In defense of Fez developer, Phil Fish

Few people in the game industry are better suited to wear the adjective “iconoclastic” than Phil Fish. If that man could burn down the entire corporate culture that’s sprung up around this multi-billion dollar industry, I’m sure he would dance in the flames and piss on the ashes.

I can relate to that.

I mean, it’s not like the man’s frustrations are unfounded. Look no further than Microsoft, commonly the target of Fish’s publically vitriolic ramblings, and you’ll see a corporate giant that constantly screws people over to preserve that precious bottom line of theirs. This is the company that bullies developers into providing them with exclusive content and early release dates, the company that decided indie games are simply unimportant going into the next generation (while hypocritically exploiting the success of Minecraft), the company that was perfectly willing to implement insane DRM and Internet requirements on its next-gen console until they realized people were lining up with pitchforks sharpened and torches blazing.

Sure, that’s just business, but that business is cheapening the medium we love. And no one feels the sting of this harder than the people who desire to use video games as a legitimate form of expression. People like Fish, who pushed through mountains of bureaucratic bullsh*t to make the disturbingly brilliant Fez.

Yet, somehow, he’s become despised in the gaming community for it. The man I can’t help but see as a tireless antihero, a misunderstood and frustrated genius, gets metaphorically bludgeoned to death in the comments sections of websites like this one. He gets accused of being a whiner, of destroying his greatest creation, of being out of touch with reality. Now, all of those things are probably true, but that’s what makes the man so important.


Sure, he whines. He does so very publically about the things that piss him off. But guess what? If you take a close look, the things he’s bitching about are the things that are ruining the video game industry for everyone. He speaks louder than you do about it because he loves video games more than you do. He’s not afraid to rock the boat, to point out that things aren’t all candy canes and rose petals. He makes us uncomfortable, so we tell him to shut up while we sit back complacently and watch the medium of video games grow sterile and ineffective.

Fish may have wrecked Fez for some people by pushing out a patch that broke the game for a tiny percentage of users. But this only served to underscore the problems with Microsoft’s patch policies, policies that were making it difficult for indies to maintain post-release support for their products. The media circus that spawned from Fish’s open disdain of these policies could very well have been a deciding factor in getting them changed.

And sure, he’s out of touch. While you’re scouring the Internet for eight hours a day and keeping up with all the major developments in the industry, he isolates himself so he can work tirelessly on making things that are awesome. That’s right, you’re consuming things while he’s creating things, and you have the audacity to feel superior to him because of that. But Fish put his money where his mouth is by almost single-handedly making one of the best games of 2012.

Phil Fish

Now, Fish did rub a lot of people the wrong way with his part in Indie Game: The Movie. He comes off as loudmouthed, confrontational, and narcissistic. But that’s what makes him so much fun to watch. And it’s not like other people in that documentary aren’t also actively voicing their concerns about the industry. The guys at Team Meat, who were also featured very prominently in the film, have also had an antagonistic relationship with Microsoft. It’s just that Edmund McMillen, bless his heart, comes off as the guy with his finger on the pulse of your tormented inner child, while Fish comes off as that weird antisocial kid who hangs out in his basement all day. When we’re forced to compare those two men based on personality alone, it’s impossible to not prefer McMillen to Fish. But that comparison isn’t even valid. These guys are doing radically different things, and they have drastically different methods of being successful at those things.

Essentially, Fish is endlessly swimming alone against the stream of mediocrity, and he doesn’t take kindly to being spat upon by men in expensive suits. But his efforts, whether you’re willing to acknowledge this fact or not, are making waves in the industry. He’s affecting change, and that’s a good thing. We don’t need him bound and gagged; we need a hundred more of him to hold the industry accountable for the things it carelessly ejaculates into the world, for the cages it builds around the imaginations of the creators of legitimately cool things.

Now, let’s be honest here. If you were to meet Edgar Allen Poe in real life, you’d probably call him a pretentious, creepy prick. If you were to meet Mozart, you’d probably see him as a sickly dude with a feminine fashion sense. If you were to meet Michelangelo, you’d probably think he was too weird to put into words. But all these men are remembered to this day for the things they created. While he didn’t invent new genres of fiction, become regarded as a piano prodigy before hitting adolescence, or paint the Sistine Chapel, Phil Fish did make Fez. What have you made that even compares to that?