Saturday, August 10, 2013

Quitting the Internet – Why Phil Fish had to cancel Fez 2

One of the recent stories that has been circulating the gaming world is that Phil Fish, creator of the insanely successful indie game ‘Fez’, has stopped work on Fez 2 and, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to maintain a public internet presence. While Fish's decision was probably the culmination of many factors, one of his stated reasons for quitting was the negativity/hate he experiences when publicly engaging on the internet. Fish is not the first person to make similarly bold decisions but some have raised the point that work on Fez 2 is independent of his public profile and ought not to be cancelled. While I find the logic of this argument to be initially compelling, I think it ignores how Fish will conduct himself privately after he has cut himself off publicly.

I don’t think many people are arguing that Fish doesn’t have the right to cut himself off publicly. This point seems intuitive and the only reasoning I can see that would compel Fish to maintain an online presence, even if he does not want to, is if he has signed some sort of contract obliging him to (I doubt this is the case). Yes Fish is quasi-famous (fame does not imply access), yes some of Fez’s sales can be attributed to his online accessibility (nowhere was it stated when you purchased Fez that you got to interact with the creator), and yes Fish has on occasion fanned the flames with his comments (if the internet is anything, it is a place where you can start fires and not have to put them out), but none of this is sufficient to oblige (ethically or otherwise) Fish to continue to participate in online shenanigans. I sympathize with Fish, he is often a lightning rod for negativity and I completely understand why he wants to, and should be able to, distance himself from it.

What is being argued by some, however, is that development of Fez 2 is unrelated to whether Fish continues to maintain a public online presence. The gist of the argument goes that, if Fish is no longer contributing to his public profile, then he should be oblivious to any negativity surrounding the release of his next game (the negativity might be there but Fish shouldn't be affected by what he can't see). By all accounts, Fez has made Fish enough money that he can do pretty much anything he wants (except for, maybe, nothing at all). As such, his future endeavours need not be financially motivated and instead ought to follow his passions. Thus, Fish doesn't need to engage in online promotion; it might a affect his sales a bit but if Fish is passionate about making Fez 2, he should make it!

At first glance, the crux of this argument sort of makes sense. Fish shouldn’t care/shouldn’t be aware of what is said when his next game is released because he has cut himself off. Where I perceive the problem is that this argument fails to account for Fish’s (assumed) broader passion for games in general. I imagine that Fish is like a lot of gamers in that he reads/listens to reviews, is excited for the release of next-gen consoles, and, at least somewhat, follows gaming news. Fish ceasing his online persona, shouldn't imply that he will not privately be following all the stuff that he loves. In other words, disconnecting from public interaction doesn't mean disconnecting from private passions. I love games. I know that I would have a hard time cutting them completely out of my life and I posit that Fish feels the same way.

So how does this link to Fez 2? One of the problems for Fish is that he is sufficiently renown that anything he does, at least in the gaming scene, is scrutinized. As such, he ends up reading and hearing about himself even when passively engaging with the gaming world. By ceasing to publicly contribute, Fish is taking himself out of the news cycle and is reducing the amount of play his name gets. If Fish were to release a game, it would be news and, invariably, he would be subjected to all of the things he is trying to avoid. Thus, I suspect that Fish, to avoid online negativity, ultimately had to either cut himself off entirely or to cut the world out from his work. This doesn't mean that Fish can't work on Fez 2 privately but, if he is really serious about no longer being public, he can never release it.

In the end, it is a sad state of affairs that Phil Fish opted to stop interacting publicly. No one should take joy that someone has felt so alienated that the only viable solution is to remove themselves completely. The offshoot of this is that we may never see Fez 2 (or any other Phil Fish game). Hopefully things will cool down and Fish may dare tread into the public internet waters again and hopefully, when/if he does, the internet will be a classier place.