FEZ (2012)

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“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
-Aldous Huxley

 

 

FEZ is a game which has interested me for some time and my interest in it has only grown in recent days. This is because when I first purchased a PlayStation 4 and brought myself kicking and screaming into the current generation, one of the first games I watched a friend demo via the share play feature was FEZ. My comrade-in-games knew I gravitated toward pixel art and friendlier atmospheres so this was right up my alley. However, it would be more than a year later before a convenient sale on PSN furnished me with my own copy of the puzzle-platformer to plow through.

With the purchase came the inevitable critique and analysis. With research for this analysis came the inevitable discovery of controversy surrounding the creator of FEZ. With that came the loss of that beautiful bliss of ignorance. I have to ask myself: would I rather live without knowledge and happily enjoy things like FEZ or would I instead want to fully realize the controversy of the designer of this indie game, and risk having that color my experience of it? FEZ is a game about perception and now has my perception of it changed?

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Another set of questions to ask, and important ones in our day and age, is can a creation be enjoyed separately from the character of its creator(s)? Can the persona behind a project be denounced while the project itself be praised? Or by purchasing and enjoying the project are you condoning all behaviors of its creator(s)? To what extent must the sins of the creator be distinct from the triumphs of their product before the product can be enjoyed? Do the moral failings of a given individual behind the development of a game really create not only the opportunity but the ethical necessity to cease and desist from enjoying their game, if indeed you purchased it in the first place? If so, then at what point and in what quantity do a creator’s moral failings equate the necessity of a boycott? Which moral failings must be present in order to reject their project? Which moral failings are acceptable in order for their project to still be enjoyed? What is the general consensus which must be reached in order for it to be deemed socially acceptable or unacceptable to participate in enjoying the project in question, if social pressure is even a relevant factor?

Okay, take a deep breath. It’s actually a lot more fun to talk about this than it seems.

A similar conversation came up recently when I had a fellow mage over a few days ago. Yes, we mages occasionally hang out together. In essence, I mentioned I’d received a stash of vinyls for my birthday and that one of my favorites in the collection was Wagner’s “Die Walküre”. The other mage suggested that there were smatterings of possible anti-Semitism and German nationalism in Wagner’s works. I mentioned that I didn’t know that, that I’m not anti-Semitic and I don’t think that listening to some of Wagner’s music without noticing any prevalent themes in that regard made me anti-Semitic, which the other mage assured me wasn’t an allegation he was making.

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That got us on the subject anyway. Are you vouching for the moral character of someone whose content you’re consuming? When I listened to Wagner, did that mean I saluted his suspected anti-Semitism by default? If the person is long dead, there’s nothing you can do to change the kind of person they were but at the same time that’s not to say that it’s the best course of action to support and give money to musicians today who, for example, are known for their abuse of women. And it’s not like I’m just going to sit back and enjoy some Mein Kampf for bedtime reading. The ideology of that creator is very much present in his manifesto.

This also raises the subject of research, which brings us a step closer to landing these questions on FEZ itself. Should the average human being be held to the standard of having to research the life, morality, ethics, behavior, and character of a creator whose content they’d tentatively wish to consume? What if that research is not available, say if the creator in question is an obscurer figure in history?

I myself enjoy Final Fantasy games but I can’t tell you if Sakaguchi beat his wife or if he donates to charity. Maybe he’s a heroin addict. Maybe he saves the whales. What if I can’t find that information? What if he does beat his wife daily yet nobody really knows it, does that make it okay to like Final Fantasy if his character is under suspicion?

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And not just Sakaguchi but what about Shigeru Miyamoto, Koizumi, Uematsu, Kojima, Inafune, Ueda, Schafer, Chahi, Meier, Druckmann, Lovecraft, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Hemingway, Austen, Shelley, Dickinson, Asimov, Kubrick, Spielberg, Tarantino, Hitchcock, and… Phil Fish, designer of FEZ?

Point blank: do you have to agree with a creator before consuming or liking their work?

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Do you know everything about the creator whose work you last enjoyed? How about my writings (to a far lesser extent); do you know everything about me? Would you denounce reading my writing if you discovered I was a racist or a molester or an addict or felon or someone who tore the tags off of mattresses? Which of these is the most acceptable and which is the least? What if you couldn’t find out the information at all? What if it was merely suspected? Would that prevent you from partaking in anyone’s writing if you didn’t know them, mine included?

