Moral Outrage and Collateral Damage

Here we go again. A few months ago (time flies) the gaming world was up in arms over Blizzard-Activision’s culture of “harassment and discrimination against women.” That controversy bubbled to the surface of our collective consciousness because of a lawsuit against the company. (If you missed this story, The Verge has a good write-up about it including a copy of the lawsuit, which I just quoted here.)

Yesterday another controversy erupted. This one concerns Tripwire Interactive and we learned about it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Tripwire president John Gibson posted a tweet which said:

Proud of #USSupremeCourt affirming the Texas law banning abortion for babies with a heartbeat. As an entertainer I don’t get political often. Yet with so many vocal peers on the other side of this issue, I felt it was important to go on the record as a pro-life game developer.

First, if you don’t know what he is talking about, Jen over at Book of Jen has an excellent post about the situation. Jen sums the whole law up quite succinctly when they say: This is absolutely terrifying.

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[Update]
Tripwire Interactive has published a statement on its site. The main take-away is that John Gibbons is stepping down as CEO. Important to note that it does NOT say he has left the company. Still, it seems like the gaming community made its voice heard.

This news renders the rest of this post somewhat hypothetical, at least until we learn more about what is going on (IF we learn more).
[/Update]
* * *

I sat out the Blizzard thing and I’m mostly sitting this one out in its particulars. Why? Because my voice isn’t as important as the voices of the people directly impacted. I feel like my job is to be supportive and to let those directly impacted share their thoughts on the particulars. (Hopefully it is obvious that I stand in support of these people.)

What I do want to talk about is the conundrum of what we, the gaming public, can do when things like this happen. It’s difficult because the only tool we have is a boycott. This is a thorny issue when it comes to games. If an author does something you disagree with, you can decide to stop purchasing that person’s books and for the most part they will be the only one impacted.

But when it is a game publisher, boycotting potentially hurts everyone working at that publisher, guilty or not. In the aftermath of the Blizzard situation I saw Tweets and posts from folks who said they’d heard from Blizzard’s devs (the actual devs, the people doing the labor of building a game) a desire that we please keep playing/buying their games. That seemed to be enough to dissuade some from boycotting.

I think this is the wrong move. To quote Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

In this case, the ‘many’ refers to our society as a whole. We need to demonstrate that a company can’t get away with bad behavior. Yes, there will be collateral damage. When a company’s bottom line falls, execs are generally not the first to be impacted. It’s the workers that pay the price first, and that sucks, but they are the few in Spock’s equation.

The situation is even thornier with Tripwire. People who worked at Blizzard must have been aware of what the culture was like, plus what happened/is happening at Blizzard is illegal. At Tripwire, Gibbons is just voicing an opinion that many of us don’t agree with. It isn’t illegal to have a dissenting opinion (yet) and we don’t really know if everyone in the company was aware of the president’s opinion. I have no idea what the CEO of the company I work for thinks of Texas right now.

Add in the fact that Tripwire is a publisher. Their newest game (I believe) is Chivalry II, which was developed by Torn Banner Studios. Did TBS know about Gibbon’s opinions? Who knows? So then should we punish them for being published by Tripwire?

Unfortunately, yes we should. It isn’t fair, but again, not buying games published by Tripwire is the only tool we have. I wish we had another.

It’s hard. It’s hard to know we’re having to hurt innocent people, and let’s face it, it’s hard to take a pass on games we were looking forward to. (I was looking forward to Diablo 2 Resurrected!) But social change IS hard, that’s why it comes about so slowly.

I mean obviously we all have to do what we think is right; I’m just some loon with a blog so don’t listen to me. But maybe have a think on it.

Sad. It was kind of fun.

And honestly talk is cheap for me. I don’t really play Blizzard-Activision games anyway (though I was going to get D2 Resurrected) and I think the only Tripwire game I own is Maneater, and I got that for free via Playstation Plus. (I’m deleting it from my Playstation just in case somehow that is tracked by Sony). If we learn something horrible about Guerilla Games and I have to boycott Horizon: Forbidden West next year, now THAT would be hard for met to do. Please Guerilla, please don’t turn out to be an awful employer.

Back in the here and now, for me the boycott stands for both these publishers. Blizzard will hopefully improve and if they do, it is just as important that I reverse my boycott. For Tripwire, I don’t think anything will change. I don’t think it is a public company so it isn’t clear if there’s a board that can force Gibbons out. They’ll just go into the permanent “Do Not Support” column of my mental spreadsheet.

