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Veteran Member - Level 13
It's been a strange weekend.
I'm certainly familiar with the power of Twitter. After all, as my bio on the site states, I hooked up with the fine men and women of Game Informer via Twitter. In some ways, I very much owe my current job to that 140-character-focused site, so its reach and ability to actually affect things should not surprise me.
Still, I use Twitter the way most people do: to spout off my opinions on whatever games I've been playing, movies I've been watching, books or articles I've been reading, or on whatever else the hot news of the moment is. I try to make those opinions entertaining and well-informed, but they are still opinions.
On Friday night, Infinity Ward posted a humorous video on their official YouTube channel as part of the push toward the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I arrived home late Friday evening and noticed the video via a few Twitter posts that linked to a Kotaku story about it. I clicked through and watched.
My initial reaction to the video was as such: I found the use of "pussies" as an insult lame but shrugged it off. Most of the video was pretty funny. The concept -- a popular sports star speaking out against grenade spam in the game -- is actually excellent and ripe for comedy. And I laughed as he got tagged by a barrel-full of grenades and blew up. Then came the voice at the end: "This ad brought to you by Fight Against Grenade Spam." Many people commenting on YouTube and Kotaku quickly picked up on the carefully accented reading of the name that highlighted this organization's offensive acronym.
Before I get into why this specific instance irked me, I want to clarify that I do not at all consider myself a proponent of political correctness. Most people who know me personally would burst into laughter if you suggested such a thing. I think it's possible to take even the most seemingly awful words and phrases and, with the right context, turn them into comedy. But context is extremely important, and context is why I was not amused by this video.
The context for Infinity Ward is that online multiplayer is a huge focus for their Modern Warfare series. They have been extremely successful with building a huge community of avid players. But that community, as with Xbox Live and many other multiplayer experiences in general, contains a lot of assholes. While I firmly believe (and hope) that those players are not the majority of the community, they are certainly the loudest, and the acronym from that video is one of their most frequently-used rallying cries.
One common argument is that "f--s" is somehow no longer hate-speech because when people online use it, they're just using it as a replacement for idiot or moron or a million other interchangeable words. While I certainly respect the ability of the English language to morph and change, I disagree with this assessment. The unfortunate truth is that we still live in an America where this word is commonly used as hate-speech. Using it as a replacement for calling someone an idiot just heightens that hate-speech.
Gaygamer.net writer VorpalBunny has a far more suitable and poignant write-up on the power of this word for some people than I could hope to provide. Check it out on his blog. There's also a fantastic blog post on the topic from my fellow Game Informer editor Meagan VanBurkleo. Another friend gave me her opinion on the matter in a conversation on Saturday: "I am so over the homophobia. It's what keeps me away from shooters. I loved Counter-Strike for a month or two when I was 16, but finally gave the f--k up because of this s--t."
Now the truth is that Infinity Ward can't do much about this part of their community. It's a pretty impossible task to monitor this behavior in such a huge game, and they don't necessarily need to. However -- and this is why I think the video was such a bad idea -- I think it would be extremely stupid for Infinity Ward to condone that part of the community. I was not upset just because the word was used in a humor video; as I said above, I think it's possible for any word or phrase to be used in comedy if handled correctly. But this video's handling was not terribly funny, and more importantly, by Infinity Ward using that word in an "official" video, they were more or less giving the rogue elements of their community a thumbs up, a sort of "Yeah, we get that joke too! Keep it up!" I very much doubt that was Infinity Ward's intention, but with the way the joke was handled in the video, it was certainly how a lot of viewers and commenters on YouTube and other sites were interpreting it.
So with all of that in mind, I posted my opinion on Twitter: "F--S? Pussies? Seriously, Infinity Ward? This makes me want to not purchase MW2 way more than any other controversy." Later I posted a link to the Sarcastic Gamer write-up of the video as well, since that story's writer, Lono, is one of the least PC-concerned guys I know, and he still thought the video was a terrible idea. I spent a couple hours debating back and forth with some of my Twitter followers, and then I went to bed.