I submit to you that not only is this paralyzing but it’s not even experiential. All our lives we’ve enjoyed countless forms of media, entertainment and products, often for free, without knowing an iota about the characters of the individuals behind them. Not only would millions of people not have the opportunity, the know-how, or the resources to do the kind of research necessary to discover the moral standing of every creator whose product they consume, but the average person who has the opportunity and the resources is likely not willing to do such prolonged study merely to passively enjoy a song on the radio. When a flaw in a creator’s character becomes controversial enough to present itself to the person involved in the decision to consume their content or not, it remains their individual decision and right to choose to support that creator through purchasing their media or not, and even if they do I don’t think that this automatically equates to vouching for all aspects of the creator’s moral sphere, known and unknown. That seems to me to be experiential, reasonable, and free.

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So when I say I enjoyed most of FEZ… that statement is not an appraisal of its creator’s public scandals. The statement is, to my mind, irrelevant toward Phil Fish’s behavior and persona. That Phil Fish told a detractor to choke on his genitalia and FEZ has vivid pixel art both seem irrelevant toward each other. I get that purchasing a product financially supports its creator(s) but I didn’t vouch for his character when I bought the game. I was in fact unaware of Fish’s connection to FEZ, just as everyone is on a regular basis toward the creators of the content they consume. Or do you know who grew that pineapple you ate last week? Could’ve been a serial killer.

In the past few days, doing some research on FEZ, I’ve come across more than a handful of so-called reviews claiming that “FEZ is the worst game ever”. Not only do I think that such hyperbole is ill-befitting reasonable critique in games journalism but I also think it smacks of opinions being colored by the perception of the game’s creator rather than the game itself for all of its flaws and merits. It could lead to the hysteria of a witch hunt.

I understand why Phil Fish is someone who has earned unanimous hatred for the things he’s said in front of a camera, in public, on record, and to his own audience, shockingly, but I didn’t know those things when I came into playing FEZ. Luckily. I don’t think that my experience of it was eclipsed by the shadow that Fish has cast and I can therefore provide my thoughts on the game itself in isolation (as I intend), separate from the drama, the controversy, the ugliness, the politics, the backlash and the all-mighty boycotting whence cometh the state of conversation on the internet today:

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Phil Fish is quite the figure in the gaming subculture but leaving that aside, that’s all I’m going to mention about him in any detail. Not only have better writers written on his character but I’ve no great interest in highlighting a man-child, or at the very least, in kinder terms, devoting much time to biography over ludology. I’m here to talk about the games and if you think the games are inseparable from the moral failings present in their creators as they’re present in all human beings, then let’s talk about it! Also, you’ve got the task of untangling the questions laid out above at least. I don’t envy anyone that challenge or that perspective on the necessary requisites which must be in place before you’re able to enjoy something. Or… if something bugs you about someone enough then don’t buy what they made. Maybe it’s the appropriate response based on your knowledge, your conscience, and your ethics. Use that autonomy!

It’s a mark of discernment to be able to apply your principles in areas that stray away from the black and white. You have your own core set of beliefs and values so really it’s up to you to be able to say you will or won’t buy a product based on the persona of its creator(s). If it bothers you enough, don’t buy it or wait for a sale. I got FEZ for something like $3. I don’t believe that the rubbish personality of Phil Fish makes the game any less good than it is. I don’t think I need to score its visuals a 7 instead of an 8 because of his online explosions and public rants.

Make your own decisions on what you should buy. Would I buy FEZ again, knowing what I know now? Maybe, if it was a super cheap sale?

Fez_(video_game)_screenshot_01.pngI guess that NES Legend of Zelda title screen poster sans title meant brownie points with gamers? Then again… maybe not.

FEZ is a puzzle-platformer indie game centered around the theme of perception (ironically, considering perception of Phil Fish influenced perceptions about his game). The game follows Gomez who wakes one day to find that he is to inherit the gift of a new perspective on reality. At the top of his cyclopean, spire-like village, Gomez meets the elder, a wizened old figure with an eyepatch and a funny hat. A ceremony takes place, the Hexahedron appears, a three-dimensional shape in Gomez’s two-dimensional world, and Gomez receives his own funny hat. Something metaphysical goes awry and reality seemingly breaks. Gomez wakes again in his bed to find that he can now perceive his two-dimensional world in new three-dimensional ways.

