Hax$, Toonification, and the Death of Private Confrontation

A little while ago, I posted a Twitter thread that got a fair amount of attention for espousing what my views were on a recent video from Super Smash Bro. Melee player Aziz “Hax$” Al-Yami, which was epic in length and scope. In it, Hax$ gave what could generously be described as a post-apocalyptic lens to his view of the broader Smash sub-community, bemoaning that it had fallen into “totalitarianism” and that its current trends were “dystopian.” The reasoning, it would seem, is due to the machinations of one person and one person only: William “Leffen” Hjelte, a Swedish Smash player who often attracts controversy due to his rigorous attempts to be the least likeable person in the room.

Leffen is apparently comparable to famous historical figures such as Joseph Stalin (!) and Adolf Hitler (!!) because he, ostensibly through his Twitter account and Smashboards account, is able to will “the masses” (Smash, just in its Ultimate release, has sold over 23 million copies; Leffen has >300,000 followers on Twitter) into demolishing his political enemies, swallowing his theories without question, and most importantly, railroading Hax$ out of the community he loved. 

The prevailing narrative of the video more or less is that Hax$ feels Leffen is not only a bad person, but an evil person, and that his personal dislike of him is morally justified due to a series of actions that would prove he is evil. In order to nip in the bud what he believes is an “authoritarian takeover” (Hax$ uses many terms cribbed from political and historical texts without any knowledge of what they mean) of the sub-community, he made a public video decrying Leffen for the evil man he is. In doing so, he seems to believe that he is fighting a one-man crusade against both Leffen and “the media” (here meaning a few people who make YouTube videos and documentaries about Smash), who have been trying to silence him.

Hax$’s personal grievances with Leffen take up a massive amount of the video, stemming from an antagonistic relationship on Smashboards forums all the way to Leffen having profound disagreements on the structure of Hax$’s “B0XX” ergonomic controller. He goes on to proclaim that Leffen makes wardrobe choices, tournament announcements, and Twitter posts all in the name of desecrating Hax$ and his name to the greater Smash sub-community. His only evidence for that being the case, aside from character witnesses from years prior, is that he willfully created a fake announcement and misled the staff and small Discord group for his online tournaments that a tournament was going to happen, which was all a ploy to see if Leffen would announce a tournament for a similar time. He did, thus the fervor Hax$ had whipped up in his head was proven true. The fact that Hax$’s logic is almost entirely driven by his own hurt ego and that he willfully lies (he admits to this in the video) in order to catch Leffen in some sort of logical trap are seemingly wrongs righted by his moral certainty.

All in all, I think this is mostly horseshit. This is not the first time Hax$, driven by ego, has tried to gin up a huge amount of outrage at his personal grievances and make them into dire communal health crises. Years ago, when Hax$ was still largely retired from Smash and recovering from detrimental hand surgery, he was approached to play test a new controller from the Hitbox team, famous for creating button-only controllers, that was specifically made for Smash Melee. Sensing the opportunity to be on the cusp of something cutting edge, Hax$ increasingly overstepped his role, ridiculing the engineers who made it and asking that he be made a partner on the project and receive compensation for his playtesting. Like the Leffen instance, he made it sound as if his personal disagreements with the project were actually some sort of high-scale grift aimed toward the sub-community at large, with the sole intent of bilking tons of good people out of their money, and that he alone was willing to stand up and fight the dastardly Hitbox team. In order to do so, he sought out engineers who would be willing to collaborate on his own version of a buttons-only controller. The only problem was that he did this while still asking for the most recent prototype of the controller and while the team was waiting on him to give feedback, all while telling them he wouldn’t return messages because he was “busy.” In short, Hax$ also deliberately lied here in order to fulfill his own goals, which he feels are morally justified, as he mentions in this video about the debacle. That he can say that he kept the Smashbox people on the line while actively trying to construct a competitor because “I needed someone to make a product if this fell through,” despite saying that the Hitbox people were “frauds” and “grifters,” is hilarious.

In short, Hax$ is perfectly okay with lying and being deceptive in order to manipulate a situation so that he comes out on top. Not misremembering, not putting an ideological spin on something, not being reactive in the moment,  but lying with the intent of doing so. Right there alone is enough to largely disqualify a good bit of the content of Hax$’s arguments. But ironically, the video is a perfect encapsulation of some very real material issues that infect not only gaming communal spaces online, but pretty much online discourse writ large. I assume Hax$ was able to dissect it so naturally because he, too, does this frequently and consistently throughout the video yet doesn’t apply the standard to himself. But Hax$ being a massive hypocrite isn’t really what I want to convey as much as the underlying tactics he uses being larger issues.

