Jennifer Hepler, one of the much-maligned writers for BioWare/Electronic Arts’ Dragon Age II and its upcoming sequel Dragon Age: Inquisition, has hung up her hat and decided to move on to greener pastures.
Like many people with a vested interest in both good storytelling and the once good name of BioWare before its acquisition by EA I welcomed the news that she would be leaving to pursue freelance opportunities, but there are some serious issues about the narrative of her resignation that I have problems with. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not defending Hepler’s writing. In a realm of opinion and personal taste, her writing is objectively abysmal. It features hackneyed plots, two-dimensional characters, and the kind of dialogue that makes you cringe harder than watching someone take a nut shot on America’s Funniest Genital Maulings, and I would rather take a shit-covered stick in the eye than spend money on any creative product she had even a minor role in crafting.
This woman has absolutely no business writing a textbook on narrative design. Just because that the old adage says those who can’t, teach doesn’t mean she’s fit to educate new generations of starry-eyed teenagers and twenty-somethings that want to get into the game industry by working as a writer. The old saying is utter bullshit – some of the best and most talented writers I know are fantastic educators – but that’s beyond the point right now. The problem here is that the narrative being presented by most major news outlets is that she quit BioWare because of the massive number of personal attacks she and her family weathered as a result of the absolutely horrific critical response to Dragon Age II’s characterization, dialogue and plot in yet another blatant attempt to cast BioWare and by extension Electronic Arts as innocent victims of prejudice and hate. To Hepler’s credit, she has since contacted many of the news organizations to clarify that the abuse she weathered had nothing to do with her decision to leave BioWare; it would have been easy to play the role to the hilt but instead she told the truth and for that I applaud her.
However, her strong moral fiber does not in any way, shape or form absolve her of the sins of the past. She shares in the shame of the entire team that worked on DA2; unfortunately her visibility as a woman in the gaming industry made her the target of a massive number of angry nerds with underdeveloped communication skills that found it easier to make ad hominem attacks against the woman instead of addressing her failure as a writer. There are reams and reams of reasons to criticize Hepler on her professional performance, but bridging the gap between how she performed in an employment position to personally attack her is cruel and demonstrates a lack of compassion and empathy that is all too common when it comes down to the Internet, which was where most of the (anonymous) attacks originated.
The cruelty is only exacerbated by the fact that this furor arose over something so completely irrelevant: a god damned video game. I understand being passionate about your hobbies and recreational activities, but when passion grows to frothing, incoherent rage so potent that people feel the need to personally degrade someone who was just doing her job – no matter how bad she was at that job – it’s time to take a step back and examine if what you’re doing is really that fucking important.