I thought a bit about how to classify FEZ. It’s got puzzles. It’s got platforms. That part is easy. What a lot of folks don’t seem to agree on is whether FEZ’s distinctive gameplay feature (or gimmick, call it what you will) makes it a 2.5D, a 2D/3D, or a flat out 3D game. Here’s my take, in a nutshell: True 3D games aren’t constricted by set perspectives and though FEZ later lets you (spoilers: highlight to reveal) access a first-person perspective mode, it essentially has a fixed camera which you can only normally move by rotating the environment 90 degrees at a time on a horizontal plane. So it’s 2.5D then? Well, that has to do with simulating the appearance of three dimensions and gameplay confined to a two-dimensional plane with a fixed camera angle. But FEZ doesn’t have a fixed camera angle. You can only progress through the game by constantly changing the camera angle.

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So while FEZ’s feature of rotating two-dimensional images to gain new perspectives has been called both “innovative” and “uninspired” (depending on who you ask), I think it can only really set the game in the context of 2D/3D, if that’s a recognized thing. You play it as if it’s a 2D game and also as if it’s a 3D game, but never both simultaneously. You’re either static in place rotating the environs, or you’re jumping and leaping through them when they’re flat. It’s tough to classify FEZ. It takes a lot of what we’re familiar with and literally turns it on its head.

So anyway, after the Hexahedron incident Gomez receives guidance from Dot, a sentient polyhedron in constant flux, who directs him to collect cube bits, pieces of the shattered Hexahedron, in order to restore order to the universe. Cube bits are collected throughout FEZ’s many areas, in secret passageways and pocket worlds, by turning the camera angle. Exploring is a big part of FEZ. Collect enough of bits and Gomez can unlock new areas to find more cube bits behind increasingly esoteric puzzles.

“Esoteric” is not an understatement. You can complete the game without collecting every last cube bit, artifact, or anti-cube in the game, however FEZ’s real impenetrable depths lie in the post-game content. FEZ comes complete with its own coded “language”, runes etched into the surfaces throughout the world. These include letters and numbers. Deciphering them is necessary for solving a host of the game’s puzzles, kind of. That’s because there’s this little thing called the internet.

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I’ve heard it said that in order to appreciate all of FEZ’s layered ins and outs that you’ll need to play it like the internet doesn’t exist. The problem is plain: the internet does in fact exist and it’s hard to ignore. Access to it is too big a temptation to avoid. It’s either spend an enormous amount of time and energy, what amounts more to work and less to fun, mucking about FEZ’s post-game world trying to look for arcane clues until you stumble across the right answer for a single cube… or just look it up online.

Here are two examples in which the game seemingly tells you what you need to do and another example in which the solution comes out of left field. There’s a gigantic gilded bell in FEZ with a different solitary symbol on each of its four sides. The game is telling you what you need to do with those symbol, each representing a number, the number of times you need to ring the bell on each side, but you’ve still got to decipher the coded language on your own seeing as the game doesn’t tell you you’ll need to. Still, the solution is reasonable after you’ve done the basic work. Other games that use things like cube-pushing or mathematical puzzles include enough information to plot out your solution.

 

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An example of an abstruse solution. Consider the final puzzle in the game which was solved by the community brute-forcing the answer after 66,227 attempts. Look up the puzzle itself. It’s ridiculous and I don’t know that anyone would’ve or has solved it “naturally”, without aid from the internet. But then the question is, why is the puzzle even there at all?

On top of that, there are tuning fork rooms which cause your controller to vibrate on its left and right sides in patterns… there are giant QR codes plastered against ruined walls… there are pillars with runic inscriptions you must look at sideways in order to ascertain the order of left-right screen rotation… there are tertominoes which you must construct by pushing cubes to make the shapes in three-dimensions… there are invisible platforms you can only discover if you find minimalistic maps and decipher their meaning… there is a clock puzzle that operates based on your hardware’s real-world time keeping… there’s a code hiding in plain sight as the title of a trophy/achievement… there’s a lot going on in FEZ in terms of puzzles.

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I solved this “security room” puzzle but I never realized why the answer is what it is, and that’s not very satisfying. In this case, the answer was only as hard as knowing how to operate Google. With so many games to play, I’m not going to spend days simply looking for runic clues, many of which might not even be relevant to this one riddle. Not when I can just run a search engine.