On Saturday evening, after Halloween festivities, I found out that the video had been pulled. Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling had replied to my concerns on Twitter: "I think it was more of a social commentary joke of that stereotype than it was a fist-bump of acceptance to it."
I responded: "I respect it if that's what you were going for, but it totally didn't come off as such." His next post was his decision to pull the video.
Here's an important point of distinction I'd like to make: While I stated my distaste for the video very clearly, and I was happy to hear Bowling's response, I did not once ask for the video to be taken down. That was a decision Bowling and Infinity Ward made entirely on their own. I have no interest in censoring people or telling them what they can or cannot say. I just also don't plan to censor myself when I have a negative opinion of something someone has said.
After the video was pulled, Destructoid and Kotaku posted write-ups wherein they pointed to me and my friend Mitchell Dyer as two of the primary voices that got the video taken down. We were singled out both for having clearly-stated opinions and because Bowling had responded to our tweets specifically. While both of these news posts were well-written and covered the topic well, it was a bit frustrating to realize that they didn't make it clear that I had not in any way asked for Infinity Ward to remove the video. This meant my Sunday was a flood of hate mail/hate-Tweets from people who seem to believe that I single-handedly crawled into the bowels of YouTube and removed the video myself.
An excellent post on The Brainy Gamer about the video sums up the situation from Infinity Ward's point of view: "Infinity Ward (owned by Activision) is plugging into a real and widespread cultural pushback occurring among young American men. It's cool at the moment to be an insensitive jerk. Empathy and understanding are out. Tough guys with smirks on their faces are in. Infinity Ward knows this because it's their business to know. " He's absolutely right. However that insensitive jerk thing isn't me, so if I'm being oversensitive just by stating my opinion, then so be it. I'd rather be honest about thinking something is stupid than hold back out of fear that some random Xbox Live idiots will be angry with me.
To his own credit, Robert Bowling provided the following explanation for the video in an e-mail to me:
"There is a production group that is working on a new series that is part live action and part taking place 'inside' Modern Warfare 2. The project, while containing Modern Warfare 2 assets and partially being created in-game for certain scenes, is actually unrelated to Infinity Ward or the game directly. Most importantly, this video was not intended as an official trailer or advertisement for the game, hence no branding, logos, or even mention of the game. A confusion I take blame for as it WAS posted on the Official Infinity Ward YouTube which made it seem that way. However, I endorsed the video via my Twitter and therefore endorse the content of the video, so any criticism justly rests on me for that and why I pulled the video."This specific clip, which isn't part of the upcoming series, but was more of a proof of concept for the in-game portion of the series that they sent over for us to check out. The premise was hilarious, Cole Hamels speaks out against random grenades, and how they're a cheap tactic. Something a lot of players in our community can appreciate. The concept was hilarious, which is why I decided to share it with our fans and community via Twitter. Regretfully, by doing so, it came off as an endorsement of derogatory statements which was not the intent of the video or my intentions in sharing it."
So I posted an opinion on a developer-endorsed video without expecting or necessarily wanting any action to be taken, that opinion was a minor part of the video being taken down, and then I got credited with it and a bunch of people think I demanded it get taken down. The web of social media becomes more intricate and difficult to unravel every day.
But despite the stream of vitriol from some people, I've also had some genuinely positive interactions come from all of this. Several people who disagree with my opinion on the video actually took the time to ask me about it instead of just hurling insults. I went back and forth with one cool guy on Twitter until we agreed to disagree but had come to a mutual respect for each other. Likewise, a Game Informer community member sent me a private message on the site and gave me the chance to explain my point of view rather than just writing me off. And, yes, my interactions with Robert Bowling both on and off Twitter have been very pleasant.
For as much confusion as modern-day technology-infused interactions can cause, there's clearly also a lot of room for real connection. If we can all step back from calling each other unnecessary names and spamming grenades for a moment, at least.
Closing note: For what it's worth, I am still planning to buy Modern Warfare 2. I've managed to mostly avoid spoilers for the game and look forward to experiencing it for myself. The online part? Eh...we'll see.