Jessica Price and rage of the Reddit Mob

On July 5, 2018, Jessica Price, narrative designer for Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet was fired over a conversation she had on Twitter. The resulting fallout from that discussion, the Reddit Mob, and everything that’s come since has been a battleground for the discussion of women, sexism, and gaming.

If you’re an MMO gamer, you’ve almost certain heard about a situation that’s been boiling over for over a week now. Jessica Price (JP), a narrative designer for ArenaNet, had an argument with a popular streamer on Twitter. While both Jessica Price and the streamer (Derior) went their separate ways relatively peacefully, the Reddit mob saw the exchange and went on the offensive demanding she be fired. ArenaNet complied with the demand and fired not only Price, but also another ArenaNet veteran who had waded in to help defend Price from the Reddit mob.

There resulting fallout has spiraling wildly as other gaming outlets pick up the story, and universally lambasting ArenaNet for the termination. Then, the battle over the reasoning for the termination and what it says about the overall culture of gaming started. The Reddit mob has been celebrating their victory.

There’s more backstory, but it’s not relevant to what I want to talk about. If you want a run down, I recommend reading Massively’s coverage here, here, here, here, here and here.

I want to start with the actual interaction that spawned the sh*tstorm. Here’s the initial tweet from the streamer, Derior:

Now, JP’s Repsonse:

That’s it. There was other conversation going back and forth. In terms of Twitter interactions, this is pretty tame. So why was this one different? Why has this spiraled so far out of what anyone could reasonably expect? I think there are 2 reasons — the dynamic was that of a woman in a position of authority completely blowing off a male fan and the fact that JP has refused to back down.

The Interpersonal Dynamic

It is undeniable that a woman in position of expertise and authority shutdown a man in way that can be best described as brusquely. I’m going to fall back on some media theory here, citing the famous line from McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” What this is saying that is the medium, in this case a woman, is part of the message. There is no way that this situation can not be about gender because it is fundamentally built into the message.

A common argument with the Reddit mob is that its not actually about sexism, it’s all about being polite to customers. It’s not possible to remove gender from the interaction. The conversation is fundamentally gendered in a particular way. The fact that it was a woman conveying this message to a man is so fundamental to the communication that changing either one of those — the sender or the receiver of the message, changes the entire message itself. Arguments that it’s not about sexism are wrong because every conversation is gendered.

Assume that the same interaction happened but with the gender’s reversed. JP was the male responding brusquely to the female streamer. Imagine a female streamer saying verbatim what Derior said to a male developer — and ask yourself if the interactions would be the same. Or if the interaction had happened between two males, or two females. Logic tells us that it wouldn’t–we know that the sex of the participants, in the roles they were in, had a part in what happened.

What’s also interesting is the Reddit mob’s description of JP and the interaction. If you read the Massively comments, JP’s responses are characterized as everything from “incredibly rude” to “verbally assaulting.” Take a second and re-read the interaction I linked above. Verbally assaulting is hyperbole, but it comes up again and again and again. Even the less intense criticisms still expound her actions far beyond the scope of what was actually said.

One more interesting point here–reading Twitter threads and comments, people constantly refer to JP’s initial Twitter thread as her opinion. They refer to Derior’s response as his opinion. JP has 10 years of experience in narrative design. Yet, her twitter thread is just her opinion. Rhetorically, this kind of word usage downgrades JP’s contribution from “professional expertise.” It’s her opinion, and the implication here is that she is just as capable of being wrong as Derior. This puts Derior’s comments and JP’s comments on the same level. They are both worthy of equal consideration of being correct.

JP has 10 years of experience in narrative design, Derior has 0 years, but the Reddit mob thinks their ‘opinions’ should carry the same weight.

A Misbehaving Woman

Throughout this entire situation, JP has refused to back down. She refuses to be silent about the experience and her perspective on it. From the mob’s perspective, she should just apologize and go-away. Yet, she persists. She continues to do interviews, she continues to post on Twitter. She refuses to silently accept the situation as it stands. For that, she’s labelled as “playing the victim card,” or trying for a “power-play” based on gender. She’s continues to play the sexism card just so she can have a few more minutes in the limelight. She should just accept that she was wrong and shut-up.

We see this thought threading through a lot of the arguments from the Reddit mob. A few paraphrased examples:

  • Her Twitter thread is abhorrent and toxic.
  • She’s the problem because she’s so toxic. She was fired from a previous job for the same thing, so she should have been fired from this job (spoiler: she wasn’t fired for the same thing).
  • She had to have been warned about her social media use before, and she’s just lying about it.
  • No one game studio is going to (or should) hire her after this stunt because she won’t stop talking about it
  • She’s getting what she deserves

The unspoken sentiment is that if she won’t shut up and just accept her fate, she’s getting what deserves. There’s the idea that she’s somehow broken, that this is a pathological pattern, justified by her previous firing and Twitter timeline. She’s not acting like a woman should, and because she doesn’t act like a woman should, she gets what she deserves.

The mob counters with arguments about how nasty she was, and that’s not how you interact with customers, and anyone else in the same position would have been fired while conveniently ignoring their own conduct is much worse. The hypocrisy is real but also completely ignored.

She wasn’t nasty. She was short and abrupt. But she gets painted as toxic. She also only lost her job because the Reddit mob demanded it. The Reddit mob only cared because she was a woman, and she’s stepped outside her place. If the situation happened in any other combination of genders – the mob wouldn’t have cared because it would have fit into acceptable power-dynamics.

 

Closing

This is an uncomfortable discussion. It’s an uncomfortable situation. Despite efforts to paint the situation over with a gloss of it being about customer service and online conduct, it’s attempting to gloss over the fact that as a woman, she was expected to be perfectly polite to a man at all times. It glosses over the messy gender politics, the expectations of how a woman should act.

It’s uncomfortable because the mob doesn’t want to think about the fact their world view might be wrong. They don’t want to consider that they might have to change their behavior. They don’t want to consider that they might actually benefit from the current status quo.

I think in the eyes of the mob, Jessica Price’s greatest crime is this: she won’t let them continue the pleasant lie that theirs are the only opinions that matter.

For further reading, I highly suggest this Twitter thread, which was part of the inspiration for this post.

One thought on “Jessica Price and rage of the Reddit Mob

  1. Outstanding! I can’t believe that somehow the people who make up MMO general chat are too proper ans sensitive to hear the words, “rando asshat.” The mob was a ludicrously extreme overreaction, and a clear extension of GamerGate alt-right thug tactics. That’s all terrible enough, but the public statements in which Mike O’Brian explicitly takes the side of the thugs are beyond gross. I’m deeply troubled, and I sort of wish I could take back the time and money I’ve spent on his game.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.