The internet tends to flatten most things; jokes made in certain contexts become ubiquitous across all cultures, people tend to start using the same phraseology, etc. etc. But the flattening also tends to happen to real people, or at least their perception as instigated by parties who are hostile to them. We do this all the time in private amongst others when we are telling stories, but the internet now gives it magnification on a public forum and an audience, who has to be swayed to your side to justify your position. The merits of the actual issue, which often start as private disagreements between parties, are exacerbated to be systemic injustices that every one must have an opinion on, the “correct” one, or be seen as committing “violence” against the original instigator.

This is engaging in what I call “toonification” of others. A good cartoon is one where the lines are pretty clear: we’ve got heroes, we’ve got villains, we’ve got nice guys and we’ve got wise guys. These broad caricatures are then put into ludicrous yet comic situations, and we do it all again the next week with no real change to the character mindsets, nor the potential to change; such are the limits of those worlds. To toonify someone is to broaden and flatten their actual personage so much that they resemble an easily identifiable cartoon, complete with the grandiose absurdness that cartoon villains, such as Dr. Doom, have in their plotting and scheming. Creating such a cartoonish caricature strips away humanity, meaning that things like relationships, feelings, emotions etc. can be cast aside, and anything you say about them can be reasoned away as them being “evil” or otherwise incapable of having any positive traits.

Hax$, in his experiences with both the Hitbox folks and Leffen, did this perfectly. Instead of a well-meaning company who consulted several ergonomic experts but was strapped for time due to a tight mass production schedule, Hitbox was now this evil company that intentionally made a “shitty” product in order to “grift” the Smash sub-community out of money, and only used Hax$ for clout. Looten Plunder could never. Leffen, meanwhile, is not a person who grew up in toxic internet environments and has some fucked up behavior stemming from that, but instead a complete sociopath, a supreme example of the dark triad of personality disorders comparable to Light Yagami from Death Note. I didn’t make that up, Hax$ legitimately compared Leffen to an actual cartoon character. The idea is that he can make the claim that supporting these people is a deep moral wrong, and thus it puts extra onus on dissenters to side with him. It’s one thing to disagree on, say, your favorite Smash game, and quite another to disagree on whether or not someone is an abuser who chooses victims depending on how much they threaten their standing in a sub-community.

With that emotional front-loading, Hax$ has the sole intent of getting people on his side and ensuring that it will be seen as morally wrong to be associated or even like people he personally finds distasteful. Again, I assume he can self-diagnose this trait in Leffen because he does it in textbook fashion in both his most recent video and the previous one on the Hitbox kerfuffle. The only real difference is that Hax$ sees what he does as morally right, even if he does dishonest things like lying, so when he does it he’s trying to “end authoritarianism,” which is laughably transparent and a clear emotional appeal based on very little in tangible reality.

Even so, Hax$’s hypocrisy doesn’t negate the fact that he’s pointing out a very real phenomenon, something that Leffen may have even dabbled in a little himself. There’s a very nasty habit of people, when they are upset with someone, to try and poison the well for anyone else by using highly emotionally charged language in an attempt to drag them. The reason they do that may or may not be legitimate, but the behavior is the same. With social media, people now can do that and get an immediate sense of validation, praise, and spreading of their ideas. It’s addictive as any drug, and it’s how a good deal of these social media websites make their money: drumming up “discourse” from any account, no matter how big or small, that can be angrily shared and opined on by the rest of the users. Outrage is in vogue.

However Hax$ might say to the contrary, what’s happening here is that one person doesn’t like another person for personal reasons that may not be reflective of their entire personality. I’m not here to defend Leffen – the behavior as collected by his fellow players in Sweden is incredibly noxious, well worth the year ban that he got, and he seems to be a bit of a loudmouth prick like many young, too-online players. Even so, the amount of dragging that Hax$ is doing because he is constitutionally incapable of squashing it privately and thus feels the need to concoct a fable about how anyone who may like Leffen is in fact supporting someone who “clearly read Mein Kampf” is grossly unfair to Leffen. William Hjelte the person might be flawed, but at no point does that mean he’s this unsafe menace whose very presence is distinctly harmful and that he should be erased by any means necessary.

