Game Devs Are Real People – You Can’t Send Them Death Threats Just Because You’re An Overgrown Toddler

Every day I become increasingly astonished by how ignorant some very selfish people are of their very harmful actions. Online harassment is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something that can be rectified overnight. That being said, the sheer extent to which people have gone over the last week is alarming. I am sorry your fake car in a virtual world designed for entertainment – something that is stocked in the “toys” section of major retailers all over the world – is not quite as shiny as you wanted it to be. That does not give you any semblance of a reason to harass the people who created it, let alone send them literal death threats. I mean, that should be obvious to any reasonable person capable of feeling empathy.

Sadly, that demographic does not include a lot of the people who are playing Cyberpunk 2077 right now, who are completely ignorant of how harmful their vitriolic and injurious hatred is.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 fans are, ironically, the kind of people that cyberpunk as a genre is designed to criticize. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and transphobia run rampant in the discourse they perpetuate, which is then blown up by people who sic their followers on individual writers and developers. It’s a structure designed to pinpoint people and prime them for targeted harassment at the hands of unempathetic idiots who are made brave by the invisible distance created by the internet. These people project parts of their identity onto a product – often a video game – and perceive their actions as some kind of protectionism. In reality, they are just being legitimately horrible human beings.

It’s worth pausing for a second to expand on that. Interpellation is an important process to consider when we talk about people who have began to conflate their own identity with a video game or a developer. It is not as simple as liking a game and defending it from criticism – conversely, the game begins to define the subconscious ideological makeup of the person in question, as does the acrimonious community they choose to participate in. This game becomes something they perceive as uniquely theirs, which results in a self-fabricated dynamic with its developers that goes far beyond the ills of more conventional parasocial relationships. The developers do not work for you or because of you. They are ordinary people who are trying to work an ordinary job and you have zero right to be even a little bit rude to them – never mind actually threaten their lives. You’re living in a world where you are not seeing people as human beings, where you are perceiving the art they spend years creating as something that is exclusively malleable to your petty demands – I think, if you’re engaging in this kind of behaviour, it’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Again, this is hardly new. Earlier this year, developers at Naughty Dog received some of the most vitriolic backlash I have ever seen in the games industry after footage of The Last of Us Part 2 was leaked online. The term “keyboard warriors” makes me cringe to the point of physical discomfort, but it’s the only properly apt terminology in this instance. It is very easy for someone to say something they would never dream of saying in real life on the internet, because their actions often come without due consequence. A 45-year-old man with an unwashed ponytail and pizza stains on his jocks is far more likely to harass someone via the computer in his mam’s attic than in real life, where he’d probably piss his pants the second somebody said “politics.”

The danger, here, is that people begin to believe the toxic rhetoric they see repeated on sites like Reddit and Twitter. Once they’re convinced that their poisonous views have the potential to be legitimized by small splinter groups, they start to engage with like-minded idiots more actively. Before long, they’ll probably have an anime Twitter avatar and “keep politics out of games” scrawled across their bio. And so the legion of pissbabies obtains a new recruit, ready to spend all day every day spouting abuse at people they have never met about toys they probably don’t even care about all that much.

The worst thing about this is not necessarily what these people shout at one another in their little vacuum. It’s the conscious and targeted efforts from a relative minority of the group to dole out as much pointed and premeditated harassment as humanly possible. This operates across a wide spectrum – a lot of the time, the insults you hear are so stupid that it’s honestly pretty difficult to take them seriously. I have received a lot of weird messages over the last two years, and believe me when I say that the vast majority of them read as if they were written by a toddler who’s just had their PS5 confiscated for not finishing their veggies.

But then you see developers who spend almost a decade working on a game having to avoid social media during what should be a celebratory launch because people are sending them literal death threats. These are the same people who sent the same developers death threats after Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed – clearly they have learned nothing and are just as willing to be abusive as they were before. How a person sleeps at night after sending messages like this to people is something I will never understand. As CD Projekt Red senior game designer Andrzej Zawadzki recently wrote, “There are some lines you simply don’t cross.”

Actions like these are incredible displays of ignorance, and I’m stumped as to how anyone could consciously behave so poorly and vindictively. I think it’s important to hold CD Projekt Red, and Naughty Dog, and all of the other major game studios who force mandatory crunch practices onto their employees accountable for their actions. I also think it’s important to remember that every single developer who works at each and every one of these studios is an individual person – a literal human being who does not define and is not defined by the studio that employs them. Cyberpunk 2077’s poor performance is not the result of a programmer making a mistake, or an environmental artist doing a shoddy job. It is obviously – and I mean this should be so remarkably obvious to anyone who is even remotely capable of mustering the slightest ounce of critical thought – a product of being rushed by executives who regularly talk about figures with more digits than a phonebook. That is a phenomenon that needs to be criticized – loudly. But it will never be okay for you to talk to individual people as if they’re dirt on your shoe because you’re annoyed about a character in a video game clipping through a wall. It will never be acceptable to threaten someone’s life – who do you think you are that leads you to believe differently? This is not because of your ability to say what other people won’t, or to use lots of swear words because you’re a grown up and grown ups are allowed to say the F word. It’s because of a genuine inability to treat other people as that: people. It’s a genuine inability to experience empathy, and it’s a genuine inability to be an even remotely half-decent person.

I’m sure developers want the games they make to be as good as they can be. I’m sure they work tirelessly to achieve exactly that. I’m also pretty confident that their talents are far beyond those of the people who are horrible to them – there’s a reason they’re making excellent games instead of spending 16 hours a day doomscrolling Reddit in search of libs to own. If you can’t see those things, it’s because you’re choosing not to. You’re consciously deciding to behave like a shit person, and you should probably do something about that.

Cyberpunk 2077 is available for PC on GOG.COM, Steam and Epic, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Stadia from December 10, 2020. When you buy Cyberpunk 2077 on GOG.COM, 100% of your money goes to CD PROJEKT Group and supports their future projects.

Next: Cyberpunk 2077 Complete Guide And Walkthrough

These articles are posted in affiliation with GOG.COM. TheGamer received compensation from GOG Sp. z o.o. for affiliating these articles with their brand.

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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