Fish In A Barrel

On Phil Fish’s remarkably explosive ‘exit’ from the industry…

Let me begin by stating I don’t know Phil Fish personally.

What I know of him comes primarily from Twitter, press releases and Indie Game: The Movie. And Phil Fish reminds me very much of the archetypal artistic person; hugely intelligent, creative and driven, but temperamental to a fault, incapable of accepting criticism and generally disliking most social interaction unless it is flattering their ego at a do or event. I have over the years met many of this type; they always seem quite strange to me, but perhaps that’s because years ago I learned that it’s not what others say but how you feel about it that matters. If you are happy, then others shouldn’t matter and will eventually see your point of view. If you are unhappy, then it’s usually a sign of a deeper ill that needs addressing. But they don’t make it easy for themselves; I never quite know if this is a consequence of their actions or the result they were hoping for. I tried asking someone that one time. I think I broke them.

This is however not a criticism of him as an individual. I’m sure he’s a lovely person when you get to know him.

Anyway, it’s fairly common knowledge now that Phil Fish has cancelled Fez 2 and all after a spat with AnnoyedGamer, a.k.a. Marcus Beer. It began with a sort of hint that Phil Fish had yet to comment on the news that XBox One would allow indies to self publish, things escalated quickly and before you know it an hour after seemingly standing firm and wanting to be a part of the industry, Fez 2 was cancelled and Mr. Fish wanted out of the industry to avoid the verbal slagging matches. Unfortunately, the worst comments I tended to see in this were not from AnnoyedGamer at all, but from Phil Fish.

Now, yes. Everyone is a critic. Truth is I’m an indie developer myself, I have something in the works and trust me when I say that I totally sympathise with how much effort is put into making a game of any kind. Phil Fish made Fez, I’m doing a top-down adventure type action game, we’re splitting hairs because it’s hard to do and generally when you are working alone, it takes forever to get things done. This is not magic; we don’t have supersized brains and we do need sleep, and we get tired and bugs happen. But the problem is that as I said a while ago, criticism is part and parcel of the Internet in this day and age. Anonymity provides cover for individuals who want to get away with the sorts of things that they would never do in reality; it’s a cheap and dirty excuse, but the idea that you can do anything whilst under this shadowy veil without being caught is far too tempting. For comparisons sake, when I was at school we were assigned in our general studies group to think of the one superpower we’d like to have. Any guesses what got the most votes?

Invisibility, of course. And if you’re invisible, you can do things and go places you’d never normally experience – let’s just say from both the boys and girls sides, the opposite genders changing rooms was a big point of focus at the time. The fascination of invisibility is not to do anything good with the power; rather, to be set free from the shackles of normal human behaviour. To spy on the naked form of the gender you are attracted to, to steal without the fear of being caught, to torment those who wronged you or those who you simply do not like. Invisibility is a desirable super power because it allows us to absolve ourselves from base morality, to transcend the limitations of human interaction and subvert it in a way that deep down we all secretly have a desire to do.

Anonymity on the Internet is the modern-day Invisibility of the digital world. People have been given in a lot of cases the gift of never being caught in reality; the end result, shock horror, is people doing stupid nasty things to other people. Because they have no fear. They are set free from the psychological shackles of normal human conduct. This means we have trolls, and people say things without thinking of the at times shattering consequences of those words. Twitter is one of those things where the instantaneous speed of it means that it functions very much like a conversation; but underneath that, there’s the fact you are not face to face and there’s a degree of anonymity to be had. You can say something and shadow your account to stop people seeing it. You can say something flippant and it will seem more offensive than it ever would be face to face, where the almost dismissive delivery of a voice can lighten the tone of even the most archaic remark.

Phil Fish is the sort of person whom I don’t think should be on Twitter. He’s obviously a talented individual; Fez took five years of his life and I think he should be rightly proud of that achievement, he has done something that many still try and fail at, even at the big developers (Ride to Hell: Redemption says hi!). This is not to excuse Marcus Beer or those who goaded on Phil Fish and have done consistently in recent months; but that said, rubbing Phil Fish up the wrong way does appear on the surface to be like shooting fish in a barrel, if you’ll pardon the pun. Phil Fish is a creative type who really needs someone calmer and less prone to tantrums to take the PR reins and provide an adequate filter. Even if Mr. Fish doesn’t return to video games, he will still for a long time discover that his attitude desperately needs some TLC; I find it hard to believe that anyone with such an explosive temper will find it easy to get on anywhere in life realistically, indeed – perhaps the only place you can survive with a temper like that is the games industry, where you have to admit, it provides the column inches needed to raise your profile if nothing else.

It does make me wonder though why Phil Fish actually made Fez – was it, as it is for some of us, the experimental journey into the self that we find ourselves embarking on because we want to and we want to leave something behind to be remembered by? Or is it, as it is for some people, the attempt to make a game that people like so that you can find yourself surrounded by fans that border on the sycophantic? I find it curious that Phil Fish would so quickly and so recklessly abandon Fez 2 – a game people were genuinely interested in generally – over another Twitter spat. He wants to get out of the games industry; but perhaps it is not the games industry that is the problem. I’ve seen worse aimed at the likes of Peter Molyneux, and towards Cliff Blezenski and some vile stuff aimed at Satoru Iwata as well.

But they don’t react with quite such an impassioned response. No doubt they know what some think of them though.

