Last night, I was supposed to perform in the Thrilling Adventure Hour at Largo with a bunch of my friends, and a bunch of people who I really admire. Unfortunately, the sinus infection I was fighting all week had other plans, so I stayed home and rested on the couch with a screening of Repo Man.
I ended up sort of live-tweeting the thing, with silly pictures and quotes from the movie, which I did with Forbidden Zone awhile back. I'm not sure if it was as amusing to Twitter as it was to me, but it was still fun.
At that point, I could have gone to bed, but I thought I'd check Twitter to see if anyone had clever Repo Man references to toss back at me (they did) or if anyone was amused by it (some were). Then I caught this thing that made me explode into HULK SMASH for the first time in … I can't even remember the last time I was as angry. Here's an image that someone uploaded of the ensuing ragefest, which was captioned "Damn, Wil Wheaton is a jerk."
(click to embiggen at Imgur)
So reading that back today, I can totally see how I come off as a raging asshole. I make no excuse, but I wanted to offer a bit of context and perspective that 140 characters doesn't allow.
First, a little history: At PAX in 2007, I was approached by some folks from the ECA, who asked me if I'd endorse their organization. I'm very reluctant to do this sort of thing, because I feel like high-profile people tend to throw their support behind every cause in the world, and when I support an organization, I want it to actually mean something, instead of being just another entry on a list.
I looked at what ECA does, and I was impressed. I thought that it was a good idea for gamers to have a lobby in government, and I thought it would be great to educate non-gamers about who we are in a way that would dispel the hysteria spouted about us by politicians and other moralizers who demonize gamers and the games we play for their own political purposes.
I signed up, and I gave ECA a quote that I've since forgotten, but was signed, "Wil Wheaton – actor, author, gamerdad."
About a week after that went live on the ECA website, some guy who apparently trademarked the term gamerdad – oh, excuse me, gamerdad™ – e-mailed me with this long and rambling rant about how I was using his trademark without his permission, how he had some history with ECA that made this nefarious, and a bunch of other stuff I've also forgotten. I forget how ECA got involved, but the end result is the organization caved to this guy almost instantly, and took the "gamerdad" out of my endorsement.
You know, writing about this now, the whole thing seems really stupid and petty, but I was pissed. I remember saying to a friend of mine, "The ECA won't stand up to some crackpot who's basically being a patent troll, and I'm supposed to expect them to stand up to Congress? I can't be part of this organization."
I didn't want to make a big public scene (I waited until last night for that! Yeah! Go Wil! You're SMRT!) and the ECA people seemed nice and genuinely interested in making a positive difference in gamers' lives, so I kept my annoyance to myself, but I didn't renew my membership. I saw Hal Halpin at PAX the following year, and I told him how disappointed I was in ECA for not standing up to that guy and leaving me sort of out in the wind, and I couldn't vocally support the ECA because of it.
So last night, when I saw GamePolitics, which is part of ECA, Twittering what I interpreted as a passive/aggressive slam at me ("Ya, Wil is good, but what does he advocate for gamers/gaming?") something in my brain snapped, and I went HULK SMASH.
Maybe I misinterpreted it — I tell my kids that you can't get tone and nuance in text messages, so it's important to think carefully about how you engage people when you're only using text — but when GamePolitics replied to my "Really?" with "Other than Net Neutrality…" and "While I've really enjoyed your keynote speeches at PAX, it's not really representing" it seemed pretty clear to me that whoever writes GamePolitics was being deliberately obtuse, was genuinely ignorant, or was just being a jerk. Take my history of annoyance with ECA and stack this on top of it, and I was Godzilla in Tokyo. Hell, I was MechaGodzilla cranked up to 11 … ON FIRE.
If GamePolitics was just some random person, I probably would have just ignored it and gone to bed, but since it's part of ECA, I expected GamePolitics to know better. Since I expected GamePolitics to know better, I assumed that he/she/it was either deliberately insulting me, or making a conscious effort to minimize the things I've worked really hard to do.
See, I've worked really hard to advocate for gamers. I spent months writing my keynotes for PAX Prime in 2007 (message: We're not the bloodthirsty psychopaths some in the media say we are, and the best way we can prove them wrong is by example. Also, don't be a dick.) and my keynote to PAX East earlier this year (message: Playing game brings people together, and PAX is a time and place where we can celebrate the things we love.) I published a chapbook for GenCon this year called Games Matter, for frak's sake, about exactly that!
I've written dozens of columns for a number of diverse publications about games and gaming, and I've worked really, really hard to remove the media-created stigma associated with being a gamer.
When I got pissed at GamePolitics last night, I wasn't saying, "I'm Wil Fucking Wheaton, man. Don't you know who I am?" (Which, I was very sad to see, a lot of people seem to have thought I was saying) as much as I was saying, "I'm really hurt and offended that: a) you are supposed to represent gamers and don't know how I've tried to advocate for us; or b) you're minimizing the things I've done to advocate for us."
The responses I got on Twitter from GamePolitics last night just made me more and more angry. I felt like I was talking to a child who had broken my Death Star, and then sat next to it in mock innocence wondering why it was in so many pieces. Taken in context in the clear light of day, it doesn't seem to be quite like that, but that's how I interpreted it at the time, and I reacted accordingly.
I hope this gives some context to why I got so angry. I'm not offering excuses, just hoping to clarify. I should have just written a private e-mail, but I let my passions get the better of me. I'm human, and I do things I regret from time to time.
I'm sorry that so many people had to witness me explode in furious anger, and I am embarrassed that I lost my temper. I hope this doesn't get me voted off of Gamer Island, or invalidate the times I've tried to live my life's philosophy — Don't Be A Dick — by example.
Added: after much thought, and some discussions with trusted friends, I publicly apologized on Twitter to GamePolitics for losing my shit at him/her/it last night. I'm not saying that I'm sorry for getting upset, and I'm still not entirely sure what his/her/its motives were, but that's not really the issue: I regret the way I behaved, and I'm embarrassed that I did it in public. I don't view this as some Team Wheaton / Team The Other Guys thing, and I hope we can all learn something from this about how we communicate and treat each other. Well, I hope I can, anyway; what you do is up to you.