2022 – Learning to Speak a New Language

Earlier this year, I re-read Moby Dick. I do this every few years, as may have been apparent, but being the brilliant work of fiction that it is, there’s always something new to find. This quote, in particular, stuck with me a lot throughout the year:

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

Herman Melville

Moby Dick isn’t just diatribes about whale fishing, treatises on the human condition or a tale of revenge – it’s the story of America, an America on the brink of a civil war that would add hundreds of thousands of skulls to the pile already hundreds of thousands deep with the dead of the Native Americans slaughtered in its mad expansion west. Melville used the deck of the ironically-named Pequod ship as a mirror for a nation that was locked in a horrible path, lacking a steady hand to guide it, and unsure if it would be able to overcome this creeping darkness.

It was the fate of the Pequod that I recalled as I sailed through 2022, watching the fighting game communities and other gaming spaces engage in some similarly destructive behavior. This is far from the first time that I’ve noticed, but I have not seen the trend waver since it began, and honestly? It worries me. I don’t think this model is sustainable to building communities that have a common cause and need to co-exist; instead, it will cause people to be less trusting, more closed-off, and ultimately less able to stand up to malignant outside forces looking for marks. 

So what is the pattern? Well, it starts like this – some group of individuals have a quietly simmering relationship, compounded upon by fraught internal drama. At some point that boils over, and one of the parties involved decide to take it public, in the hopes that they’ll get the sympathy of a faceless but powerful internet to help them seek revenge. Sometimes, but not all the time, this is followed up with a counter manifesto by the accused party that airs out even more dirty laundry, attempting to sully the character of their accuser and turn the public tide back against them, buoyed by outside characters looking to confirm their own biases. On and on it goes, until one or both are eventually driven out of their communities, likely never to be seen again, while the other lives on but is nevertheless permanently tarred by this episode. Mutually assured destruction.

I’ve spent most of the time this blog has been running examining how the current state of things came to be, less providing the perfect answer and more a hypothesis about a diagnosis. I’m strongly opinionated but rarely confident that I have the correct response 100% of the time. So believe me when I say, with complete confidence, that this behavior, this deploying of “nukes” information gathered over long periods of time in interpersonal relationships that are then blasted out into the public ground for the fury of the internet, is horrendous.

This is not to say there’s an equal value judgement across all instances. In fact, that’s what makes it really difficult to comprehend – the reason why someone would feel the need to appeal to a vicious, faceless maw for strength is totally understandable. If someone is desperate and the game of human chance has chosen fight rather than flight, it makes sense that private information that could hurt the people they see as their enemy, personally or ideologically, would be the most effective. If you have no faith in the systems around you, mob justice is the only avenue where you can be sure you might feel the retribution you desire. Paranoia, fear, anger, revenge; it’s all tied into these feelings of desperation and helplessness.

But even when the merits are right, isn’t there a cost?

Doxxing, death threats, personal insults and mass harassment are all tactics strongly condemned by the vast majority of people, yet are nevertheless the cost of doing business. Anonymity is guaranteed on the internet, and that means people will always engage in the worst kinds of behaviors because they cannot be held to account for it. How often do you see some sort of callout post immediately followed by “please don’t harass, doxx, or threaten,” a limp call for moderation that suggests the poster knows there will be anything but? We know what will happen, and still we act.

I feel this was never more demonstrable than in the recent kerfuffle between Nintendo, Panda Global, and the Smash World Tour. The story as whole is not that complicated – the SWT and Nintendo had a tenuous understanding that it was okay for them to operate a competing competitive circuit besides Panda and Nintendo’s circuit while they applied for an official license. For reasons largely known only to themselves (they cited “health and safety protocols”), Nintendo decided that they were no longer going to continue this understanding for 2023. 2022 would be the SWT’s final year. 

Now here is where it gets dicy. Nintendo, in follow-up statements, has stated they assured the organizers of the SWT verbally that while their license would not be granted for 2023, the finals of their 2022 event could proceed as planned. The organizers contest this, stating that the language was too vague and the threat of operating unlicensed too great for that to have been true. At a massive loss due to the 2023 SWT being snapped out of existence, the organizers canceled their finals, citing Nintendo’s decision to not continue their relationship in 2023 and interpreting that as a veiled threat of legal action should the SWT 2022 finals proceed as planned.

But in their manifesto explaining the processes that lead to the event’s cancellation, SWT also took aim at Nintendo’s operating partner for their circuit, Panda. Allegedly, Panda’s CEO, Alan Bunney, was undermining the SWT to other tournament organizers, not only stating that the SWT would be out of business, but also implicitly threatening other tournaments who wanted to stay loyal to SWT or Beyond the Summit, another popular Super Smash Bros. tournament host. While they curiously continue to deny it, the implication was clear – Bunney, mad with power, had poisoned the well for SWT with Nintendo, to the point that Nintendo decided against working with SWT as a result of his machinations. There needed to be retribution, as Bunney was an active danger that could not be reasoned with.