If anyone has ideas for a more nuanced way we can act against these companies without hurting the workers, I’d love to hear it.

11 thoughts on “Moral Outrage and Collateral Damage

  1. If the CEO of my company decided to express himself in this way, I would start looking for another job, or at least urge for him to be fired by the board. People who work for shitty employers carry away some of the stink. You can’t give Nazi Mechanic X a pass because he just kept the Kübelwagens running and didn’t personally shovel people into an oven.

    1. Same here. But ya don’t know what you don’t know, right? For example, when we brought on a new CEO he had these “get to know you” meetings with small groups of people. One of the people in the meeting I was in gave off a definite pro-Trump vibe and she talked a lot about how much she loves guns (who does that in a meeting with the new CEO?). The other members of my team were not in this meeting. Now when we work with this person I’m looking at her through Trump-tinted glasses and react really badly to her, while the rest of my team is fine with her since all they know about her is that she’s a designer. If they knew what I know they’d react very differently, at least ‘in private’ though everyone, including me, acts professionally when working with this person.

  2. What do you think of John Gibson’s position on Cuba? Or is that not a sufficiently woke issue for you to chime in on? I guess if you are suggesting that we should boycott a whole company, despite the other positions of a person who posted one tweet with which you disagree, without knowing anything else about him and while willingly supporting any and all collateral damage that might occur, then I must delete my bookmark for your blog because I disagree with this one post of yours. Irregardless of your other posts and any others who may work on said blog.

    I’m not supporting his tweet, I just think you are being a bad person for encouraging the cancel culture so vigorously. I took a look at the guy’s twitter thread history and he has posted political opinions on many topics, most of which seemed reasonable to me. But even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t suggest messing with the livelihoods of all of those working on the games of the company he works for, due to moral outrage over one of his hundreds of tweets. Instead, I would engage him directly. if I felt that strongly about it. As I am doing you. Direct feedback, with my reasoning, rather than a random shot at a company whose games you admit to not even playing.

    As for the specific topic mentioned in his tweet, I suggest you redirect your ire towards the Texas legislature, where it belongs. If you are a resident of Texas, this would be very fair and you could even get involved. If you are not, and wish to register your displeasure, well, it’s a free country! Though you wouldn’t know if from the post to which I am responding…

    1. “But even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t suggest messing with the livelihoods of all of those working on the games of the company he works for”

      So, setting aside the specifics of this particular situation, if a game company was doing something that ran very much counter to your values, what would be a proper way to respond?

      I think this is the more interesting issue. As I said, no one should choose to boycott, or not boycott, any company based on what I suggest. But when something does happen that is important enough to you that you want to take a stand, is there an alternative way of acting on that other than a boycott?

      1. Well, it depends on the scope and details of the problem. In the case of Blizzard, where there is a lot of evidence for a very toxic culture that has harmed many people, a boycott would make more sense. Especially since many other solutions were tried first! People went to HR. People publicized the various problems, and nothing was done. Clearly, upper management at this company is complicit and willing to go to great lengths to protect themselves. So, boycott away! Nothing else has gotten their attention, not even lawsuits from the state of California.

        In the present case, where one officer of one company tweeted a position you disagree with, and there is no evidence that any other member of his company agrees with him or otherwise, and generally no evidence of other problems, or indeed ANY problems with the company in general – I’d have to say that jumping to a boycott of the company without attempting to even talk to the man is unreasonable.

        As I suggest in my earlier post, if it were an issue I felt that strongly about, I would start by responding to his tweet, and see if he is willing to discuss things rationally. Perhaps he will change his mind, or even apologize! Perhaps he missed some of the details of the new law (one of many new laws). Who knows, perhaps he is merely trolling liberals? I really don’t know, and I don’t see how you could either.

        Jumping to a boycott of the entire company based on one tweet, from a person who often tweets personal opinions, before attempting to engage or see if he was even serious, seems like an unreasonable and disproportionate response to me. This is what I was poking at with my cancel culture comment. We live in a country where we have free speech. I, or you, can say anything you want, and (within very broad guidelines) it is allowable. Taking offense at what someone else says, when it is clearly an opinion and is protected speech, is your right, just as it is my right to question the reasonableness of your response. Do you truly believe that it is fair to punish his entire company for something he said, with no evidence of any other issues, and without even attempting to find out if he is serious about what he said? Are you a fan of censorship, and the end of free speech?