Hax$ makes another critique of Leffen that is also a pernicious, true thing happening online. Leffen is accused of “hijacking” the “Me-Too” movement, which is a catch-all term for the increased number of women speaking out against the harassment and abuse they suffer from in the workplace or their own sub-communities. Hax$ claims that Leffen, who has contributed to harassment and is incapable of ever changing, merely uses the language, the performance of social justice as a means of hiding his own weaselly moves and dunking on people who he perceives to be a threat to his unquestioned status as king of Smash influencers. His example is how Leffen clearly got involved in the accusations surrounding Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios Castro, suggesting Leffen never really cared and only got involved, again, for clout.

There is simply no way to prove Leffen’s intentions and it feels very strange to conjure up a perceived intention based on a very surface-level analysis of tweets. I’ll admit that I found it a bit odd that Leffen would call ZeRo a friend yet when that same friend tried to DM him and ask him to talk he put it all over social media, but again, the public and private wall is destroyed and few of us are capable of resisting. Even so, I don’t know if that speaks to Leffen purposefully pretending to be in support of victims so as to absolve himself of any future blame, and is once again an example of Hax$’s clear dislike getting in the way of pesky reality.

While I clearly think Hax$ is operating in bad faith, I would nevertheless submit that people have gotten very good at coating their grievances in the language and gravitas that have become popular in the past few years. Terms like “abuser,” “speaking my truth,” “manipulate,” “harm,” “trauma,” and most of all “gaslight” have become buzzwords that speak to the seriousness of any one allegation, regardless of whether or not it’s deserved or appropriate for the situation. These are all real terms derived from psychological arts that have long since been cynically deployed in various spats such as this to the point that one can’t help but roll their eyes when they are used so flippantly. It gives legitimacy and almost guarantees that well-meaning people will immediately take your side, even if the facts of the actual matter at hand don’t really pan out.

Much has been made of Hax$’s comments about “believing all victims” being “stupid,” and while I wouldn’t use such caustic language, I think that time has shown that there is probably a need to believe someone feels wronged and hurt, but to be wary of toonification and inappropriate use of common buzzwords. Just keeping it strictly to Smash, Nairobi “Nairo” Quezada spent the last year in essential exile because of accusations brought on him by the player CaptainZack, who accused the popular Smash influencer of engaging in sexual activity with him when he was underage and later “gaslit” about it and was even “paid to be quiet” with gifts. Quezada denied the accusations, then admitted that the activity did happen when others spoke out that Zack had spoken to them about it. However, it became clear over the course of the year that parts of Zack’s story weren’t adding up, with many coming forward with evidence that Zack had bragged about the encounter and the trips that he had demanded be paid for by Nairo. Eventually Quezada spoke freely about the situation. In his version, Zack made the first move and, unable to process it, Quezada went along with it. The next day he was pressed to go again, at which point he relented until Zack threatened to tell others about what had happened. Zack has a history of using willfully misrepresenting situations to paint himself in the best light, and while there is a perfectly reasonable hesitation to put the onus of blame on someone who was as young as 15, the evidence is undeniable. Quezada has since resumed playing publicly, maintaining that the matter was privately resolved through the legal system. That’s only one example, and I fully understand the initial reaction being that of disgust and outrage, but due diligence would reveal a truth that, while unfortunate and sad, is still true. I don’t think it’s bad to encourage that while also pointing out that Hax$’s invokement here is in bad-faith and only meant to prove him right.

The shredding of the private versus public curtain means that the narratives of the types Hax$ weaves, that of a personal spat construed as widespread abuse and gaslighting, are sadly becoming more common, something I’ve seen even in the FGC. Also last year, a known commentator/organizer for the FGC left the organization that she had been volunteering for and wrote a long screed that maintained she had been “gaslit” and “abused” by the owner, who “nitpicked” her and created an “abusive working environment.” That story was the catalyst for a majority of members in the org to denounce it and leave it, causing its collapse shortly thereafter. What is forgotten is that the owner put out a response that had screenshots of various messages regarding the situation that broke the camel’s back, and it appeared to be a spat over some hangups on communication between both sides that were raised, then apologized over, and the real crux was the person not liking the way the owner referred to her, in a positive but condescending way, on a podcast. Again, instead of reaching out privately to sort out the issue, the public had to be involved and a validating narrative created, with terms that are totally loaded and meant to toonify and flatten the other side to a degree that it seems any “reasonable” person would side with them.

