A few days ago, the embargo went up for reviews on Cyberpunk 2077, a big, sprawling game that made some interesting promises. I suppose that there exists a world where this happens in a totally reasonable way: people play the game, people say what they think, and consumers consider these opinions as they decide whether or not to make a purchase based on that information. Alas, this is not the world we live in. Some of these opinions, apparently, as decided by people who had not played the game, were wrong. And because we do not live in that other, reasonable world, that means those people are subject to harassment campaigns.
I won’t really be linking to any of this or once again bringing up the names involved, but really there are two major harassment campaigns going on, driven by the usual bad actors and targeted at, as you might guess, women. Men have given the game bad scores too, but that’s not the point: Gamergate never went away, and the marshalls of those particular internet mobs know they prefer female targets.
This is far from the first time this has happened. As communities have formed around video games and as social media has allowed direct access to industry figures, many people begin to see their enjoyment of a particular product not merely as a hobby but as an identity, both on their own and egged on by the publishers that recognize the inherent marketing value of dogma. This means that they see negative review scores of an upcoming game not as information to be used in a decision, but as personal attacks on a part of who they are, amplified by malicious Youtubers that recognize that vitriol is great for views.
And so we have situations where people see a game they’re anticipating getting a 7/10, and the idea that this reviewer played the game and gave it the score they thought it deserved doesn’t really even occur. Because this isn’t commerce, or art, or hobby: this is identity.
So maybe some feels disappointed by that 7/10, and then they go on Youtube. Youtube is where they hear what they want to hear: this isn’t because the game is bad, this is because the reviewer is bad, and because the reviewer operates in a system that seeks to destroy not only the things you enjoy but you, yourself. It’s an obvious lie, but this is Youtube, after all. From there, you get this communal anger boiling that will inevitably make its way back to whatever target these bad actors have chosen. It’s a nasty, nasty process, and one we’ve seen too many times.
And the really shady thing? This game turns out to have major, significant technical problems! It’s also a much different experience than the one I was expecting for a long time, much more on rails and less-focused on the role-playing side of the RPG. These are the exact sorts of things that reviewers can give people a heads up about, but doing so in such a toxic environment is to risk bringing an internet mob down on your head.
The problem goes much deeper than videogames, to the core of social internet platforms that have prioritized “engagement” over humanity and turned a blind eye towards much more destructive actions taken by even worse actors. But CD Projekt Red has also run a marketing campaign that gave nudges and winks to the Gamergate elements of its fanbase, and it’s not surprising that the fanbase took that and ran with it. We can do better, and we should.