All that said, I genuinely hope Phil Fish revives Fez 2 down the road. I genuinely hope that he comes back; clearly, he’s a bit of a wreck right now and I don’t know enough about his personal life to make any relevant comparisons. This was quite an explosion and no doubt he may feel embarrassed by it, considering that I don’t think it was even worth the energy expelled in the reaction. After all, I am reminded of a quote by Richard Burton; “Feel sorry for critics; to be so close to art, and yet so far away from it.” Some of us want to create; I admittedly left it a bit late in my life but heck, I am lucid enough these days through medication to know it’s something I want to give a go at. Some of us want to be loved; and we find ourselves drawn to doing something that, ultimately, becomes our downfall. Like Icarus, we fly on wings of wax and papyrus and yet recklessly drift too close to the sun, only to find the fatal design flaw when it is too late. Some crave the attention; but they want to control it, they don’t want the bad people because they are a little fragile and have yet to build up the kind of resistance some of us did in the mid to late 90’s, when there really were no holds barred, and where I learned that the only limitation of the depths of the human subconscious is how far we are willing to plumb them.

It’s never easy to have to defend yourself constantly; take it from someone who has done this their whole lives versus a family who frankly wishes me nothing but ill will and poor health. Restraining orders and the like don’t tend to work so well on the Internet; but that’s the Internet for you. And if you want the good it can offer you – the ease of publicity, the speedy distribution and the profitable marketing tools on offer – then you must also accept that there are people out there whose whole lives circle around being utter cocks of the highest order, people whose every waking hour is spent with an all-consuming hatred of anyone who has any ability to create anything.

I actually pity them. Some of us create. We love to create, to write or program or sketch or animate. These people cannot create; they can only destroy. It’s the only thing they believe they are good at, to destroy what others build and take great pride in their destructive tendencies. I think that’s a sad way to live life; to do nothing but hurt others. It’s the sociopathic tendencies that make me feel sad; that we can react, but that’s what they take pleasure in. They have no pity, they have no shame; some people just want to watch the world burn.

Phil Fish sadly makes their task very, very easy. And I hope he comes back and he comes back with fire in his belly. Because whatever I think of him – as I said, I think he’s “An artist, darling!” – he has created something, and that, to me, is worth more than anything else in the universe. Phil Fish needs to work on himself; there should be no rush for Fez 2. He’s got plenty of time to tackle that beast, and no doubt the financial benefits from a game like Fez are going to mean he can go off and do the whole Eat Pray Love bollocks that so many who run themselves aground in the modern era aspire to doing. Truth is that he’s probably not had any time off at all, and that’s not healthy either.

We all need time to ourselves. And time to consider a response. The problem with the immediacy of the world today is that there is no time for pause and thought; that everything has to be now, and current, and happening. This is why I prefer my blog to Twitter or videos. I can think. I can read back to myself, aloud in some cases. I can reflect on the words, and adjust them accordingly if I feel they are cruel or unnecessary. I still have moments where I growl; I have bipolar, I have days and weeks sometimes where everything seems better on impulse and reactions are spur of the moment. But a blog allows for more control; and I value that control over anything else. I can be the master of my words, and the master of my thoughts and feelings.

Phil Fish deserves neither derision nor pity. He deserves a time out.

I hear Bali is nice this time of year… 🙂

Edit; In slightly sort of related news, BBC News is reporting on another case of a “Twitter Troll” being arrested over their behaviour. So really people aren’t even hiding properly, which is an interesting and amusing juxtaposition. That after years of anonymity and feeling invincible, many are beginning to realise that the legal system is finally catching up with them.

I don’t think it will completely tame the wild Internet, but it offers up evidence that your actions can definitely have consequences.

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3 Responses to “Fish In A Barrel”

  1. dap005 says:

    Excellent post Kami. If Phil Fish's account wasn't blocked I'd link this to him :P.

    The internet is a place where a lot of people let loose their emotions regardless of anonymity- as you mentioned Beer and Fish didn't exactly hold back due to a lack of anonymity. There's a lot of anger and many don't realise how hurtful it is. We are all guilty of wrongly directing our anger somewhere (my parents usually gets the stick, I ashamed admit) but the problem with not being able to be considerate on the internet is that, malicious words will only hurt and taken to heart.

    Sometimes it feels like being stuck in a whirlpool of hate- for good reason, just imagine a world with wishy-washy laws where private back-talk become public statements, that's the internet. Though I do believe being on the internet is not an excuse to be a jerkwad; the net has given people power to speak up and do marvellous things whereas someone may bystand in real-life (for various reasons from fear to lack of confidence).

    If the internet does bring out the real persona inside us then some people need to look at themselves and discover where the anger and hatred is coming from (I don't believe continued cynicism will make anyone happy even if they believe it does so for themselves). Then there are some who need to give themselves a pat on the back for composing themselves and helping others with their non-stop typing.

    P.S. Good luck with the game Kami, make it into the next indie movie ;P.

    • KamiOnGames says:

      One can dream, of course. But I like the idea of making something. 🙂

      I think it's not so much the "true" person, but that people seem to lack empathy when they don't actually know the person in question. It's the Penny Arcade Greater Internet F***wad Theory; give someone the illusion of invulnerability and watch them make a massive tit of themselves. It also reminds me of The Gameshow – a Derren Brown experiment, one which was very interesting and provided a salient point to the idea that groups can be manipulated and guided into discarding any empathy for someone; Phil Fish is an easy target but that's because lots of people have encouraged others to attack him as well, because hey, why not?

      I don't want to be a whirlpool of hate. I'd rather be a tornado of love. 🙂

      • dap005 says:

        Oh my goodness I was just about thinking about the gameshow. Derren Brown was my childhood nightmare but now I find his shows fascinating and inspiring. But you are right when people lose their individuality they lose empathy alone with it. Let's hope the tornado of love can tide over the whirlpool of hate- I don't even know what I'm typing any more but who cares.

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