Phil Fish and Misplaced Idealism

Fez 2 is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and I run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win.

– Phil Fish, creator of Fez

So Phil Fish decided to leave the video game industry? Wow, I can’t imagine why a priggish, rude man like that would leave. Or insult people. Or attack the output of other cultures in the more overly generalized way (HAY GUYS I PLAYED SKYWARD SWORD).I’m not sure where the anger and disdain come from, but an elitist attitude never garnered anyone a great following. The guy asking the question looks so disheartened as people he admires laugh at his culture and the way they design games. Do you know anyone who would ever offhandedly say “your game sucks”? Heck, I don’t like many indie games, but at least I take the time to play them, examine them, and find out what works and what does not.

People attacked Phil Fish because they knew he wasn’t quite in his right mind and had quite a thin skin. For making your living/passion on the Internet, that’s rather strange isn’t? Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of success make “indie” game development a hot topic, at least for labeling and pointing fingers. At what point do you no longer deserve that label? When you make millions of dollars? When you make billions? heck,. Activision-Blizzard technically fits into our modern definition at this point in time even though they’re a multi-billion dollar company. Obviously, it’s less to do with the money and more with a particular “attitude” which the BlowFish shows us. They’re not willing to interact with the press which keeps them alive, nor with people they don’t “philosophically” respect.


Being a petulant child and cancelling your game probably doesn’t help either.

But here’s the thing: video games aren’t just a private individualistic enterprise; they’re a business. Even games developed by 1-2 people require hosts of other people to get that game in the hands of others, whether by social media, distribution platforms like Steam, Xbox Live, or PSN. Then, is the game well-liked enough to deserve a fanbase who want, nay, demand a new game when the first either fails at great success? These groups could keep you in business; they could allow you to “express yourself”, much as I hate the terminology, in the realm of video games.

So what do you do instead? You reject press coverage; you become a pretentious elitist who rejects things out of hand, simply because they do not fit into your worldview. Sorry guys, this isn’t an undergraduate philosophy class. You WILL meet people to which you disagree, and a conciliatory attitude (even to those whom you vehemently disagree) will take you much farther than what you’ve done.

In no way do I attempt to justify the level of hate and vitriol leveled against Fish – at a point, threatening to murder/rape people seems strictly out of the question. But, as you know, the more extreme a response, the more likely you will get someone riled up and angry. The same principle works in actual real-world protests as it does in the world of the Internet, and the presupposed “crusade” against creatives comes down to little more than toying with a man, and getting what you want.

Thus, people hurt him in return.  That’s how everyone acts to everyone at some point in their lives on both ends of the spectrum. I’m just not surprised. Perhaps the addition of cursing and/or personal threats adds something, but anonymity makes that much easier, no? Of course it does, and you shouldn’t expect anything else from sinful humanity. Should we accept this state of affairs? No! But we should not respond in kind and fuel the fire. That’s no way to respond, nor is it helpful in any way. Every act of aggression leads to an act of reprisal, and every act of reprisal is perceived by the other party as an act of aggression. The cycle continues, as bile gets placed on top of bile and no one’s innocent. Phil Fish dug his own grave here, sorry to say.

Merely by living your life, you’re bound to offend someone. I should know. I say what I think is right, and people are free to correct me on the points where they think I am wrong. I will debate anyone whom I believe will actually engage me on a topic and not just condescend. That’s part of the role of a critic, surely. But social media requires big personalities to speak, and saying ignorant, offensive things to potential audiences will not help you in business. Phil Fish did intentionally provoke this on some level, but there’s a difference between making a statement and being able to own up to it. If you say such a thing, why would you not expect this and not be prepared for it? Controversy provokes assault. And he certainly wasn’t up for make cogent, rational arguments to support his assertions. Otherwise, wouldn’t he still be here?

Instead, he cried and took his ball home. Some people can deal with it, and others cannot. Phil Fish, if the Indie Game Movie tells me anything, is not the sort of person who can deal with constant criticism and/or death threats. He has serious problems resulting from some life experience, and while I can’t say what it is, he suffers from crippling bouts of self-doubt and anxiety. If he continues to offend people without any recourse as to correction, he will inevitably end up in these situations over and over again. That’s the worst part of all this. Leaving games will not help him, nor his situation. He’ll just repeat the cycle (if that tweets, and probably hundreds of others, are to be believed). Honestly, I hope and pray the best for the guy, as we all should.

Still, as much as I am an idealist, the Bible cautions us against idealism in many case. In fact, God’s love for us manifests itself not just in salvation (as per the New Testament’s modus operandi), but also in the Old Testament’s frequent caveats for the reality of human sinfulness. When Jesus mentions divorce in Matthew 19:8, for example:

8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way

The ideal, obviously, is that no one should ever get divorced. Yet the Old Testament, in a patriarchal society, allowed for women to divorce their husbands given the proper reasons (adultery, abuse) and legal/paper work (my guess is papyrus). God could have dismissed this entirely and put everyone to death who divorced. A holy God remains perfectly within His rights to do that, but God does not see this as fair to a fallen creation. The same goes for slavery in the New Testament  Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary John Goldingay says thus:

Much of the Torah, then, starts where people are in their sinfulness. The New Testament does the same. Although the Old Testament talks about slavery, Middle-Eastern slavery was not an inherently oppressive institution like the European slavery accepted under the Roman Empire and then by Britain and the United States. It would be better to call Middle-Eastern slavery “servitude.” And the Torah places constraints on such servitude. But the New Testament places no constraints on slavery. It shrugs its shoulders at this aspect of human hardness of heart.

In the same way, we do need to meet people where they are. We need to form human relationships, but also keep in mind our own sinfulness. God made allowances for us because He loves us; we must do the same if we are to love God with all our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Christian might receive death threats, but it’s for entirely different reason – good ones – that show our communal lack of perfection and our need for God. If we don’t see ourselves in that light, instead putting ourselves on an idolatrous pedestal, how can we hope to improve?

I can only hope and pray Phil Fish can find comfort in his situation and find redemption.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.