Anonymous and Jennifer Hepler: we all lose.

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.

Been waiting to use this image for a long time.


2 thoughts on “Anonymous and Jennifer Hepler: we all lose.

  1. Yeah, I can’t really comment on the chick or her writing, but I will say, short of the next Mass effect installments, I won’t be scrambling for any more Bioware products. The Taint of EA is just too putrid to tolerate… Anyone who helped run an otherwise good game franchise such as Dragon Age, into the brink of failure should be kicked repeatedly by a horse.

    granted, I’m not a big Dragon Age lover, I never finished the first one, I’m just largely sick of generic fantasy settings. The only Fantasy Game I have liked in a real long time is the Witcher, probably because it doesn’t make everything shiny and so full of magic that the local butcher farts fairy dust.

    It’s grittier, edgier, and while magic is common enough to not cause people to scream in terror as it goes by, the way the writers blend in truly stupid peasants and truly asshole nobility and all the politics and machinations of a medieval setting is really memorable.

    Anyway what I want to see from future fantasy titles is more actual creative fantasy thinking.

    I want new settings that aren’t just ripped off of Tolkien.

    I consider Steampunk or Magipunk to be in the Fantasy Genre, and there is no reason someone couldn’t make a killing with a new franchise that capitalizes on such a world.

    For example Dishonored, I think that game has a marvellous setting and theme, and the story and characters were superb (if predictable on many occasions).

    I’m also thinking that for the more traditional fantasy Genre, I’d like a return to a little more Realism.

    When I played D&D growing up, there was more of a Sword and Sorcery feel to it, that is, the players were unique in their powers and abilities. A magic user was rare and special, the “college” the belonged to might have had 10 people in it.

    A swordsman might be common, but a good one, legendary.

    These things are missing from modern fantasy, the feeling like your special.

    I don’t mean special in the sense that your the offspring of a diety or some typical rehashed story about being the chosen one, but rather special in their abilities and not “just another mage.”

    The Witcher really nails that theme, and really drives home how unique the character is.

    Anyway I’m rambling.

    • The Witcher is an absolutely great game. I think it’s based on a series of Polish fantasy novels, but the really interesting thing is that CDProjekt, the developers behind the game, licensed the same game engine that was used to make Dragon Age! What a difference between two different companies using the same exact game engine, huh?

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