Does an abusive and abrasive community scare away game development talent? That depends on how far individuals in such a community are willing to go in order to express their disdain for what a game developer is doing. When members of a community think that it is acceptable to wish death or a sexual assault on someone, it has a very real affect on game developers – or anyone else in the public eye.
Polygon detailed how online bullying, harassment, and even death threats were thrown at BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler. Things were so bad that she decided that it was time to leave BioWare and do freelance work. Hepler, who was harassed by fans for her work on Dragon Age 2 (and for comments she made years earlier about wishing to skip combat sections in games, because she disliked them) this week left the studio to work on a book and pursue some freelance work. She tells Polygon that she made this dramatic move because of death threats to her and her children online.
"It's something that comes up in almost every conversation with female developers," she told Polygon. "Overall, people seem to try to shrug it off publicly and fume privately, and younger women contemplating the field are reconsidering whether they have the stomach to handle what it currently asks of them."
"That's the biggest risk in my opinion: that we will lose out on the talents of people who would make fantastic games that we would all be the better for playing, because they legitimately don't want to make themselves into targets," she continued. "A lot of the best artists and storytellers (and quite a few great programmers too) tend to be sensitive people – we shouldn't lose out on their talents because we are requiring them to be tough, battle-scarred veterans just to walk in the door."
We've reported on a fair share of online abuses over the last year or so directed at people such as Treyarch Studio Design Director David Vonderhaar (who players wished death upon after he detailed a Black Ops II patch that changed some weapons in the game); Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian (who has received a fair share of rape threats because of her Tropes v. Women video series); and Polytron's Phil Fish (who recently quit the industry after having a verbal sparring match on Twitter with Gametrailer's Marcus Beer over Xbox One and Indie game developers).
At the end of the day people have a right to their opinions, but threats online are not free speech – in fact, in some places they are a crime. But it should never have to come to a point where the police show up to arrest you for something stupid or hateful you wrote online; instead those who want to engage in conversations online should show a little more self-restraint, the art of self-censorship, and the ability to use some common sense before speaking or typing.
By the same token, gate keepers – those who provide platforms for people to share their opinions – should have zero tolerance for any kind of communication that involves threats of sexual assault or violence of any kind.
You can check out Polygon's excellent report on this subject here.