I’m reminded of the point and click adventures of yore, the ones with really oddball solutions to their puzzles. Maniac MansionZak McKracken… Grim Fandango serves memory just fine right now. I got stuck more than a few times in Grim Fandango, once because I had to stick this sign down in a huge clearing in just the right spot in order to open up a secret passageway to the next area. Not only was I unaware that I had to use the sign item in such an unorthodox manner but the solution made no reasonable sense, since signs don’t typically unlock passageways in the middle of forest clearings. How would I have discovered that without the internet? By trying the sign at every possible pixel? In a lot of ways, the internet has killed this sort of puzzle game and sucked the satisfaction out of it but our part of the bargain is there’s not enough time and interest to solve these otherwise.

I’ll tie up this section with a little theory. There is some of Phil Fish in FEZ, not just in terms of his design work but specifically his arrogance. I asked myself: why a fez? Why call the game “Fez”? Why does Gomez get a fez?

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I see a relationship between the titular fez and the game’s nigh impossible challenges.

The fez was a cultural headdress which eventually became a symbol of status. It began as a symbol of nationalism and it became a Western symbol of inner circles and luxury. Similar to the top hat, the fez represents unique occasions and social prestige in some societies. I think the game explicitly uses the symbolism of the fez for that concept of the exclusive, the inner brotherhood, the privileged few to highlight its difficult nature.

It’s like the game is saying “Gomez receives a fez because he’s one of the few allowed into the club that sees the world from this rare perspective BUT if you manage to beat this game by your own wits then the fez can become your crown too”. FEZ is all about changing perspectives and it goes so far to break the fourth wall, several times. That’s even present in its title. Besting it makes it become your own personal fez.

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In making the game’s solutions as obscure as they are, the developers seemed to expect that only a few would actually take the time to complete it. These few would have rare bragging rights at beating impassable puzzles and that would set them in the high company of Phil Fish himself. Fish seemed to consider himself God’s gift to the world of indie gaming, a definite elitist, and FEZ seems so designed to cater to those looking for tedious challenges to best not because they’re fun but because beating them would mean prestige. You’d be in the FEZ club. Fish is in the structure of the game.

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Unfortunately, the internet happened. Where FEZ demanded lateral thinking, it demanded too much. It turned out that nobody actually needed to conclude FEZ’s lateral puzzles all on their own. Nobody needed to delve into the nuances of the runic language and scour the digital world for clues, as Fish supposedly expected, so instead of creating a new ecosystem of conversation, FEZ merely became a search engine cliché. Fish’s personality is here as well, because what’s more arrogant than overestimating the importance of one’s work? The world of FEZ simply isn’t engaging enough to wade through all of the monotonous note-keeping, deciphering, and sheer work required to be considered that triumphant member of Fish’s elite. I don’t know anyone who has done all that work themselves just to beat this game.

The game itself is fun but where it quickly becomes no fun at all is where the promise of being in Fish’s club becomes no longer worth the trouble. FEZ operates under the pretense that it’s smart and you’re smarter for playing it but after hundreds of hours and hours, are you really still the smart one? However, FEZ, and by extension Phil Fish, makes no apologies. Deal with it.

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The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals: 7/10
FEZ is the pitch perfect example of retro-styled pixel art in indie games. It’s appeal is obvious for those whose memories are enriched by the games of the 80’s and early to mid 90’s. Five years after FEZ’s debut, indies with this cyan-magenta heavy, chemical-colored pixel art are practically a dime a dozen. Still, some games do it better than others. The level of random detail in FEZ’s backgrounds is acute, the shifting colors of day and eventide are soothing, and the unusual rooms and areas in the game which adopt specific retro themes are of course a treat. The Game Boy-themed sewers, the red-tinted Virtual-Boy area, and the actual 8-bit secret spot are all visually fun.

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Of course the biggest visual feat that FEZ accomplished is due to its rotating feature. When playing classic games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man II, didn’t we try to envision what the world would look like if we could see around corners and look down pits? FEZ sates that curiosity with its 90 degree, 2D/3D specialty. Call it what you like in terms of gameplay, boorish or inspired, it makes for a fresh visual take on a old genre. Not only does it require a little problem-solving and thinking on your feet, but the initially confusing effect it have upon the eyes I liken to a first playthrough of Super Mario Galaxy. The feature asks only that you accept the unique physics of its world and put away the physics of your own.

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 Audio: 8/10
I have heard a lot of chiptune and imitation chiptune in my time, but somehow the soundtracks by Disasterpeace (Richard Vreeland), who specializes in this sound, stand out among the crowd. I encountered Disasterpeace’s music in Hyper Light Drifter, a game I thoroughly fell in love with. FEZ’s own soundtrack is different from the pensive, mysterious atmospheres of HLD but there are a lot of similarities, of course in terms of general genre.

