Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The time that TotalBiscuit totally told on me.

Update: TB and I spoke briefly and agreed to continue the conversation in the comments section. 

“We run a popular gaming channel with over one million subscribers and have a Twitter following of almost 190,000[...] Shawn proceeded to tweet the aforementioned remark about TotalBiscuit to his 16,000 followers.”
 –email excerpt from Cristian Baltoc, Media Relations Specialist | CynicalBrit, LLC

Some would wear their Gamerscores, or the social media metric equivalent, on their sleeves. People who assess their self-worth and see the world through these figures – through the accumulation of “like,” “favorite,” “retweet,” “subscribe,” and “upvote” clicks -- are unpleasant. Self as brand bugs me. But we're all human and, hey, we all want to make sure mom watches when we're on the diving board. Again, what's grotesque is when we take these stats to signify worth. I find this particular character flaw so off-putting that I've probably screamed “shit” at times when all there actually was, was something that smelled a lot like it (or at least the inside of a top hat). I felt sure I whiffed it in the following Twitter exchange:

Whether I was right or wrong, I responded that “TotalBiscuit is truly gross.” This was a personal reaction to the above and another set of screencapped exchanges in circulation. (Seeing a silhouette of what in haberdashery genealogy is the fedora's kissing cousin might've contributed to my conclusion.) I don't watch Youtube or “Let's plays” or Twitch (outside of EVO tourneys) and honestly had never heard of TotalBiscuit. I certainly wasn't speaking for the studio that employed me at the time, nor would any thinking person assume I was. In any case, TB was clearly concerned with my partially informed opinion and, curiously, wrote and performed a recorded response (I say curiously, since I didn't pay a penny for it). I listened and intended to reply at length when it was convenient. In the interim, others on Twitter addressed him on their own accord but I'll come back to that.

A few days later -- this being before I found time to chat, and during BioShock Infinite crunch – Irrational's HR department forwarded me an email written on TB's behalf. In it, his dedicated PR person wrote:

We run a popular gaming channel with over one million subscribers and have a Twitter following of almost 190,000. I would like to bring to your attention the fact that Shawn Elliot, one of your employees, posted a derogatory remark earlier today about my employer, namely "Fucking yuck. @totalbiscuit is truly gross". That remark was deduced from an out-of-context screenshot he had discovered of a partial conversation between my employer and an obnoxious person over Twitter. The image had been circulating on one of 4chan\'s hate threads in the /v/ section, where Shawn or a follower of his might've stumbled upon it.
Without confirming whether that image represented the entire conversation, Shawn proceeded to tweet the aforementioned remark about TotalBiscuit to his 16,000 followers, which include a lot of industry professionals we are in contact with, have collaborated with or wish to in the future (names include Tom Ohle, Ben Kuchera, Evolve PR, Justin Kranzl, etc). Needless to say this tarnishes my employer's image greatly, all because of a misunderstanding. We felt this most certainly constitutes getting off on the wrong foot, which led to my employer posting an audio clip directed at Shawn, meant to explain the entire situation in detail (you can listen to it here: Here is a screenshot of Shawn's tweet and a link to his actual tweet: // We would appreciate it if Shawn could abstain from posting such remarks in the future and if he would be so kind so as to issue a public apology to my employer, as unverified offensive statements aimed at industry professionals do nobody any good.”

Anyone who's worked in the service industry – and a great many of the people who follow the few of us who get to create or critique games for paychecks are there now – is familiar with the indignity of being called into the boss's office because a customer is willing to jeopardize jobs for slight service hiccups. You know the sort; they’re likely the same species that files abusive copyright infringement claims when their products are criticized. I lived that life, working grocery throughout undergrad education as well as when in graduate school while also teaching college courses. Among the many perks of salaried employment is partial impunity from such shit. I was surprised to see it happen here; surprised when, strictly speaking, it wasn't a customer this time and I wasn't on the clock; surprised that a personal opinion and insufficiently speedy response would so offend someone who, on Twitter, had only a day or two prior asked, “Do you live in a place where you can just order someone around without employing them? and “Wanna tell me which human on this planet is entitled to someone else's time? Tattlebiscuit, it seemed, had staked claim to such a place on just such a planet.

This week, aware that, at long last, I meant to write a response since I'm no longer silenced on the topic as his complaint once ensured, our ever humble top hat reminded us that he “hold(s) more power and influence than any games journalist[...]” He asks, Would arguing with him/her publicly on Twitter have been a better course of action?” As established, he attempted to argue about it with me publicly on Twitter. The trouble was that I wasn't able to respond with sufficient speed.

In addition, he states that “we had one incident outside of the DMCA stuff (where we used actual lawyers because it was a legal issue) of contacting a dev to see if we could work out what all the negativity was about and how we might best solve it.” One would expect a self-proclaimed critic, of all people to understand that unfavorable subjective opinions are not necessarily problems in need of “solving.” Finding narcissism offensive is not a claim whose truth we can test. An example of a claim whose falsehood we can confirm is “he/she sicced a large number of people on me.” If anyone bothered TB on my behalf, I apologize, as I certainly never encouraged anyone to do so; never condoned it. Ever. If on planet TB, any and all unsolicited comments from Twitter followers constitutes “siccing,” I'll happily supply evidence and circumstantial witnesses that suggest TB has explaining to do.

“I had no interest in getting into it publicly with an employee of one of this [sic] studios,” he goes on. “So I did the professional thing which was to contact the studio to try and find out what was happening. What should I have done differently? Perhaps in TotalBiscuitville on the noted narcissist planet TotalBiscuit, contacting the employer of a person who has a poor opinion of you is a material conditional. You see, if Marie is in Paris, then she's in France. And if someone, anyone, says I'm gross, you better bet I go and tell their boss. Pleasant enough place if you can stomach the brim sweat.

On our far more familiar planet, requesting that I “abstain from posting such remarks” and “issue a public apology” is not an attempt to “find out what was happening.” When sent to a studio and preceded with a reminder of your social media reach, it is rather – again on this planet – understood as a demand with the possible threat of retaliation. In no world would TotalBiscuit admit that this was his intent. Still, in few other worlds would a studio head run the risk of taking his word on it. Any chance at all that one thin-skinned critic would be biased against a collaborative project as a result of beef with the personal opinion of one member of a massive team is too much to accept.

Update: TB's response is in the comments section below. 

I'm fairly sure TB and I have buried the hatchet. I apologize for that unwarranted first Tweet, he says he's sorry I was silenced. We disagree on whether or not contacting a person's employer for publicly expressed personal opinion (that isn't sexist, racist, homo- or transphobic, etc.) is cool. In AAA game dev, it guarantees gag orders. 

I also understand that it seems petty to speak on this now after so much time passed. The thing is, I wasn't able to say anything about it at all until now. I faced the the consequences of the outcome every day. It seems I'm tough to contact, too, as the only attempt to talk about it that I was ever aware of was on Twitter. And indeed I was crunching at the time (I worked on Clash in the Clouds, Burial at Sea 2, as well as unshipped DLC that was in the works prior to Infinite's launch). Regardless, we've worked things out.