ArenaNET, the creators of Guild Wars 2, recently fired two long-time employees for what the company claims amounts to “attacks on the community”, due to an alleged failure “to uphold our standards of communicating with players”. Jessica Price and Peter Fries, both industry veterans, with Fries being with the company for 12 years, were summarily dismissed after Price called out a Twitch streamer for explaining her job to her. As The Verge summarises:

Price tweeted a 29-tweet thread dissecting the challenges of writing player characters in an MMORPG. A streamer who goes by Deroir responded, “Really interesting thread to read! However, allow me to disagree slightly,” and shared a three-tweet explanation of how narrative design influences player expression in the sort of games that Price narratively designs.

Price both replied directly to Deroir, tweeting “thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude,” and retweeted his response with the caption “today in being a female game dev.”

Price, an outspoken woman in a notoriously toxic culture, attempted to convey her frustration at constantly being patronised about work she is a professional in by those who are not. As she told Kotaku:

“By the time that guy came along, I was so tired of having random people explain my job to me in company spaces where I had to just smile and nod that it was like, ‘No. Not here. Not in my space.”

However, the Guild Wars 2 gamer community took this as a slight against them as a whole, viewing this as an unconscionable attack. There was no attempt to recognise her frustration, that she doesn’t work for the loudest gamers but a company from whom anyone can choose to buy the product she works on; instead, all this was brushed aside because she dared to articulate her frustration at a common, known symptom of a male-dominated culture that frequently undermines women.

As many have highlighted, this only strengthens the entitlement gamers feel when it comes to this culture.

The harassment campaign targeting especially women and minorities has never abated. Those of us who have and are targets have all been affected and continue be affected by it. It comes in various forms but its core characteristics remain: a barrage of angry, entitled people, targeting a woman/minority voice, digging up whatever they can, using this as a “evidence” both on harassers’ own platforms to undermine the target’s reputation and to send to those with the power to fire the target.

But this also speaks to serious ignorance regarding labour issues.

Labour failure

You need money to live and money comes from work. But the work you do is overseen by someone higher up: a manager, CEO, or broadly a “boss”, who themselves works for the employer (usually a company). While you need the work, because you need the income, the employer doesn’t necessarily need your labour, as many can fill your shoes. Unless you have carved out a very specialised niche within your career, you are replaceable with someone who might be less troublesome but equally capable. As most labour law books detail, there is an inherent inequality of bargaining power in employer-employee relationships.

As Otto Kahn-Freund, a noted labour law scholar of the mid 1900’s, wrote:

[T]he relation between an employer and isolated employee or worker is typically a relation between a bearer of power and one who is not a bearer of power. In its inception it is an act of submission, in its operation it is a condition of subordination, however much the submission and the subordination may be concealed by that indispensable figment of the legal mind known as the ‘contract of employment’. The main object of labour law has always been, and we venture to say will always be, to be a countervailing force to counteract the inequality of bargaining power which is inherent and must be inherent in the employment relationship

Unless you are incredibly specialised, you will usually accede to the terms an employer sets and, if you do not, they’ll simply find someone who will.

I am not a law expert, let alone a foreign labour law expert. However, from the little I’ve studied, it is shocking to me just how and why Price was fired.

Labour law, at least modern versions, is designed to mitigate this inherent inequality of bargaining power, that Kahn-Freund outlines. Employers should not, at the drop of a hat, be able to simply fire people because loud, angry third parties demand it. Labour law is designed to facilitate a process of protection for the worker, while simultaneously forcing the employer to adhere to process and rules to dismiss the worker. In this way, for example, you can’t lose your job because your boss doesn’t like that you’re an immigrant.

People rely on labour to survive. In the current economic climate, having a job with a regular income is something to relish for anyone. Losing that because anonymous, angry fans love to spend energy yelling at women on the internet, is something to oppose and fear: It means putting your ability to survive in the hands of those who are already primed to hate you.

As one gamer put it on a subreddit:

We can probably fire anyone on the GW2 dev team as long we make a big enough stink. Nobody at Arenanet is safe from the hand of reddit… We’re literally running the company now…

No one should be fired because anonymous angry nerds, with more interest in ruining lives of women than getting on with playing video games, decided to target a worker.

Why you should care

You might not work in the gaming industry but you should care about anyone being fired because hypersensitive “customers” used their energy against a target. With the ubiquity of the internet, anyone can target you. Thus the first reason you should care:

It can happen to you or someone you love: angry people with too much time on their hands should not be empowered to take jobs away.

Look at the empowerment that gamers now feel from that reddit quote. This puts workers at ArenaNET in a perilous position and, as Scheurle highlighted, sends horrible repercussions throughout the industry. This sets a toxic precedent, prioritising the loudest, most hypersensitive feelings of entitled gamers above the dignity of the worker.

Second, the culture of games is particularly toxic (that doesn’t negate that various industries are also dealing with issues of male entitlement and the undermining of women and minorities).

Many gamers seem to view games as emerging neatly wrapped and ready for play, ignoring that people are behind it. This is why more needs to be done regarding the labour of games, the people behind it and what goes into creating our favourite examples of this most incredible medium (I highly recommend watching NoClip documentaries for example). As Waypoint has stressed:

“This is meant to be part of an ongoing dialogue regarding the way we, as a culture and medium, talk about how the people who build the games we love are treated. The status quo isn’t acceptable.”

Not enough is written about the people behind the games or the processes in place about their labour management: the ethics of “crunch” is as important as what allows for firing. We need more articles on whether workers are treated correctly than why graphics were “downgraded” from a known press-event. In this way, not only do we actually prioritise people’s dignity above graphical fidelity in a medium that too often treats people as cogs and consumers, we also gain insight into how these products are created

We can appreciate them more and also take a hammer to false pictures that consumers are gods that must be obeyed. We thus can create a better environment, more inclusive and supportive, where people will want to work rather than sustaining a culture of toxic entitlement.

Artists’ creativity can thrive properly because consumers will appreciate what goes into creating art, rather than viewing games as (merely) a product that comes off a production line.

Thus, the second reason you should care:

By understanding labour practices and wanting the dignity of company employees to be valued in the workplace, we create a more inclusive, more creative and more secure environment creating better more creative end results.

This does not mean people are immune from firing; only that better reasons are needed than angry nerds assert a woman was a bit rude. This culture is toxic enough as it is. We need employers to do better, to understand and act – especially when it’s hard. But we also need consumers, those on the receiving end, to understand the labour behind the scenes, too, restoring some sort of dignity to the too often faceless workers. People matter more than games and that means their livelihood should not rest on the whim of those who refuse to look at the wider context and the current culture in which they operate.

(Disclosure: I’ve long been on friendly terms with Price and Fries on social media.)


One thought on “The labour of games

  1. However, the Guild Wars 2 gamer community took this as a slight against them as a whole, viewing this as an unconscionable attack.

    As a now-former GW2 player, I would like to point out that MO characterizing the devs’ comments as “attacks on the community” also forcibly excluded me and every other player who would have ranged from “that wasn’t a firing offense” to “you tell them, Jessica”. He was literally redefining the community to fit his own ideas.

    (This isn’t so much a No True Scotsman thing — the majority response in the various GW2 fora has been absolutely sickening, and was the other factor in my quitting — but rather emphasizing that it’s an awful sort of engineered vicious cycle where upper management isn’t just being a passive coward, but ACTIVELY complicit in leading the hate mob.)


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