        I wouldn’t have engaged if you hadn’t gone the extra mile and insisted that it would be fair to jump on this and f with the company, irregardless of any collateral damage. Without even doing your own due diligence to understand the scope of the problem. That does NOT seem reasonable nor fair to me. So you got to hear my personal opinion, in response to yours. Which does seem fair.

        I haven’t read the followups to his tweet, but my educated guess is that others in his company have jumped in by now and stated that they don’t share his opinion. They pretty much have to, given today’s political climate.

        What do you suppose will happen long-term if we effectively lose free speech? If people feel ever more frustrated that they can’t even talk about things, for fear of being pounced on, doxed, and their livelihoods threatened? I can’t imagine that will lead to anything good. If people can’t say things you disagree with, what happens when you want to say something THEY disagree with? Food for thought.

        This has turned into a long post, but one more thing. To be clear, there is a huge difference between one person saying one thing you disagree with on twitter, and a long-term pattern of misbehavior on the part of the leadership of a company towards the rank and file of that company. One of these seems like it is worthy of a boycott. The other one seems like it should be looked into by those that care, to see if there is a larger problem, prior to trying to incite a riot. 🙂

        1. First, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond in a thoughtful way.

          If this tweet had come from a producer or something I would be more inclined to agree with you, but since this is the president and co-founder of the company I still feel justified. I simply do not want my dollars going into his pocket based on his feeling strongly enough about this issue to make a public statement about it. I mean, this is just me voting with my wallet.

          I don’t honestly believe that responding to his tweet would’ve accomplished anything. The tweet has 13K+ responses and I can’t imagine he is engaging with many of them, and even if he did, has anyone ever changed another person’s mind via Twitter? I obviously can’t KNOW this but I can make a prediction based on my years of engaging in social media. And my time has value to me, too.

          All that said, I find it hard to totally refute that my reaction was an “unreasonable and disproportionate” one. You have me there. I am angry about a lot of things surrounding what is going on in Texas and what I perceive as the failings of the Supreme Court. I suppose a more measured approach would have been for me to say “If Gibbons continues to hold to these beliefs then the next time I am considering a Tripwire game I will opt to not purchase it.”

          On the other hand, suggesting I’m trying to incite a riot seems a bit much given that this is a shitty little personal blog in an obscure corner of the internet. All told 28 people have landed on this page, and 2 of those (at least) were you. It’s hardly an uprising and I did say “I mean obviously we all have to do what we think is right; I’m just some loon with a blog so don’t listen to me. But maybe have a think on it.”

          I’m not onboard with your free speech thoughts, either. My blog is my free speech. His tweets are his. We are both allowed to say what we want to say. Words have consequences though. They always have had consequences. People react to opinions. But I in fact would defend his right to voice his opinion even though I strongly disagree with it. I mean how is it free speech for him to voice his opinion, but my voicing my opinion is somehow taking away his free speech? It doesn’t make sense.

          I mean if I sold a product and you told your friends not to support me because of this blog post, I think you would be totally justified in doing that.

  3. Thank you, so much, for linking to my blog about the Texas law. I really appreciate that! I wrote it because I was angry at the Supreme Court and Texas legislators. I figured the blog post would be mostly ignored. Instead, its getting a lot of attention both on my blog and on Medium. Thank you, again.

  4. I’m very surprised and heartened to see the rapid and unequivocal response by the Tripwire “leadership team”. Honestly, before your post I had never heard of Tripwire and although I read a lot of Jen’s posts I hadn’t yet gotten to this one, so the whole thing came right out of left field for me.

    You glance on one of the core problems with situations like this in your post, I think. I’m neither a woman, nor a Texas resident nor even an American. I have never heard of John Gibson or Tripwire and chances are I have never played and never will play anything they publish. In fact, having checked their website, I’ve never even heard of anything they publish. My connection with any of this seems tangential at best. It’s not just a question of how I should or could respond it’s one of how meaningful any response I might make could possibly be. There’s a multiplicity of activity around the world that I either agree or disagree with but is there any purpose for me to involve myself in any of it and if so, what?

