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Bioware and Bullying

I know that getting up in arms about disrespect on the internet is like getting mad at the weather. However, I’ve been following the story about Jennifer Hepler, the Bioware writer who has endured some nasty abuse at the hands of “fans” for comments she allegedly made in an interview about the interplay between combat and story scenes. Something about it struck a chord.

If you’re new to this party, The Border House has a nice write-up of the events:

“How the whole thing appears to have started is someone posted a combination of quotes from an interview from 2006 that doesn’t exist any more, as well as quotes that were entirely made up, on the gaming sub-Reddit in order to have a rant about how Hepler is “a cancer that is poisoning BioWare.” The thread was eventually deleted because of the attacks and the false attributions. But that wasn’t enough: angry gamers took to Twitter instead, harassing both Hepler and the people who offered support, and apparently even going so far as to make harassing phone calls to her home.”

First, to the content of that interview (the actual, existing comments, not the made-up fantasy BS): apparently, Hepler admitted that “playing the games” was her least favorite part of working in the industry, and that adding a “fast-forward” option for combat portions of a game for gamers interested in story more than gameplay. She said that last comment in regards to a question about making the industry more inclusive and friendly to women.

First, I’d like to say that I respectfully disagree with her opinions, as I’m sure many gamers do. I don’t like that she basically correlates being female with not liking gameplay, and like to think that, here in 2012, men have familial responsibilities that pose a block to gaming time (as almost all of my NoHS colleagues here can tell you).

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However, it takes something akin to a kindergarten education to understand that the proper course of action to reading comments you don’t agree with is to viciously attack the person who made them. I also can’t help but feel that misogyny and homophobia reared their ugly heads in this particular instance. You can read the Border House post for more on that, but it’s ugly all around.

Thankfully, Bioware has stepped up to support their employee, in a classy statement by Dr. Ray Muzyka, one of the founding Doctors of the company.

It reads:

“Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time.”

The company is also donating to Bullying Canada in her name.

Say what you will about Bioware (and their “sex puppet buffet”). Say what you will about the direction of the company, or about how mass Effect 3 will be the best/worst game ever. At the very least, we know they will do the right thing when one of their own is under attack.

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Best of luck to Hepler.

Danielle Riendeau

What I do for work: spend my days as the ACLU design/code/video ninja, write about games, make (tiny) games, teach digital media at Northeastern University. What I do for fun: all of the above, plus lots of running, fitness fun, filmmaking, outdoor exploration, world travel, sci-fi everything.

10 thoughts to “Bioware and Bullying”

  1. I just don’t understand why people are taking offense to her statement that playing games is her least favorite part of the job. It’s like people actually think a bunch of hardcore gamers are all it takes to make a huge game like Mass Effect 3. News Flash From Reality: not all the coders, concept artists and voice actors are spending their freetime playing Skyrim.

    In regards to Ms. Hepler, playing a bunch of video games won’t teach you anything about writing natural sounding dialogue, nor will it teach you the fundamentals of plot progression. In fact, to be a great game screenwriter, you should probably be spending 70% of your time studying other media and 30% figuring out how that might translate into a video game that’s trying to play like a movie anyway.

    I’m not trying to belittle video games as an art form. Instead I’m saying that AAA video games are a collective piece of effort, labored over by experts in all disciplines. That these experts might not like playing video games is irrelevent. The question is, are they damn good at what they do. If Ms. Hepler is, then what’s the big deal?

  2. What the hell is wrong with people? First off, anyone who has ever used the “Skip the Fade” or similar mods, or who has exploited the alchemy/smithing/enchanting trick in Skyrim to make a 3k+ damage sword is using a ‘fast forward the combat’ button. When you create something that can one hit an ancient dragon, it is fast forwarding. It’s not a new concept. She never said get rid of the combat; she was equating a skip the combat button to the very common ‘skip the dialogue/cut scenes’ feature many games have. (Something that might concern her seeing as her job is to write said dialogue and cut scenes.)

    Nothing she said warranted the intense vitriol that was lobbed in her direction. And it’s an ugly thought, but I’m 99.99% sure the level of hatred and personal attacks would have been MUCH lower if she wasn’t a woman. It’s an ugly side to (some) gamers that I’d hoped would’ve been left in the schoolyard.

  3. Essentially this is only marginally about what she actually said. Since the release of Mass Effect 2 there’s been a very belligerent anti-Bioware sediment growing in places like 4chan and reddit. And that group only got bigger and more vocal with the releases of Dragon Age 2 and The Old Republic. I believe what has happened is that group has taken all of their hate and vitriol and are focusing it on this writer.

  4. I find that the fact that she doesn’t enjoy the combat sequences in a story-driven game a refreshing perspective. It serves Bioware well to have employees who think differently about game development. It’s not a bad option if you want to make the medium more accessible in new ways. In fact, you can just add a kind of an action mode where the combat isn’t skippable and a story mode where it is. There are definitely games that have an easy mode that just pertains to the combat so you can get through that more easily.

    It also speaks to the fact that combat might not always fit within the tone and message a game is trying to get across. If Bioware with their patented dialogue trees still sticks to sexy buffets and combat that not everybody enjoys, then they have to carefully consider the feelings their games illicit beyond 14-year-old pants contents (You cannot convince me that an old woman has grey hair but a body of a 20-something pornstar with huge boobs, Dragon Age.)

  5. I swear, this shit makes me embarrassed to be called a gamer sometimes. I actually agree with her idea about making the games more inclusive by allowing the action parts to be skipped. We can skip the dialogue and cutscenes already. You can argue that makes it less of an actual “game”, but some games are more interested in telling a story. Hell, I’ve powered up my characters with hacks and cheats to get through boring grindfests before. That’s basically the same thing she’s talking about. It’s about recognizing that people play games for different reasons, and that by allowing the experience to be more customizable, it makes it more inclusive. Maybe she thinks this would generally appeal more towards women playing games, and I have no idea if that’s true or not. But the idea is sound, and the ridiculous lengths people have gone through to smear her is just depressing.

  6. Nothing she said warranted the intense vitriol that was lobbed in her direction. And it’s an ugly thought, but I’m 99.99% sure the level of hatred and personal attacks would have been MUCH lower if she wasn’t a woman. It’s an ugly side to (some) gamers that I’d hoped would’ve been left in the schoolyard.

    Why only 99.99%? Attacking women in technology is nothing new. While people like to believe the typical ‘nerd communities’ are the lovable Geeks from the show Freaks and Geeks, frankly the Internet proves that when you strip away accountability a lot of them become Warren from Buffy.

  7. This garbage is alot of the reason for leaving wow. The community playing with real people, community oddly enough was thhe reason for becoming so addicted so quickly in the first year/year and a half. Funny to think how it became so bitter so angry, so I am better than you at a stupid game. Ultimately the thing that turned me on about the game turned me completely off.

  8. Wow, this is really messed up. I am really glad Bioware is sticking up for her, as she clearly does not earn such vitriol. This is the first time I heard about this, thanks for bringing it up!

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