Needless to say, they got the revenge they so desired. After a massive backlash, with some alleged doxxing and death threats involved, Bunney not only left his role as CEO, but there was a mass resignation of talent from Panda. Multiple Smash organizers came out publicly against Bunney as well, stating that at times they felt bullied by Bunney in private talks and that he had megalomaniacal plans for taking over the community as well. While the SWT will no longer exist and hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost, Panda as an org will likely never quite be the same, and their reputation is in tatters.

Naturally there was a counter manifesto, but while there was some illuminating thought, Bunney came across exactly as paranoid, hurt, and fearful as those he was ostensibly speaking against. With vague implications of massive conspiracies and blatant callouts of his ideological opponents as dangerous ideologues who, shockingly, were also an active threat to the communities, Bunney lost almost any ounce of credible goodwill he’d gained over the past seven years. At this point, his best hope is to only be remembered as a villain who tried to corporatize the community for his own benefit by many, and as a kind benefactor to those who were involved in the Panda org.

It should be noted that amidst the palace intrigue between SWT and Panda, Nintendo has remained largely unscathed. Most of that is just an empirical fact – there is no organization or individual who has the resources necessary to compel Nintendo to act, and even mass obstinance from a small group of communities would mean nothing to their bottom line or their reputation. Sure, their minds have been made up before and then changed, but it was at their leisure, not anyone forcing their hand. In other words, you can’t nuke a global superpower and expect anything less than getting wiped off the map.

What you can do, however, is vent that paranoia, anger, and fear onto a smaller entity, one who could fight back but would also be devastated by a nuke. And when you have nothing more to lose, what are the downsides? Even better when that entity was buffoonish, a blowhard, and someone so poor at negotiating they never seemed aware of how many people around them they were alienating. Sure, you can’t get Nintendo, but you could get Panda, and best-case scenario Nintendo abandons their plans for a 2023 circuit with Panda, and they are dealt an embarrassing blow. The Smash communities would lose their shot at going full bore with Nintendo, but how likely was that ever going to happen? Better to stay as is then risk everything in a partnership with someone as untrustworthy as Nintendo. Panda will pay, and Nintendo will suffer.

I didn’t get to write or produce as much this year as I might have hoped, and that’s because since August or so, I have been consumed with a personal project. At that time, 3 different sources reached out to me and gave me the same information. It was shocking, an allegation that was so heinous it would have not only been the social end of the alleged, but would have drastic and disastrous social outcomes for organizations and figures in our scene that have heretofore had pretty spotless records.

In other words, I was given a nuke.

I’m afraid I’ve begun to develop a reputation as a straight shooter and, worse yet, a journalist, someone with the resources, clout and fortitude to track down difficult stories, source them, and convince strangers to talk with me. I can understand the perception, but it is just that – I don’t have any more or less resources than someone who is paid to do this regularly or actually holds a real position of influence in the fighting game communities. More to the point, just like I suspect those who told me this are well aware, I am not immune to the fallout that would surely come from this nuke, nor is my brain smooth enough to not contemplate the destructive act I would be committing, to not question whether or not I was doing something good and, most important of all, to not wonder if I acted on accurate information.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I am only human, just like the people who gave this information to me in the hopes that perhaps I was above those mortal flaws. I wonder, in darker moments, if that was any consideration to those who handcuffed this nuclear football to my wrist in place of theirs. In spite of my rational mind telling me that there are, of course, perfectly logical reasons – some flattering and some just a sad reality of the world we live in –  why I would be trusted with this information, it is nevertheless a burden. The information is also years old, and was conveniently passed around at a moment that seemed so opportune as to maximize how affected the accused would be that it made me suspect their intent. I can feel the itching of paranoia, of fear, and of anger – Oh! what anger – at the base of my skull, and it frightens me. 

If I’m being a bit vague that’s by design, and while I know that must be frustrating, I hope you reading can understand where I’m coming from. This is no trifling matter, it’s something I take deadly serious because the ramifications are deadly serious. As such, until I can confirm with as close to 100% certainty as I can get, my lips are sealed in the public square. When, and if, I can confirm those details, the findings will not be publicly published before I hand it over to community figureheads and others I feel deserve to see it first. I find that the only ethical way to move forward, and even that will not avoid fallout. Flawed as it is, that’s all I can do.

It seems fitting that as 2022 became a year that actual nuclear war became a minute-but-possible outcome yet again, our pettier grievances have become tinged with the same tactics. I would love nothing more than disarmament, but you don’t always get what you want, and you have to deal with the cards as they’ve played. I’m not giving up working on the information that I’ve gathered, as I find that to be irresponsible, but I can’t really tell whether or not I’ll end up releasing it. I’m sure this will change over and over again in 2023, but I’ll do my best to stick to that plan.

Part of me wishes I had a better note to end on, but I really don’t. All I can do is reiterate once again that I find this method, to sit on very serious allegations until it would be as tactically hurtful or as retributive as possible, to be barbarism disguised as altruism, and I would very much like it to not be the way we conduct ourselves. Not every instance is the same and it is wholly possible to sympathize with what’s happening, but it will not solve our problems and has consistently failed at this since it became a mainstream tactic. I advise changing course.

Happy New Year! And have a nice day!


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