I think the thing that gets me the most is the insistence that screeds such as these are not personal vendettas elevated to emergencies as a rhetorical strategy. “This isn’t to get ___ in trouble, just to…” Bullshit! Hax$ had every intent of making sure Leffen’s reputation in the sub-community and everywhere else is utterly run into the ground, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it such a public spectacle. That dishonesty always gets to me – why lie? Because it might make you seem less reasonable? Same with the example I brought up above. The toonifcation people do in private to their close friends now has to encompass the entire world and I can’t help but find it erases any sense of getting to the truth of the matter. When someone can misrepresent or otherwise lie about something that could reasonably plummet a person’s reputation but that’s okay because they had the right moral intent, we’ve reached a pretty critical error.

Just saying “I dislike this person greatly and would like to never be around them” without turning it into a moral test of one’s character or the health of a very large sub-community has gone out of fashion, and clearly for the worst. And I know this because I am guilty of this as well! I think my Infiltration piece, while I stand by a huge amount of the facts presented, was clumsily presented as somehow being the fault of a large community who couldn’t have possibly known about it and had no ability to do anything about it but nevertheless should have felt bad because I did. It made me feel good, but it was a major pillar of my argument, and it was faulty. Plenty of people raised reasonable objections to how one’s personal life against someone who really isn’t involved in the greater community should be weighed in their participation, which I took to heart and reflected on over the course of a year. If I could go back I would have strengthened one of my other pillars, which was that behavior like that, if given a light tap, will metastasize somewhere else (which I was eventually proven right on).

Ironically, that’s Hax$’s argument for doing…something, to Leffen (he’s not clear because he didn’t really think this through). But Leffen, for all his faults, doesn’t really seem to be instigating any sort of widespread community outcry of some pernicious behavior or rigging tournaments in his favor, and the only real threat is that Hax$ is incapable of not letting Leffen get to him, which has caused no shortage of personally embarrassing moments. I sympathize to a degree, and his video did indeed bring up some sharply observed critiques of widespread behavior, but to lump that in with his odd personal beef just makes it all the more flat and sad. Again, not a defense of Leffen, and if he is indeed guilty of the things brought up in the video I’d probably say he’s a real prick, but that’s all I could really say. I refuse to be outraged about something that was addressed years ago and now has clearly become a personal issue.

Now with all of that being said, I’ll be totally clear: anyone who feels victimized should 100% be afforded the ability to speak out without repercussion, to be listened to, and to have their claims investigated. But I also believe the accused has the right to be innocent until proven guilty, even for heinous accusations. I’m not fully blackpilled – I believe the truth wins out more often than not, and when most people speak up they are telling the truth and they are eventually vindicated. But that doesn’t mean the opposite doesn’t happen, nor are the consequences of not fully investigating and shooting from the hip less stark. It’s not death and it’s not prison, but complete social isolation from one’s trusted group of friends in a sub-community they consider an important hobby is dehumanizing and often final, and that should be taken into consideration. As we’ve seen, whether guilty or actually innocent, that can happen.

I don’t even think it’s necessarily always a bad thing that someone takes a private matter public if they really believe it is a pre-emptive attempt at protecting themselves. Last year a player in the FGC took to Twitter to address that a prominent artist who frequented tournaments’ artist alleys was privately telling others that he had abused and taken advantage of her sexually. He cleared the air and, with receipts, showed that the encounter was consensual but awkward and agreed to have been a mistake with no mention of abuse or her feeling taken advantage of. The artist subsequently admitted that was true, and chose to take time to seek therapy and move on past the situation, with neither party wishing the other harm. Unfortunate situation all around, but this was a private thing made public in order to clear someone’s reputation, not to slander someone else.

In this instance, I think Hax$ has, once again, taken a situation that was personally embarrassing for him and decided it is his goal to destroy the credibility and reputation of what has wronged him; it was Hitbox before and it’s Leffen now. Despite the absurd toonification and clear elevation of a private feud, the lessons one should take from the video are how some of the tactics used in the video by Hax$ are in fact used very perniciously and are used more often than one thinks, and the vigilance and hesitancy that people treated this video with should remain for any allegations that serious. Take victims seriously but also treat the situation seriously and consider what is true and what isn’t true. If someone casually admits to lying in order to concoct a nastier situation for the person they don’t like, that’s a good sign their entire apparatus is faulty. 

I’ve come to accept that the public vs. private wall is never going to come back, and I’ve made peace with that. But I hope in the future people can and will notice when someone is behaving in a way that uses emotionally charged language as a rhetorical strategy to drag someone who they don’t like personally to the entire world, and scrutinize a story before having an opinion on it and contributing to the outrage. It’s okay to not like someone for whatever reason, but I think it’s wrong to use that as the basis for trying to drag their reputation through the mud for personal validation. Maybe I’m old fashioned.

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