FEZ’s OST is clearly modeled after the soundtracks of yesteryear, particularly those belonging to the games of the 80’s. But the FEZ score goes beyond that to the musical motifs of the 80’s on a broader scale beyond just the games, drawing upon softer synths and distortions. The effect is that the music is less melodic than 80’s games, more appropriate for 80’s music videos, less upbeat and more “lonely, contemplative curiosity”, as its composer described it.

The music in FEZ is slower, much more relaxing and soothing than a lot of its 80’s video game predecessors. That fits the careful exploratory nature of this game without guns or enemies or power ups. Notably, the soundtrack lacks percussion and it matches the mold of modernity with its ambient exhalations.

One absolute highlight of the game’s music, to me at least, came during the “bad” ending of the game, the only one I achieved. (spoilers: highlight to reveal) The scene zooms in as the resolution lowers and lowers, reducing everything to a white square and a red square, all that’s left of Gomez. It’s his new perspective-altering powers gone berserk. From there, the scene continues to zoom in, diving deeper into layer after layer of subatomic reality… while this happens, the following song begins to play. The classical music lover in me just about wet himself. Chopin is my favorite composer and to hear a distorted rendition of his “Prelude Op.28, No. 4 in E minor” in all of its dark and despairing glory was a unique experience in my gaming history. Famously, this song was played at Chopin’s own funeral at his advance request. The last musical dynamic mark in the piece was written as smorzando, “dying away”.

Thank you, Disasterpeace. “What tears from the depths of the damp monastery?” is the perfect accompaniment to the implosion of this universe.

 Gameplay: 7/10
Described as Mario plus Zelda with some Metroid and Ico thrown in there, also referred to as “Mystroidvania”, each of those influences by highly influetial powers in gaming become more and more obvious the longer you play FEZ. This game does a good job of rising above its influences, mostly thanks to its innovations, but each of those bases include a lot more immediately engaging content than FEZ does. Likely the realization will strike the player quite early on that there are no enemies to defeat in this game. There are no bosses, no weapons, no equipment, no power ups, no extra lives (continues are infinite), no game overs, nothing to differentiate one platforming/rotating section from another. Not even hardly any dialogue or cutscenes.

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Only puzzles, billions of puzzles, present actual challenges. Since Gomez cannot run, the jumps themselves don’t present too much danger. That’s what makes playing FEZ for the length of time required to naturally beat it difficult. It can eventually feel bland unless you’re willing to put in the truckload of effort to dredge up every secret and subtlety, and at that point you feel like you’re inscribing the next Encyclopedia Britannica rather than playing a video game for fun.

Beyond the interest (or lasting lack thereof) of the rotating shtick, there are little gameplay perks like being able to preview the inside of buildings you’ve already entered, preventing you while backtracking from bumbling again into areas you’ve already cleared. The world map is also one of the most interesting I’ve ever encountered in a game. It’s not easy to use, at all, but it is visually thrilling and unusual, impressive in its scale and presentation.

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story Narrative: 7/10
There’s not a whole lot of storytelling in FEZ, especially if you don’t plan to do any linguistic hoop-jumping. What you do get is an interesting world to explore and a bit of scenes of interest at the beginning and at the end. There’s a lot of loneliness in the game and a sense of the passing of an ancient civilization but there are also a handful of unique characters.

The fez is worn by members of some exclusive club, denoting that Gomez is now part of a group that can see the world in 3D, but what interested me was the village elder who also wore a fez. This big boss with his eye patch reminisces about his age and how he’s passing the torch to a younger generation. The game is about enlightenment, seeing the world anew, and the elder, the leader of this coterie, lost his ability to perceive when he lost one of his eyes. Maybe he just sees the world in 1-bit now? Or is that too stupid?

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In any case, this enlightenment is now Gomez’s but since the Hexahedron shatters, that gift becomes associated with a curse. “A great secret has been revealed to you…” Seeing the world from new perspectives is great but the world is also slowly falling to pieces with black holes opening up and the occasional graphical glitches breaking reality. This is another point at which FEZ breaks the fourth wall, because its universe incorporates the self-realization that it’s a game. There’s even an old-fashioned DOS boot up screen after which the game restarts the game. Very meta.

