On Thursday, Polygon posted an excellent story examining an open secret in the games development industry: interacting with the gaming community can mean talking to the worst in people. Among the developers interviewed in the story was Jennifer Hepler , a writer with BioWare who worked on Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age 3: Inquisition before leaving the company this week.
You might remember Hepler as the writer who incorrectly received the blame for changing Dragon Age 2's combat system. Hepler gave an interview saying that playing through combat was her least favorite part of working in the games industry, and this was used as evidence that she was the “cancer” destroying BioWare. Hepler received heaps on abuse, death threats, and threats toward her children.
"I did my best to avoid actually reading any of it, so I'm not quite certain how bad it got," Hepler told Polygon. "I was shown a sample of the forum posts by EA security and it included graphic threats to kill my children on their way out of school to show them that they should have been aborted at birth rather than have to have me as a mother."
Now, UK newspaper Metro has cited Polygon's article with the claim that Hepler left BioWare because of the death threats, rather than simply after them. As Hepler says, she's actually leaving to write a book.
“[L]eaving Bioware was for family reasons,” she said. “I am going to be working on a text book on narrative design among other game-related freelance projects."
The distinction is important because we can't give abusers any more power than they already have. The original Polygon piece is full to the brim with game developers talking about their experience with online vitriol, including the Call of Duty developer who was threatened with violence for altering three guns' specs. And, of course, the Phil Fish and Fez 2 incident is fresh in our collective minds.
Hepler didn't leave BioWare because of abuse, and saying differently tells abusers that their tactics are working. At the same time, game developers should never be expected to put up with this level of abuse just to do their jobs. Surely there are developers who would rather leave the industry entirely than endure more threats and abuse, and this is the consequence we see if online harassment isn't brought under control: talented people leaving.
Hepler left to write a book, but what if she had left BioWare because strangers threatened to murder her children? Could any of us really blame her?
Check out the full piece on dev harassment over at Polygon .