Experienced Points

Experienced Points
In Defense of Hepler Mode

Shamus Young | 6 Apr 2012 21:00
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I'm sure you saw the story a couple of months ago about Jennifer Hepler, but just in case you missed it, it went something like this: Hepler is a writer at BioWare who said that she wanted a "fast-forward" button to skip combat. Then angry gamers saw the quote and aimed their rage cannon at her, unloading a huge dose of hatred, sexism, homophobia, and general jackassery.

The story wasn't so much about what Hepler said, but about the community response to it. She's a writer, not a game designer, and she wasn't advocating taking anything away from anyone else. She wasn't saying gameplay should be removed, or that games should be shorter, or universally easier. She just wanted a way through a game without having to play through the combat. Yet the mob rage was completely disproportionate to what was said, and it left a lot of people in the industry feeling dismayed. Suddenly, there was this huge crowd of hate-bots in our gaming community. It felt like being at a dinner party, and late in the evening you realize everyone else is a Neo-Nazi. "Wait, how did I end up mixed in with these people? How did I not know about this until now?"

Some of the hate was about her suggestion itself. Some of the hate was because of the specific things she worked on at BioWare. Some of the hate was just a more generalized anger at all the changes BioWare has gone through, making her a lightning rod for frustrations that have been building among BioWare fans more or less since the company was acquired by EA.

My own take is that this was less about the gaming community being full of sexist monsters, and more about the condition of the community at Reddit, where the initial thread took place. I could be wrong, but this is not the first time we've seen crowd-sourced madness and bile, and the phrase, "Did you see the crazy stuff people are saying on Reddit?" seems pretty common. I suspect that with the right phrasing you could go to Reddit and provoke the exact same behavior from movie fans, sports fans, or people with strong political opinions. I could be wrong, and maybe there is a large segment of the gaming populace who are simply incapable of having a reasonable conversation and who will explode into a flaming frenzy at any suggestion that makes games more attractive to "the casuals". I guess I'm about to find out.

Now that the storm is passed, I want to backtrack and actually talk about her proposal, because it doesn't seem that outrageous to me. All she's asking for is a way to skip combat sequences. Call this gameplay option "Hepler Mode". I mean, people who don't like the story can skip cutscenes. If you're watching a movie at home you can skip right to the car chase, the kung-fu fights, the sex scenes, or whatever it is you want. This is entertainment, after all. Would you walk into your friend's house and forbid them from fast-forwarding through a movie because they're "watching it wrong"?

I've actually played games in Hepler Mode. I've sat beside my brother and watched him play through videogames. I was curious about the story, but I hated the gameplay, so I hung around and watched the cutscenes without playing the game myself. Unless you're an only child, you've probably done this yourself at some point.

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