Last Wednesday, I reported that No Man’s Sky had been delayed. For two days, up until the game’s developers confirmed the news, I received a stream of nasty messages, angry tweets, and, as has become a standard part of gaming culture, threats against me and my family.
Apparently I’m not the only one. No Man’s Sky director Sean Murray tweeted on Saturday that he’d also received death threats for the crime of delaying his game a few weeks. Fans of the game—really, fans of the game’s marketing—have been loud, passionate, and angry.
This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who spends time on the internet, especially in the video game world, where every week there’s something new to get mad about. Over the past few years, death threats ranging from silly to scary have been sent to all sorts of gaming targets: Call of Duty’s developers, for nerfing a weapon; Anita Sarkeesian, for critiquing video games; Gabe Newell, for running Steam. Anyone who is outspoken about politics or who criticices the Gamergate movement is regularly subject to this sort of behaviour. On the internet, where words feel weightless and ephemeral, death threats are par for the course.
Still, it was unsettling to wake up Friday morning to a series of messages from someone who said he was going to kill me and my family for reporting on a video game delay:
Don’t worry: I’m fine. I’ve never felt like this dude was actually going to come after me, and working at Kotaku forces you to develop a pretty thick skin. When you write about video games, you get used to trolls and threats. This can’t even compare to some of the harassment faced by outspoken women like Sarkeesian, especially on Twitter. The social network is crucial to the careers of critics and reporters who use it to spread word of their work, develop sources, and communicate with readers, but it is pathetic at dealing with harassers. I reported @BeachClasherMDR for these threats four days ago; as of Tuesday morning, Twitter has yet to do a thing.
One line in that message is particularly revealing: “It’s the only thing I live for.” Whether or not he was exaggerating, that’s the type of obsession that fuels so much of the nastiness in gaming culture. There are plenty of great gaming communities and, in my experience, most gamers are perfectly pleasant, but too many are unable to separate themselves from their products. Video game fans who are zealously attached to their favourite games—even, as in this case, a game that has yet to come out!—are prone to get aggressive when they feel like they’re being attacked. Or when they get bad news.
As soon as I broke news of the game’s delay on Wednesday night, I watched the No Man’s Sky subreddit explode, filling up with messages about how it couldn’t be true, how Kotaku must be trying to troll them, how we’re always wrong. The subreddit’s overworked moderators were quick to clean up many of these threads, but for the next two days it was bedlam. People tried to dig up reasons the delay couldn’t have been real—“Kotaku’s sources are anonymous, so it can’t be true”-and even came up with elaborate schemes to harass GameStop employees across the country.
One redditor, Gilchrist78, declared that he’d called 30 GameStops and confirmed with them all that the news was false. “NMS is NOT delayed,” he wrote. When I commented that I was confident there was indeed a delay and that people really shouldn’t get their hopes up, he doubled down. “So you have 1 source in Gamestop,” he wrote. “I have 30.”
No Man’s Sky has been heavily hyped since its debut trailer shocked the gaming world at the VGAs in December of 2013. It’s hard not to be excited about a game that looks like it’ll let us fly through the universe and land on an infinite series of beautiful worlds. The New Yorker has gushed about it. Murray has been on Stephen Colbert’s show to show it off. And that was before it even had a release date, which was slated for June 21 until last week’s delay.
What really exacerbated the situation last week was a series of threads on Friday by a redditor who worked at EB Games and said he’d received a poster with a new release date for the game: June 24, three days after the original date. Wishful thinking combined with blind devotion led members of the No Man’s Sky subreddit to accept this as fact. Again they started flooding my inbox and twitter with angry messages.
By Friday night I was nervous that the developers might wait until Monday or Tuesday to confirm the delay and that I’d have to deal with an entire weekend of these messages, but I soon found out that they’d be announcing the news on the PlayStation Blog that night. No Man’s Sky was pushed to August. I’ve never been so relieved to see a video game get delayed.
What’s most astounding about this whole sequence of events isn’t the threats to me and to Sean Murray, nor is it the toxic elements of the No Man’s Sky community, nor is it even the sharp GamerGater who insisted that the threat was fake because he doesn’t understand how open twitter DMs work. What’s most astounding is that this has become the new normal. In a few days everyone will forget about it, and we’ll be on to the next big outrage. And on to the next set of death threats.