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 Accessibility: 3/10
As mentioned, the world map isn’t a whole lot of help since it doesn’t tell you which doors specifically lead out of one area to the next. Exploration is great but when you can’t develop a reasonable sense of direction between all the secret passages and warp gates it begins to presume upon the tedium of too much aimless backtracking. Without a working sense of my way around the world, I couldn’t get to places I where I meant to get and so most of my playthrough ended up taking the form of random wanderings until I gathered enough cubes. Lowering the accessibility further is all the reliance on runes and mystery, puzzles with no clear solutions, clues wrapped in enigmas, and instructions you’ll stumble upon only after a million years… unless you just look them up online.

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diff Challenge: 9/10
A waffled for a bit on how to grade the Challenge factor for this game. On the one hand, it’s fairly easy to beat the game and get the “bad” ending and call it quits. I was able to do just that in a few hours without even having to push my platforming skills to their limits. On the other, far more intimidating hand, there’s the wealth of subterraneous content in this game. The kind of stuff it took a community of gamers to come together to solve. The kind of stuff that fills up pages with scrawled images of alphanumeric symbols. For those with the patience for it, FEZ can rise to the occasion and provide a puzzle-platforming challenge you can really sink your teeth (and soon enough your dentures) into. That final monolith puzzle is one of the hardest puzzles I’ve ever heard described.

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unique Uniqueness: 8/10
FEZ captures a lot of what made 80’s gaming so great. Yes, it relies on a lot of modern quirks like the open-world concept and the rotational feature but at its core it is a platformer like the kind a lot of us grew up on with puzzles the likes of which we might’ve played in our youth off a floppy disk. I wonder what FEZ would’ve been like had it appeared not in 2012 but in 1992. Maybe it would’ve been better appreciated, and it already has been fairly well-received by critics. Maybe its world and secrets would’ve been more engrossing. I know if I had the time I once had, I might’ve been excited to pen down long lines of code and runes and symbols. As it is, FEZ was an intriguing experiment, a bump along the road of my gaming career.

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pgrade My Personal Grade: 7/10
I did enjoy FEZ and I was enticed back into its world more than a few times while writing this review. It maintains an air of mystery which kept me thinking “I wonder what’s beyond that door?” That’s a rare and magical element, one which shouldn’t be written off. That said, I did get bored pretty quickly when getting into the post-game content. I never imagined that I would have to bust out a pen and paper and start taking down notes, and I wasn’t about to do that with so much on my plate as it is. This might sound presumptuous but I don’t think my experience with FEZ exists in isolation. None of my friends who’ve played it fully completed it.

Myself in my early thirties and fourteen platforms to play games from all of history across, my backlog is too huge and too demanding to allow me to spend days tinkering with symbols in FEZ. On top of that, I’ve got a blog to run, a family to feed, children to enjoy, a wife to love, and a multitude of other things to do. So as much as I liked FEZ, I just don’t think working through every last ounce of its complex and esoteric world just for the sake of bragging rights, entering that special club with Phil Fish himself, was for me all that worth it. I’m glad I played it and it’ll forever be a game I respect and admire for its depths. I just don’t have the time or motivation to scour those kinds of depths anymore.

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Aggregated Score: 7.0

 

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38 thoughts on “FEZ (2012)

  1. I saw a documentary that including the making of Fez, and I thought Phil Fish was a real jerk… but I still thought the game looked kind of cool anyway. Don’t know if I’ll ever pick it up, but it is a bit of a shame that the game probably was never fully enjoyed because Fish kind of ruined things.

    By the way, if you DO rip the tags off your mattresses… I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore! Unacceptable! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • My mattress tags are intact, let me assure you! I didn’t know much about Fish until after researching for and writing this review, and the less I knew the better. I’d still buy this game again, on discount, but I don’t advocate for him in the least, most of all because I wasn’t involved and I don’t care to be 😀

      Liked by 1 person

        • I think it can be done, as important as it is to talk about the man, I think one can focus on the product in relative isolation. What’s your take on that? Can a creation be enjoyed even aside from the personality of its creator, provided it doesn’t vouch for his/her personality?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I definitely think it can. For example, there are bands I like simply for their music but don’t care for their lifestyles at all. I like movies that have actors in them that do things I don’t care for (i.e. act obnoxious in public, etc.) If the creation is a direct extension of a horrible personality trait (i.e. racism or blatant violence) then no way will I be able to enjoy said creation, because it would make me feel bad to condone bad behavior. With that being said, ignorance is bliss- once you learn something negative about someone, it’s hard to sweep that under the rug and pretend you don’t know!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I paused my Let’s Play of BioShock to reply to this, because it’s something I think about and have to think about all the time. I’ll start with an example.

