Jessica Price has been a game writer and designer for over a decade, most recently working as a narrative designer on ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. She also has a prominent Twitter presence, with almost 12000 followers. If you follow a significant number of people from the games industry on Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Price’s tweets before, or even follow her there yourself.
Earlier this week Price tweeted out a lengthy thread about the unique challenges of writing characters for massively multiplayer online role-playing games like Guild Wars 2. It’s full of good insights into the differences between games with a defined lead character (think Lara Croft or Nathan Drake) and games where players get to create their own characters, and if you haven’t yet you should probably go read it.
If you read Price’s thread all the way to the end, you’ll notice the first response on Twitter is from @DeroirGaming, a YouTuber who’s a part of ArenaNet’s official Partner Program for Guild Wars 2. Deroir tried to remain respectful, and didn’t come anywhere near the kind of hostility that’s so commonly found on social media, but at the same time there’s something inherently disrespectful about talking to an experienced professional about their job as if they had never considered the basic, entry-level ideas you’re bringing up. Deroir also doesn’t phrase the interaction as a dialogue or conversation, basically dropping some contradictory amateur opinions onto the feed of a professional and then cutting it off with a final-sounding “Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)” We’re not saying Price would ever want to debate her line of work with a random Twitter user she doesn’t know, or that anybody should ever expect her to, but if that was Deroir’s goal, you wouldn’t guess it from how he worded and ended his tweet thread.
This kind of unsolicited drive-by advice happens all the time to women on social media, especially ones working in the games and tech space. It’s a form of sexism because it’s predicated on the belief that a man with experience as a consumer of a medium knows more than a woman who is a professional working in that medium. Even if that’s not the conscious intent of tweets like the ones Deroir wrote, it’s hard for women to read it any other way, since it happens to them, again, all the time. If you have any friends in games or tech who are women, ask them about it, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear the same story about random dudes who think they can tell them how to do their jobs. That’s what Deroir did here, and it’s disrespectful, and so Price responded in a way that’s appropriate.
Well, a vocal contingent of Guild Wars 2 fans took issue with Price’s response, and almost immediately started calling for her to be fired. As Nathan Grayson reports at Kotaku, the official Guild Wars 2 Reddit quickly saw posts from users refusing to still support the game. Kotaku In Action, a subreddit for GamerGaters (yep, it’s about as thoughtful and reasonable as that makes it sound), added this incident to its stack of threads about Price, which totals 14 in the last year.
Peter Fries, another writer on Guild Wars 2, defended Price on his Twitter feed, in a series of tweets that have since been deleted. To show you how often women in this industry have their knowledge, their expertise, and even their right to work in it questioned, when one Twitter user mentions that a Reddit thread had been started calling for Price to be fired, Fries responded sarcastically with “This is a SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT that I definitely haven’t seen happen to every female coworker over and over again.”
ArenaNet’s president Mike O’Brien acted quickly, decisively and ill-advisedly, firing both Price and Fries at some point on July 5. In a post to a Guild Wars 2 forum thread about the situation, O’Brien wrote:
Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players. Their attacks on the community were unacceptable. As a result, they’re no longer with the company.
I want to be clear that the statements they made do not reflect the views of ArenaNet at all. As a company we always strive to have a collaborative relationship with the Guild Wars community. We value your input. We make this game for you.
So Price was outspoken in defending herself from a Twitter user’s sexism (no matter how unintentional it might’ve been), and Fries vocally supported her, and as a result both lost their job. Sure, that’s ArenaNet’s decision to make, but it’s a really bad one, for a number of reasons. Not only does it punish Price for standing up for herself, and Fries for defending a coworker, effectively telling women that they have to worry about speaking out against sexism when they encounter it. It also emboldens ArenaNet’s most vocal critics, the players who threatened to stop supporting the game if the company didn’t give in to their demands and fire two employees over something that shouldn’t even be seen as an offense, much less a fireable one. Those critics now feel like they have power over the developer, as one voiced in a since-deleted post on Reddit:
Where does ArenaNet draw the line on “the customer is always right”? The specific tweets Price responded to might not have been an intentional act of harassment, but as a vocal woman in game development, one who’s already been targeted by the likes of Kotaku in Action before, she’s clearly aware that the threat of harassment is basically a constant in her career. If she had been reacting to more overtly critical or threatening tweets, would ArenaNet have found her response appropriate, even if Reddit, social media and the Guild Wars 2 board were still full of complaints about her? Or does ArenaNet basically have a zero tolerance policy on standing up for yourself (or your co-workers)? That’s another result of the company’s bad call: not only will disgruntled players feel encouraged to demand change, and expect their demands to be met, but now ArenaNet employees know that their employer won’t have their back when they do encounter disrespect online. As Price tells Grayson in that Kotaku piece, “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you.”
Paste reached out to ArenaNet for comment, and their rep referred us to O’Brien’s forum post. We followed up by asking what they think about these terminations emboldening critical fans, and specifically for their opinion on that deleted Reddit post screencapped above; we have not yet received a response, but will update this post if one arrives.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.