To say that Phil Fish is a controversial figure in the game industry would be a drastic understatement. From his only game’s announcement to his latest internet meltdown, his infamy has grown by leaps and bounds. Since Fez first popped up on the scene in 2008, it captured the attention of the indie world and set its creator on an epic downward spiral. Who is this man? This monster? This crazy Wolverine-hipster?
In the opening acts of the amazing documentary Indie Game, we see a totally different Phil Fish. While definitely frustrated with people giving him a hard time for not finishing his game on their timetables, he still seemed enthusiastic, exuberant, and even optimistic at times. All this is a far cry from the man who has become entrenched in a perpetual war with just about everyone on Twitter. This has led me to the only possible conclusion: Phil Fish is not a monster, he is a super-villain.
The best villains are at least partially sympathetic; Phil Fish is the Magneto of the game industry. Deep down he is just a nice, sensitive guy who wants the best for his fellow developers just as Magneto wants to protect his mutant brethren from a second Holocaust by any means necessary. Any optimism, naivete or hopefulness left in Phil Fish was brutally crushed by the darkest denizens of the internet, leaving only the shadow of a broken madman.
Fez is truly one of the best games of the last generation and one of the best of this generation so far. The nightmarish quest to bring it to fruition was enough to break nearly anyone. In the five years it took Phil Fish to finish Fez, he lost his funding, his business and development partner, his girlfriend and nearly his father (who got divorced right after narrowly escaping death by cancer). Phil dealt with all of this while facing the relentless waves of entitled trolls crawling out of their parent’s basements to flaunt their ignorance before quickly retreating to the safety of their lairs. This is well-documented in Indie Game, and over the course of the documentary you can see the toll development took on him.
Come 2012, Fez finally hit digital shelves. It sold well and knocked the collective socks off critics and consumers alike. This undoubtedly brought Mr. Fish untold wealth, but not the happiness and peace he so desperately longed for. In one of the earlier incidents after his game released, he said “$9 for Fez is a steal, I should be charging you $90…” People were outraged, furious even. How dare he imply that five years of his life, untold levels of abuse and a full length game were worth the same price as quality titles like Madagascar 3, Dragon Ball Z Kinect, or Battleship!
There is an amazing bit of retcon in the Marvel universe. The reason Magneto called his organization The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the beginning was not because they were actually evil, but because this freed them to pursue any option in order to protect the rights of mutantkind while limiting Xavier by his own morality. Similarly, Phil Fish is able to represent any extreme viewpoint he wants to for the good of all game developers and simultaneously make anyone who opposes him look like just another troll. There is a certain freedom in having nothing to lose.
In all seriousness, Phil Fish’s story is just the story of a sensitive, promising young developer who lacked the thick skin or deep conviction it takes to be a game developer. The vocal minority of entitled “gamers” (I hate that term, people who like TV and movies aren’t called “couchers” or “screeners” or “televisionists”) seek to tear people down and totally lack the skills to have a healthy debate or discussion about anything. Words have power that the people behind them are often unable to wield properly and the results are disastrous. If you disagree with someone or are upset by something, try to have some perspective. I’m sure the Kurds being butchered by ISIS in the streets of northern Iraq are just as upset about the Mario Kart DLC situation as you are, but ultimately they are cool with it because there are far more important things in life, like maybe staying alive and free from the true evil in the world.
In any case, whether you love Phil Fish or hate him, your goal should be to prove him wrong about people and the game industry as a whole rather than proving his theory that gamers are the absolute worst scum of the earth. Be a gamer, be a critic, be whatever you want to be, just don’t be a dick.
Mike Bertrand is Associate Writer for MONG who recently graduated with a degree in game design. He aims to misbehave and just changed his Twitter handle to something much more awesome.