    Lovecraft is considered the Father of Horror. He created the Cthulhu Mythos and petty much the Cosmic Horror and existential horror genres that terrify and haunts us to this day. His influence is seen everywhere in novels such as Martin’s ASOIAF and games such as FFVII and SOMA. These works and others would not exist in the forms they do without HPL; however, he was anti-Semetic and a virulent racist. Many of his stories were metaphors for this disgusting character failure or blatantly talked about Black people as subhuman. I still want to write Cosmic Horror, because FFVII uses elements of it that would not exist without him, and of course this creates a sad irony since HPL wouldn’t even see me as someone who should (or could) read his works. My desire to do so doesn’t excuse his terrible beliefs, but I think you can balance it. I don’t think he should be honored by having his bust be the horror award, but his books shouldn’t be burned. In the latter way you can both educate people on what he was and what he wrote and garner what you want from it.

    Speaking of FFVII, you could argue (and I’m planning to do so in essay form) that it itself has connections and references to Naziism. There’s human experimentation that creates a super human, super Aryan-looking, super soldier who commits genocide, has (ugh) “mommy issues,” and attempts to take over/destroy the world. There’s also a fire cave called Dachau or a variation of that. It’s also how the narrative is presented and how it’s used, which is why I’d argue about *why* you were reading Mien Kampf. If it’s for research/comparison then I see no issue.

    As for should the average person research everything? No, it’s not possible, but if you find something out like the Salvation Army is homophobic and you still patronize them, then you’re complicit in that bigotry, because you can’t feign ignorance. But then again (and this is my conundrum with Walmart), you may rely on them for goods you can’t afford any other way, and I can’t sit in my ivory tower, able to shop at Target (which has its problems, too) and condemn you because you’re doing what you need to survive. It’s a structural issue that needs to be attacked from the top, not fought consumer to consumer, especially when those consumers are impoverished and have little to no power in the system.

    You’ve made a phenomenal, fundamental point about media. Very few narratives are created by one person, and even if they like a novel, so many more have their hands on it. Example would be Ender’s Game. Orson Scott Card was revealed to be a huge homophone, so people spoke up and boycotted the movie, but what about all of the thousands of other people who worked on it? Of course Card is reaping benefits from his book and the movie, but so are others. While I do agree that if a company has a particular outlook and especially if they donate to hate groups then you vote with your dollars. I also believe that movies can and should be called out if necessary, because bad publicity andpublic outcry does engender change. Ed Skrein decided not to take part in (still) egregious Hollywood whitewashing, which means he turned down that job, but people will remember that and he’ll certainly be offered others. Of course this begs the question of whether or not actors will now only do the right thing because they don’t want to be ostracized, but that’s often how the system works. Overt racism is still considered intolerable, and (most) people who participate in it are shunned, shamed, and lose influence, which can affect them financially. This either causes them to go covert (which is a major issue itself) or reconsider their point of view.

    I don’t think this is an easy question to answer nor is there one answer. It all depends on what you know and what you do with it. Once you have information, you can’t feign ignorance, but not one person is the sole creator of media (despite what Auteur Theory might say, but that’s a whole other thing). There’s also only so much control you have, because to be honest, there is no way to live in the western world morally. Everything we have and do comes at the expense of something and someone is a bad situation. It’s not a paradigm that can be changed individually, but rather necessitates an entire system over. Not to say you should just conclude you should do nothing to try, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    Sorry that was so long! This is just something I think about all the time.

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    • Well thank you for pausing BioShock for this! 😀

      Lovecraft was a creator I thought of as well while writing this and other commenters have mentioned him too. He’s an easy subject for this conversation, and in terms of the actual morality in question similar to the Wagner conversation I had with the mage. I agree with your assessment of him and his works. I enjoyed At the Mountains of Madness without consideration of his racism and without directly honoring the full range of his character.

      I think some clarifications in regards to FFVII and Kampf are that VII rightly portrays the human experimentation as being associated with evil and the genocidal super human is of course the villain. If these alignments were fundamentally reversed then I would have a problem with VII seeming to sympathize with or advocate a violation of bio ethics and genocide. The presentation of those ideas as villainous were moral, not immoral, and therefore objectively acceptable. I’m an objectivist, an absolutist in terms of morality, so I believe certain things are always wrong, full disclosure. Otherwise the things we’re talking about that are wrong would only be wrong in our opinions and then what about the person who says Hitler wasn’t wrong? Are they objectively incorrect or is that “just their opinion”? As for Mein Kampf, my statement in the review was I wouldn’t enjoy some Mein Kampf for bedtime reading. Very different from deliberate study! If I had to, I’d read it with gloves on like I handle every other poison, figuratively speaking. The context of this review was in enjoyment but research is a separate consideration with its own set of questions.

