I didn’t really think it would be possible for this community – gamers, I mean – to disappoint me.
Because really, as much as I love video games, and as quick as I am to call myself a gamer (although I’ve since become of the opinion that the term is severely outdated and in need of retirement), gamers have a well-deserved and well-proven history of being the absolute worst. Seriously, we couldn’t stick to our guns if they were super-glued to our hands, we drop them as soon as the next pretty light flashes in our faces.
We foster abuse. We applaud poor excuses. We’ve enabled misogyny and racism for far too long, and have provided accidental shelter for the people who still subscribe to those beliefs to this day. We’ve promoted tribalism – which was fun at first, but has gotten ‘sending death threats to strangers’ levels of stupid. We’re insanely toxic to the point of being dangerous to our health, and what’s worse, we’re quick to forgive certain parties while slow to forgive others. There are people who still have rage-stiffies over the fact that Tropes vs Video Games was a thing, but go to any gaming convention and people will have forgotten about the whole ‘we support SOPA and PIPPA’ nonsense. And no matter how much we’re told, and no matter how much we know better, we keep enabling all the worst habits in the gaming industry.
We buy the damn loot boxes. We pre-order the damn games. We get the mobile apps and we click the stupid ads. And we constantly project a sort of kinship or friendship with a company to trick ourselves into thinking they’re our pals when really they just want your money and for you to sod off. A human’s ability to pack bond is amazing but it has its limits.
That said, despite how cynical and tired I am, I am not completely inoculated to the disease of hope. And on that faithful day when Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung was first suspended and had his winnings stolen by Blizzard, the fan’s reaction infected me with a nasty case of it. The reaction was strong, and it was visceral, and it was unrelenting. People were deleting their Blizzard accounts in mass numbers. People spammed on Twitch chats, casters and other pro players loudly and vocally protested the decision, even putting their own careers at stake in the process. Mei was turned into a figure of pro-democracy for Hong Kong. There was a genuine passion that, while it grew quieter, seemed to grow no less intense as Blizzcon, the yearly get-together between fans and developers, edged closer.
My god, it was the first Blizzcon I was actually excited for. Because I, like a goddamn idiot, had hope that this would be like the Diablo Immortal controversy, only bigger and actually important. I had hope that the community would rally together to put Blizzard’s feet to the fire and hold them accountable for their shameless support of an abusive and violent regime in China. I had hope that they would put aside their devotion to a company that doesn’t love them and their obsession with games that ultimately don’t matter and come together to support something that genuinely does. It would have been a powerful moment. A beautiful moment. Something that would have made me proud to call myself a gamer again.
What did we get instead?
I would have never imagined in a million years that Blizzard would have opened the show with an apology. And I was right. This opening isn’t an apology. It’s a carefully crafted non-statement that vaguely addresses the elephant in the room, acknowledges that it’s an elephant, and says “it’ll be a better elephant next time”. He apologizes, but not for what they did – nowhere in this statement did Blizzard’s CEO apologize for what they did. They apologize for how they did it. They apologized for people getting upset by it. They promised ‘they would do better’. But better isn’t the same as ‘different’. When I see this, I see Blizzard saying “hey, sorry, we should have started with the 6 month ban”, not, “Sorry that we’re overtly and directly supporting China, a known abuser of human rights.”. They never said “we believe all our players and employees should be able to speak their minds freely and not worry about repercussions”. They never said “we support a free and democratic Hong Kong”.
They apologized for how it was handled. They apologized for reacting too quickly and too violently. They never once apologized for the actual crime they committed.
But you know what? I would have expected that from Blizzard. That’s exactly the kind of bullcrap any company who’s in deep would pull to try to placate their audience and get some cheap brownie points while not making any changes at all. When I heard this non-apology, this farce, this absolute insult, I didn’t feel anything. Not anger. Not disappointment. Just a grim acknowledgement that Blizzard has been, and will continue to, be spineless cowards.
No, what killed me… was the applause.
The way the masses actually bought that load of steaming, smelly crap, and shoved it directly into their gaping toothless mouths with smiles on their faces.
How they rewarded this company’s absolutely spinelessness with roaring approval and cheers that reached all the way to the rooftops.
I can’t actually remember a time I’ve felt more disgusted to be a fan of video games.
And look. I get it. This is a loaded crowd. This is a crowd of people who’ve spent hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars to attend this very special celebration of all things Blizzard. These were the super-fans. These were the evangelicals. These were people who want to believe more than anyone that Blizzard is a good company who cares about them and their feelings, and who want to assume the best of them so they can enjoy all those amazing games without a care in the world. I understand that. And it is with some small solace that I see the broad reaction, on the internet at least, is distain and disgust as the average gamer is capable of acknowledging that this is a non-apology from a non-apologetic company.
But they’re still people, right? They’re not blind followers of Blizzard, right? All they had to do – literally, all they had to do – was say nothing. If that whole crowd of people just silently, wordlessly, listened to the entire apology and said nothing (not even a jeer), that would have been acceptable. All they had to do was nothing. Acknowledge that the company they love messed up, witness their crappy apology, and move on. They didn’t have to feel guilty. They didn’t have to even be as brave as Red Shirt guy and call them out for it. None of that was necessary for this to have been a ‘win’ for the better angels of human nature.
You can acknowledge a company’s mistakes and still love it, you slack-jawed gobs, but you have to acknowledge it’s a mistake and continue to hold them accountable for that.
But the cheering? The approval? The rewarding, proud applause of a crowd that’s not only placated, but forgiving and even benevolent towards the evil of this multi-billion dollar company? People had to exert energy and emotion to make that happen. They had to actively decide that “yes, this non-apology is worth more than a listen, it’s worth a positive reaction”. They had to engage, and in the process, they had to validate Blizzard and tell them that all is forgiven. And it was all goddamn forgiven.
We’re in the aftermath of Blizzcon 2019 now. By all measures, it was a rousing success. Diablo 4 was announced, and people seem genuinely pumped for it. Overwatch 2 came out, a semi-free expansion to the first, which promises some radical new changes to the game while keeping it comfortable, breezy, and light. A new World of Warcraft expansion, which takes players to the realm of the dead, was announced – which seems appropriate given how the damn game just won’t die already. People played it. The reviews rolled in. Blitzchung, and more importantly, what he represented, faded from memory – while a small crowd of people outside the con, the people who remember what’s actually worth fighting for, try to keep a candle from blowing out in the wind.
To rid this article of any hyperbole, gamers are not the worst. Gamers can do some amazing things when we try to come together for a good cause. And video games matter. All of that is true. I don’t want to be completely lost to all the good things in this world just because things seem to be getting worse every single goddamn day.
But the biggest crime gamers have, and the one that frustrates me the most, is that we look for hope in all the wrong places.
Which is why we’re so quick to forget the people fighting for their freedom in Hong Kong.
But so quick to cheer the billionaire’s non-apology.