I know I typically post these on Sunday, but this is too topical right now and it’s bothering me so much that I need to get my feelings down on a stage where I can express myself articulately and fully.
Let me – your resident SJW feminist-ally bleeding-heart liberal – explain to you my extremely mixed views on the Jessica Price issue.
First, let’s summarize so we’re all on the same page: last week, Jessica Price, a Guild Wars 2 writer and extremely vocal feminist, posted a small thread on Twitter where she went into some detail about the trials and tribulations of being a writer for an MMORPG – especially juggling the desire to give the player avatar personality while also trying to make them enough of a blank slate for the player to project on them. But then, a well-known and community-loved streamer, Deroir, suggested that maybe branching dialogue trees were the way to go.
Jessica Price did not take kindly to that suggestion, and accused him of “mansplaining” an issue that she’d spent years working on professionally. When other followers pointed out she might be over-reacting a bit (especially since the streamer did apologize), a co-worker Peter Fries stood up for her in a now-deleted Twitter thread, where he points out she never asked for advice so he wasn’t in any place to give it to her.
Fans got mad, and Arenanet fired the both of them.
If the story stopped there, this would be a very cut-and-dry issue: Arenanet overreacted and cowed to the will of the mob, and decided to send two perfectly good writers out the door when a mere apology (an apology that would have been well-deserved) was all that was really needed. And if you check most opinion pieces that followed this news article, that’s where most discussion on the subject ends: journalists of my breed seem overwhelmingly against what Arenanet did and call it “gamergate all over again”.
But here’s the thing: the story doesn’t stop there.
On one hand: Jessica Price was kind of a hero in the games industry. She was a woman developer – a rare breed on its own – that was willing to both participate in the community and stand up fearlessly to the maelstrom of toxicity that followed her everywhere she went. It’s impossible (and I mean impossible) to overstate how vile this community can be, especially to women. There was basically not a single thing she could do that wasn’t attacked by a vocal, angry minority who wanted her gone just because she was a “woman” in their space. And she didn’t just endure the hatred, she bit back. She fought fire with fire and would never let herself be backed into a corner or compromise what it was she loved. And because of that, she was an inspiring figure for a lot of gamers and female developers. She was the type of person you just don’t see very often, and one thing is undeniable: her getting fired does, indeed, send a frightening message to people who wanted to emulate her style and swag. There are female developers who will be less courageous because they’re afraid the mob will get them fired next.
On the other hand: Jessica Price was an enormous jerk. I don’t know if her being a jerk was what enabled her to stand up to the toxicity, or if all the toxicity turned her into a jerk, but there’s a fine line between “proudly standing up for yourself and not taking any crap” and “just being an all-around asshole” and if you take the time to actually look at some of the things she’s done, you’d see she was firmly in the latter category. She blocked people the moment they disagreed with her on a subject, even politely. She assumed she was above any criticism or critique, even from other writers or the fans she was supposed to be writing for. Of course, she never apologized even when she was in the wrong (not that she would ever admit she was wrong). And she had some pretty outrageous opinions: for example, when beloved gaming icon Total Biscuit died, this was her response.
Jesus H. Christ.
It’s also worth pointing out that while she was an outspoken feminist, a lot of time (including this time), she would take any excuse to assume she was being attacked for her gender. There was absolutely no discussion of gender in the talk regarding branching narrative choices: she turned it into a gendered issue when she accused her male “attacker” for targeting her specifically because she was a woman.
…but to fall back in the “defense” camp, it’s hard to blame her for assuming the critique came from a gendered position because that’s not an unfair assumption to make. In the games industry, if you’re a girl and you assume someone is attacking you because of your gender, there’s a better than good chance you’re right. So it’s hard to really hold it against her for falling back on a perfectly natural defensive response. And let’s not beat around the bush: the people who were calling for her resignation for all these years, it was never because she was an asshole. And the people who wanted to see her fired after this response, too, were never angry about the way she acted: they just wanted her fired for the same reason they’ve always wanted her fired, because she’s a woman and they have this insufferable need to pick on and abuse them.
Which is why Arenanet was honestly not in an enviable position.
It’s easy to say that firing her was an extreme response, I said as much in my own first take when the news was live. That said: what choice did they have? I very, very much doubted that she would have apologized even if she was ordered too. What’s more, she’d been doing this kind of stuff for at least half a year, being confrontational and almost violently aggressive to anyone who dared disagree on her Twitter feed. And despite her claims that Twitter is “her space”, it’s still public facing and she was still representing Arenanet when she was making these attacks. For as much as Arenanet needs to back up their employees (which is a refrain we’ve been hearing a lot), we need to remember that it’s a two-way street: and this woman was taking absolutely no care to have Arenanet’s back and be a good representative for the company and the game she was working on. Rather, she was using the elevated platform that they gave her to cow-tow her audience and push her ideological beliefs.
And I’m not saying she can’t push her ideological beliefs – I agree with them, more often than not. But if she chooses to write about her job – a choice that she made willingly and of her own volition, I remind you – then she’s talking as a member of the Arenanet team, and she immediately represents them. If she had two separate twitter accounts, or kept her current twitter completely private or devoid of community engagement or anything like that, then she could be as big an asshole as she wanted and Arenanet could do nothing about it. But she didn’t. She was in their uniform and getting into shouting matches with their customers, and anyone would get fired for that.
But then, Arenanet also fired Peter Fries. And that’s where they lose the moral high ground, because as far as I can tell, his only real crime was standing up for Jessica Price and/or echoing her “we don’t care about your opinion” mentality. And that’s the frustrating bit for me: I can’t tell if my inability to find any controversy surrounding him stems from the fact there is none, or the fact that no one’s made a big deal out of his problems because he is not a girl and thus they’ve refused to embellish or report on them. So as far as I can tell, he was only fired by Arenanet because they were bowing to the will of the mob, and if that is indeed the case, then the motive behind Arenanet’s actions are suspect and they validate every journalist and player who argue that Arenanet is sending the wrong message and “refuses to have their employees back”. Because as far as I can tell, the firing of Peter Fries signals exactly that: they reacted according to the will of the mob, rather than out of a more valid place of concern.
And it’s ironic that it’s the firing of a man that makes that point.
So with all that said, who can we point the finger to? Who’s the real bad guy here? The answer to that, of course, is literally everyone. Jessica Price was a jerk who abused her position and her community. Arenanet bowed to the will of an angry mob and showed true spinelessness in the face of controversy. And the community, as always, is full of angry self-righteous misogamists who caused this whole mess to begin with, in some form or another. You’re all guilty, and it’s only because of bad luck and a bit of misogamy that Jessica Price and Peter Fries are the only ones to get punished for it.
Everything is terrible.