    This particular event lies at the opposite poles of action and reaction. It’s a topic on which I have long-held and quite firm opinions and beliefs but it involves places and people with which I have no practical connection at all. The Blizzard event was somewhat more nuanced in that my views were as clear but I did have some notional connection to the company and individuals involved in that I have played one of the games in question, WoW. On the other hand, I haven’t played it for months and had no intention of picking it up again. I play no other Blizzard games and I was never likely to start.

    Nominally I am “boycotting” Blizzard’s products off the back of the latest outrages but it’s mostly a statement for my own peace of mind. I suppose it has minimal value as a tiny, accretive particle of the pressure being applied to the company but since I have no significant outreach and my withdrawal has no financial impact that’s a value scarcely worth considering. I think in these circumstances what we do is more to make ourselves feel both better about ourselves and that we have at least some power, one of which may be true, the other maybe less so. For something like Tripwire I feel there is literally nothing I could do that would have impact other than perhaps to add my voice to yours and Jen’s by blogging about it – but anyone who reads my blog will almost certainly have seen yours already and I have nothing to add to the conversation that would make a post worth writing.

    I do have some serious concerns about the Spock-endorsed attitude you quote, though. Isn’t that just a pop culture filter for the discredited philosophy of utilitarianism, previously used to justify actions as extreme as the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I thought that had gone the way of Eugenics as a socially acceptable policy? It’s barely one step away from “the end justifies the means”, isn’t it, and we all know where that leads.

    1. Re: “The needs of the many” — The point I was trying (badly, it seems) to make was that we have no good options. The only lever we can pull (taking our business elsewhere) is going to hurt employees of a company before it hurts the top of the org chart. So if you feel strongly enough that you want to pull that lever do it, but understand that you’ll be hurting a lot more people than your target.

      I mean this applies to any kind of boycott, doesn’t it? Which is why I’m still searching for a ‘better way’ to react.

      I worded things badly by saying “Yes we should” punish Torn Banner Studios because that implies that we’re doing that with intent. What I meant was that by boycotting Tripwire we are also punishing TBS and that there is no way I can see to avoid that. You can punish Gibbons but by doing so you’re also punishing all his employees and 3rd party developers that Tripwire publishes. The hope is that ultimately you can defang someone in power at the cost of some lost jobs. Which sucks but again, the alternative is to do nothing, which is letting Gibbons off the hook. So I still think we SHOULD boycott Tripwire and I’m sorry for the harm it may do TBS but the need is there.

      In part this was my reaction to the trend of doing very little to salve our conscience. Like “Oh hey, this country is performing genocide, I’m going to change my Twitter icon to green in support and then I can feel like I’ve done my part.” I’m referring to people who make a big announcement that they’re going to boycott game company X but then when they want to play a game from company X they find some tiny peg to hang their “OK boycott no longer needed” justification on.

      In the case of Gibbons, I want to defang him because I’ve seen people like him make a lot of money and then start contributing heavily to political campaigns for candidates I don’t agree with. I admit I’m jumping from A to Z and skipping all the letters in between, which is me being alarmist I suppose.

      But, true story. I used to go to an annual convention for some software I used. It was organized by a third party. The man who organized it was Brad Parscale, one of the people who helped Trump get elected. He used, at least in part, the money and influence from that convention to get himself into a position where he helped do a lot of lasting damage (IMO) to the world.

      1. I also didn’t express myself as clearly as I might have by throwing in that last paragraph almost as an after-thought. I personally have no truck with the “it hurts the rank and file employees” argument against boycotting commercial institutions. I’m with Tipa in thinking that carrying on taking the paycheck after something like this implies some degree of complicity, albeit after the fact. That said, people have responsibilities and everyone has to draw their oen lines. I just wouldn’t take that as a sufficient reason not to withdraw whatever level of support I felt I was offering (which in these cases is effectively none anyway).

        I just don’t equate that with the “needs of the many” argument, which seems to me to be obfuscating the much clearer “stand by your own principles”. Know what you believe in and act on it. A lot easier to say than do, of course. And easier yet to type a comment about.

  5. Bhagpuss’ comment had me diving once more into the murky depths of ethics and morality, but the conclusion I reached was basically I don’t need to be a philosophy major to agree with the general principle here.

    TripWire’s non-response response (the dude is still at the company, as noted, although I think this might be a more difficult case as he is a co-founder and part owner of the company) has if anything made me a little more appreciative of Blizzard’s actions so far. I still view them largely as performative, but it has been a *much* better performance than whatever this BS was.

    TripWire will remain on the publisher ignore list in steam for the time being.

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