The phrase ‘terminally online’ is an important one, and all too apt for the current age of the internet. As pointed out by Leighton Gray in her GDC 2019 talk, even though it’s a phenomena that affects every single one of us, it’s not something we really talk about, and telling someone to just ‘log off’ is massively unhelpful advice. Not only that, sometimes it feels like the only people talking about it are boomer comic artists who seem to think we’re addicted to the internet, rather than seeing it as a huge social network that we’re forced to engage with, whether we like it or not. And I don’t know about you, but I personally have days where I would rather not.
Why does this happen? Why is the internet, which should be an amazing tool for connecting with people and exploring content, so often a weapon for bashing creators over the head for not being perfect, or having hot takes on something they said on Twitter 5 years ago in the spur of the moment? For Gray, a lot of this anger and frustration coalesced during the final months of production and release on the game Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. The team wanted to make a fun, lighthearted dating game in the queer space, and they wanted to do it right.
They ran the game past sensitivity readers, showed the script to people, put in way more effort than most AAA studios with a single gay character who dies before the first act do. Many people on their team were queer, and they thought they were doing everything they could to do good by their community. Que the announcement trailer, released on Father’s Day on the Game Grumps, the studios main supporter and publisher. It. Blew. Up. It got way more attention than they had anticipated, and there was already a ton of controversy before they could even finish QA testing, not to mention launch.
A surprising amount of the criticism came from within the queer community itself, saying the game was a cashgrab, that the team wasn’t actually queer, or “queer enough.” Most tragic were the calls from people who wanted to be excited for the game, who wanted to enjoy it, but who claimed that they “know it will be bad and hurt me.” Since the game wasn’t finished yet, the team had to stew and simmer in the speculation by fans, which is extremely overwhelming for creators of any type. At that point, Gray points out, you can feel afraid to create anything, if it seems like it will just be so violently torn apart by the very people you wanted to make it for. It’s overwhelming, and disheartening.
And so in the midst of intense crunch, with seemingly the entire internet foaming at the mouth to tear the game apart after several game delaying bugs, the team is literally sick from the stress and scrambling to finish among all the bad rep, thinking their life online is over…
The game did tremendously well.
This success didn’t make the months and months of exhaustion and stress go away, and often only contributes to Imposter Syndrome feelings in creators. Consumers and gamers do this constantly, jump on the bandwagon of something being awful and turning it into a statement about the developers being awful, as if that has no consequences. Being online all the time, every is much more accessible, making it harder to detach ourselves from our work, and much less recognize others outside of theirs. It’s a long talk, and a lot to talk about, but there are plenty of steps people can take. Leighton Gray provided a website of her sources and other mental health links to managing this kind of pressure, as well as a link to a recording of this very talk. You can check it out here.
Stay safe, and don’t forget to take a break from being online all the time.