts and feelings more easily to their own character, who is one person they become in a world full of other people.
It all makes a lot of sense. That?s no surprise. Price has over a decade of experience in the industry, a great deal of which has been in narrative work. She knows what she?s talking about.
Enter Deroir, who had this to say ? screenshot is left for simplicity, a link is here for anyone who would like to wade through the entirety.
I?d venture to say that Deroir, again a person who is essentially paid to play Guild Wars 2, responds to Price?s thread politely. He seems to agree with her major argument, but voices that a different style of dialogue could help players connect to their character.
Price interpreted this as Deroir telling her how to do her job and responded in kind: ?Today in being a female game dev: ?Allow me ? a person who does not work with you ? explain to you how you do your job.?? Deroir was surprised, I assume, based on his response: ?So much for an open discussion I guess. I meant no disrespect AT ALL. Never did. Never will. Neither did I imply I knew better. Nor has this ANYTHING to do with gender. Never did. Never will. I will retract my comment, cause obviously I?m in the wrong forum for this kind of talk.?
At this point, let me step in and assert that I think everything is mostly okay up to this point. Price was a little hostile in her response, but it?s hard to understand tonality online and I?d be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. This is her personality as it is displayed on Twitter, she tells it like it is and doesn?t take any crap. In fact, here?s Deroir praising her for that very trait on his stream from July 3rd, the day before any of this happened.
But then it crossed a line. Price followed up her Tweet with this declaration:
It?s name calling. It?s unnecessary. It?s certainly unprofessional. This is when the criticism really started pouring in and the story blew up. Why? Because Price was fired by ArenaNet the next day. The company?s President Mike O?Brien said this on July 5th:
?Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players. Their attacks on the community were unacceptable. As a result, they?re no longer with the company.?
As far as the incident between Price and Deroir is concerned, this is where the story ends. An altercation on Twitter resulted in Price being fired from the company she was employed by. But, unfortunately, that?s not everything.
Part 2: The Fallout
Remember that whole second Civil War thing Alex Jones was talking about? It kind of happened in the gaming community. Granted, no blood was spilled, but boy oh boy were the dirt sheets on fire.
In the aftermath of Price?s firing, the incident was reported on by numerous outlets. And just like the quoted Polygon story above, they tended to present more than just the facts. Price herself, in her talk with Polygon, responded to O?Brien?s statement: ?Let?s be clear: In 2018, it?s absurd to pretend ignorance of what would happen to a woman fired for speaking about sexism, because he feels she got too uppity??
And that?s the rub. Suddenly, Price?s firing wasn?t about the specific interaction that was cited as the ?attack.? It was about sexism. Here?s some Tweets:
Here?s the thing, and I think it might be kind of difficult to understand in a world where social media is ubiquitous. Twitter is a public platform, unless you have a private account. Price did not and, as of this writing, does not have a private account. Price also included and, as of this writing, includes ?Game producer, writer, editor, howling maenad. ArenaNet Narrative team.? in the bio of her public Twitter account. Jessica Price, who posted at length about the game she was working on and her work at ArenaNet, while advertising her position within that company, was let go by the company after responding to one of their own partnered streamers with vitriol. That is what happened. Now the industry is up in arms about her firing because it is either an issue of gender or an issue of worker?s rights.
Let me take a moment here again to express some personal feelings. At-will employment is wrong. Unions are good. The game industry needs not only a good union, but several. The firing of Pete Fries for, on what information we have publicly, defending his colleague was too far ? if his Tweets on the subject were the only factor there. I don?t have enough information on what Fries said or did to make any definitive claims as to his place in all of this and I won?t. Price talked quite a bit in the lead up and aftermath of this incident, so I have spoken about her.
But when you publicly advertise yourself as part of a company and then publicly deride a fairly well-known member of that company?s greater community, then you can probably expect that company to retaliate.
You may think, then, that this was all very sudden. That if this was the first offense Price had committed, then there should have been discussion, not punishment.
What if I told you it wasn?t?
Part 3: She Celebrated A Man?s Death Of Cancer
Let me introduce you to one last player in this fiasco, though he didn?t have direct involvement. This is John Bain:
To most folks, he was known by his internet handle Total Biscuit. Bain was an active voice in game criticism and built his way up in an industry that barely existed when he started. He was a radio personality, a podcast star, and a YouTube sensation. Bain was best known for his outspoken critiques, even when the product/person he was critiquing was something/someone he had personal involvement with. Through and through, he was transparent and thorough.
Bain succumbed to terminal cancer and died May 24th of this year, leaving behind a wife and son. I give you all of this information, knowing full well that it is editorializing, because this is where my real bias comes in. I was a fan of TB for years. Ten years, actually. I listened to archived broadcasts of his World of Warcraft based show Blue PLZ! for a long time and followed him through the ups and downs of his YouTube career until the end. I respect this man. I respect his commitment to his craft and, more than that, I respect how he stood up for marginalized folks in the community that gathered around him and let them know he was their ally. I believe, in my heart, that John Bain was a good man.
Here is a Tweet that Jessica Price made after his death:
When this was dug up, I knew I could no longer objectively have a stance on this story. And that?s mainly why I?m showing it to you now. I have tried here to make it clear where the actual events and my opinions separate. But the bottom line is that, when all is said and done, I believe Jessica Price is a bad person. You do not celebrate a person?s death, period. But even if we were to walk around that statement and argue that certain people?s deaths are worth celebrating (an opinion I do not hold), then John Bain was not one of those people.
That?s where the story ends for me. The majority of support for Price I have seen is coming from within the industry itself. I have no doubt that she will find gainful employment within the sphere of game design whenever she wants it, if she does after all of this. And I don?t think that the real lesson here is one anyone is going to take to heart once all the dust settles, because it isn?t simple.
It isn?t that gamers are entitled shitheads.It isn?t that Price is a victim of a patriarchal industry.It isn?t that Deroir is some kind of saint.And it isn?t that we should see Price as a symbol for oppressed workers.
It?s that, like or not, these sorts of stories are complicated. Deroir isn?t in the right because he was polite. Price isn?t in the right because people have been cruel to her on Twitter. ArenaNet isn?t in the right for getting out of this situation as quickly as possible. The whole incident is complex. And the real story is one hidden under numerous articles purporting this or that, in the actual conversation that occurred.
But the public doesn?t look for that. We just take the slop shoveled out for us and beg for more, so long as it is as messy as possible.
David Cole is an independent writer and media man from Wayne County, Kentucky. He believes that games are the artform that allows for more intricate expression than any other. More of David?s work, including his breakout collection I?ve Been a Prisoner All My Life, is available at no cost on his website:davidcole.space.