Before the internet things would just disappear. You’d see ads for movies, games and TV shows coming out many months away, read long-lead articles about their development and what we could expect from them in Comics Scene or Nintendo Power, and then there would be total silence. Maybe a small news item would run in one issue of a magazine or newspaper stating that something had been cancelled or removed from a release schedule, but if you missed that one story you’d never otherwise know. Eventually, after a lack of updates, you’d move on or forget, and perhaps even question whether you actually read about the cancelled project to begin with. (Until the internet confirmed it for me almost two decades later, I long thought I had made up the Equatorial Africa pavilion that I thought I saw listed on EPCOT maps in the early ‘80s.)
Now, though, when something people are looking forward to gets cancelled or delayed, the news spreads across the internet as soon as it breaks. And increasingly some people seem incapable of processing that news in a healthy and mature way. Take the weird situation involving Hello Games’ upcoming space exploration game, No Man’s Sky, a game whose delay of a few weeks resulted in death threats for the people who are making it.
Last Wednesday journalist Jason Schreier of Kotaku broke the news that No Man’s Sky, which was scheduled for release in late June, would be delayed until later in 2016. His report was immediately met with anger and skepticism from a certain segment of the videogame audience. Many “gamers” hate Kotaku for reasons that will be familiar if you know about GamerGate. They already regularly dismiss everything Kotaku publishes as a lie or exaggeration, even though Schreier in particular has a good track record for breaking stories. In this case, the usual kneejerk Kotaku critics were joined by others who are passionately awaiting No Man’s Sky, which has been one of the most heavily hyped games in recent memory. The No Man’s Sky subreddit was especially critical of Schreier and Kotaku, with some users accusing them of intentionally trying to harm the game’s launch. These fans saw a story that they didn’t like, and before they could come to terms with it, they decided to attack the site and writer that reported it and create conspiracy theories about their motives. In a progression that is all too common now, that anger and hostility quickly escalated to Schreier receiving death threats for simply reporting a story.
Fans remained in deep denial over Schreier’s report until Hello Games confirmed the delay two days later. Sean Murray, the game’s director, announced that its release would be pushed back to the second week of August so that Hello could add “extra polish” in order to “deliver something special.” The game was supposed to come out on June 21, so that’s a delay of about seven weeks. Seven weeks can seem like a long time when you’re young, and in this case it does encompass pretty much all of summer break, but after you’ve lived long enough seven weeks rush by in a flash.
Games get delayed all the time, and seven weeks isn’t that long of a wait, but this didn’t stop some people from reacting to Murray’s announcement with extreme anger. Many, if not most, fans who have commented on the delay are reacting like normal, sane people would in a situation like this, but again, there’s a subset that is incensed about the game’s delay. And so, yes, they quickly got started with the death threats. Over the weekend Murray tweeted about the threats he and his team have received since the delay was announced, and although he was able to joke about it a little bit, it’s still a sad and embarrassing incident.
So a delay of under two months drove some fans to threaten both the journalist who broke the news and the people creating the very thing they’re so angry about having to wait for. The internet didn’t create this type of irrational passion—I went to enough comic book conventions before the internet hit the home to know that this type of mentality long predates the web (and I was just a kid at those things). It has created a network that can normalize and reinforce these types of actions and opinions, though, letting the kind of people who would issue a death threat due to the delay of a videogame they’re excited about find others with similar mindsets, and making those opinions feel appropriate and acceptable. As with the political divisions that seem so stark and unbridgeable today, the internet didn’t give birth to these types of fans, but it has encouraged and emboldened them.
Some of them are trolls. Some of them are actual children, with the emotional maturity that entails (which explains why some are so angry about not being able to play the game over the summer). But some of these fans are clearly troubled, by the delay of this game and perhaps by other circumstances in their life and world. Obviously we shouldn’t get rid of the internet—its positive contributions to society outweigh whatever bad things it’s caused—but it’s also obvious that the opportunity it offers us to obsess over our interests can turn unhealthy. 30 years ago No Man’s Sky’s delay would’ve barely made a ripple in any community. Fans maybe wouldn’t even know it was delayed at all, perhaps assuming that their local stores were just sold out or hadn’t gotten their shipments yet. Before the internet things would just disappear, and that was probably for the best.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.