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No, Developers Don’t Need To Take Responsibility For Getting Harassed

There’s been an ongoing debate within the Destiny community over the last week about what constitutes harassment against developers. It all started with a tweet from Bungie’s senior community manager dmg04 which explained harassment against developers has led to less communication between the studio and the players. “I dream of a day where video game developers (from any studio) can openly discuss their work without being harassed,” dmg04 wrote. “Many in the comments say they do not condone harassment. I hope they also stand against it when they find that friends or family are engaging in it.”

What surprises me about the community's response to this – though I realize it probably shouldn’t – is the mental gymnastics people are using to redefine harassment. All weekend I’ve seen replies from people that are willing to acknowledge that it’s wrong to harass devs with death threats and dick pics – like the ones Sony Santa Monica devs received this month from gamers who were tired of waiting to find out the release date for God of War Ragnarok – while giving a pass to other forms of harassment. This kind of bizarre equivocation that reframes harassment as well-intentioned feedback only serves to avoid doing the thing that dmg04 is calling on the community to do – stand with the developers against harassment.

I have some doubts that there is a true misunderstanding about what is and isn’t harassment, rather than simply bad faith actors trying to justify their behavior, but for the sake of argument let’s take these comments at face value. Is it harassment to tell a developer that they’re bad at their job because you don’t like an aspect of the game they work on? I think the answer is obvious, but there’s a contingent of people arguing that if they don’t like something about a game they purchased, then that gives them the right to tell writers, designers, and community managers how they feel using whatever language they want.

No one is entitled to a developer’s time or attention, no matter how much money they’ve spent. Not only is it inappropriate to DM a developer your thoughts, it’s also counter-productive. There are avenues for providing feedback to game companies just as there are with any kind of business. You can fill out surveys, send emails to designated customer channels, and offer your feedback on message boards like Reddit. If those aren’t sufficient, and you still don’t feel like your voice is being heard, you are welcome to stop playing the game.

Sometimes developers or community managers will open themselves up to direct feedback on social media, as dmg04 often does. In those instances, you are being invited to offer your thoughtful and constructive feedback. This is a skill that takes time to develop, but it’s in your best interest to learn how to give good feedback if you care about seeing your favorite games improve. You can talk about your experience, your pain points, and the things you’d like to see changed, but what you can’t do is tell the developers they are bad at their jobs or imply they don’t know what they’re doing, don’t care about their game, or should be fired. That is harassment.

If you understand that harassment is an issue, then don’t run interference for harassers. Saying that the developers have brought it on themselves for mishandling their games is called victim blaming, and it communicates to the harassers that their behavior is justified. Absorbing harassment isn’t something that just comes with the territory. Being a dev, even one who has willingly put themselves in the public eye either through interviews or with their social media account, does not mean you just have to put up with being harassed. When you throw your hands up and say “That’s just the way things are,” you’re adopting a mentality that harassment is some kind of indelible force, rather than a behavior that can be changed.

This is the attitude that dmg04 is referring to in his tweet. The people sending death threats to developers are only part of the problem. We also have to address the fact that our community is letting harassment happen without scrutiny. It isn’t enough to just tweet that harassment is wrong if you sort-of kind-of believe that it’s also justified. Harassment isn’t just death threats, and using such a narrow definition gives harassers a pass while degrading the potential for communication between studios and players.

Almost every developer would tell you that criticism is valuable, but the way you share your thoughts matters a lot. Devs don’t deserve harassment, and they’re unlikely to take feedback to heart when it’s delivered with malice. We need to unite against harassment in all of its forms and stand with developers for the sake of the games we love and respect for the people that make them. Ostracize harassers, don’t defend them.

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