Valve is the Champion of Open Discourse that We Desperately Need
It is no secret that negative opinions of popular games and movies are met with hostility in this day and age. Critics of the Ghostbusters reboot, Suicide Squad, Virginia, and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, for example, have been accused of a litany of transgressions ranging from misogyny and racism to purposeful malice.
This trend was demonstrated most recently by development studio Digital Homicide, who initiated aggressive litigation against reviewers and commenters who expressed negative opinions about their products on Steam. The most notable action taken was the filing of a subpoena which demands the identities of 100 users who submitted negative or hateful comments. Valve responded by removing all Digital Homicide products from Steam.
This is not the first time Digital Homicide has attacked the freedom of individuals to voice their opinions. YouTuber and frequent Digital Homicide critic Jim Sterling has been hounded by the developer for several months now, with doxxing and dubious YouTube takedown requests reportedly taking place against him on a regular basis.
Digital Homicide contends that the Steam forums were not properly moderated, which led to an unsafe business environment and caused "very large... emotional and punitive" damages to the company. The company even claims on their lawsuit's GoFundMe page that it is unable to afford an attorney due to these damages. The great irony of this situation is that Digital Homicide filed its incredibly broad subpoena while most certainly anticipating the legal costs which would arise as a result -- but that's a story for another time.
To be fair, many comments left by Steam users could be considered crass, uncalled for, and even violent -- yet, whether or not these untoward comments caused tortious damages deserving of legal action against anonymous users is another question entirely. As far as their position with Steam is concerned, Valve was happy to answer that question with a swift, judicial rap of its own gavel.
This series of unfortunate events places Valve in an ever-shrinking and increasingly criticized community of individuals who believe that freedom of speech is not only an inherent right for all, but also necessary to protect consumers from misrepresentation of products and to encourage consistent improvement in the gaming and movie industries in general. In other words, it seems that Valve understands that critical opinions are necessary for continuing improvement and quality as a whole. The popular YouTuber Cr1TiKaL mentioned this same point in a recent video, admittedly in a more entertaining fashion:
The most revealing statement made by Digital Games amid this fiasco can be found on their own GoFundMe page, in which they characterize "hundreds of posts of negativity" as "attacks" and "false statements," which supposedly rendered all of their hard work moot:
Within a matter of hours hundreds of posts of negativity can be seen annihilating the marketability of the game leaving the developer who may have spent months and years on that particular game with an eviscerated husk. We barely survived initial onslaughts of these attacks and were just about to break through to success when the false statements obliterated us.
If anything, the above statement exemplifies this climate of censorship and misrepresentation, which encourages blame for failure to be assigned to the opinions of consumers, rather than the quality of the product itself. It may be cliché, but the old adage "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen" was never more relevant. Rather than taking the heat or simply leaving the kitchen, however, it appears that Digital Homicide would rather throw gasoline over a flaming grill and blame the dishwashers for getting burned.
There is a desperate need for corporations like Valve -- those who promote and protect criticism, rather than attempt to drown dissent with vast amounts of money, witch hunting, and legal intimidation. This is because consumers have not only a right, but an obligation to other consumers to voice their opinions about products on which they spend their time and money, regardless of their position. If we keep negative criticisms to ourselves, we condemn the future of movies and video games to the whims of popular opinion, which can be bought, sold, and manipulated by developers and publishers with disturbing ease.
I had second thoughts about voicing my opinion on the Digital Homicide matter, considering the state of current affairs and their apparent willingness to sue anyone they find threatening -- but, taking my own advice above, I decided that fear of retribution is never a justifiable reason to stay silent. I encourage readers to realize the same for themselves, because it is the only way that we can collectively ensure a bright future for the industries to which we have dedicated so much of our time and attention. Thanks to Valve, we're off to a good start.