      Considering games and books are a products in a business just like Salvation Army runs its thing, I disagree that purchasing products equates to complicity in their errors. In my town there are a lot of homeless, if I were among them and I needed to purchase a shirt from Salvation Army for $4 because I have no shirt, and I can’t afford it from equally morally dubious Walmart for $16, then it doesn’t make me a bigot if I buy the shirt from SA. It doesn’t even if I know everything about SA. I need to and it’s a product, otherwise you’ll probably have to backtrack on too similar cases in buying the works of racists and so on. That’s why I said that line of thinking leads to paralysis and you showed that with your phrase “I can’t sit in my ivory tower”. Consumerism lets you vote with your dollar but you can’t expect to make perfect moral statements via consumerism.

      You’re really pointing out that there are so many different cases. There are too many to name but I think you fight this kind of thing by raising the moral standards of people, not by fighting organizations, because they’ll go bankrupt (maybe) but the people themselves won’t change. Of course how you raise the moral standard and questions concerning why humans behave the way they do and frequently do contrary to their own moral opinions and principles is a whole separate ball game that bridges into other fields. Knowledge does equal greater responsibility, certainly, and it comes down to what you do with it, yes, the individual choice. And when individuals act together then you have a society and a society with a raised moral standard can make new systems, so the germ is still the individual.

      Out of all this, I’m most interested in your assertion that there is no way to live in the western world morally? Are you claiming that you can live in the eastern world morally? Bearing in mind that, for one example, the west is the one who abolished slavery, not the east. I think the fact that we’re talking about and concerned with making better moral choices in terms of entertainment, products, systems and ethics means we are at least concerned with being moral. Again the issue is we don’t always hold up even our own morals and our behavior can be very immoral in some instances, but I’m confused by the phrase there is no way to live in the western world morally, specifically. I think living immorally is a fundamental human problem not just constrained to the west, and I think you can demonstrate that from history and current events!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your assessment/comparative of VII vs. Mein Kampf is excellent. I always think of it in that context because when I saw the connections with that regime, it was impossible to ignore. One of the, well, it’s not a problem with the narrative with VII, but rather a problem with how it will be seen as in the main catalyst of VII is humanity’s hubris since we were the catalyst for all of the events. Arguably you can mention Jenova, but had humans not unearthed it and used it for their own gain then things wouldn’t have escalated to where they did. This kind of goes along with our conversation on Discord about how games are discussed (Kotaku vs., well us) in that many would miss both the human hubris and ecological points of the narrative (which are so blatant and hammered in, I struggle to comprehend how that’s possible) to complain about how Aeris couldn’t be revived. In the same way, there’d be this absolute idea that reading Lovecraft or Mien Kampf under ANY circumstances is unacceptable, because the concept of critique is an unknown.

        That’s why I said what I said about it being bigger than the individual, but if I have the choice and I have the knowledge, and I still choose to participate in it then I am complicit, because I have both the information and ability to not do so. Not everyone has these choices, but once I have the knowledge and either have or gain the ability, then I do believe there is a moral choice to be made, but we can’t expect people who are just struggling to make ends meet to do so. Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs reigns supreme. No, consumerism will never allow moral statements, because consumerism as a concept doesn’t care about morals; it only cares about consumption at all costs, including costs to marginalized groups, the environment, etc.

        I think I should’ve specified I meant the developed world, because the developed world builds itself off of exploitation. I’ll often say “western world” as a synonym for that and I shouldn’t. I’m just used to using those terms interchangeably because western history is so prominent. I’m also wary about waving laurels for the abolition of slavery since that was a hard fought battle by enslaved people and their advocates, and the effects and outcomes of it are still felt to this day. It really wasn’t so much as just abolished, as “fought tooth and nail to be seen as human and that struggle continues today.” When I think immorally, I’m usually thinking along the lines of “What harms others?” and there are so many systems in place that literally profit off of human misery, and these systems are ones that you either don’t about/don’t know the harm or have no choice but to use to bring it back to my initial point. I’ve kind of stopped becoming angry at individuals and angrier at the institutions in place that uphold the issues, which of course is made up of individuals acting in ways to bolster themselves at the expense of others.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m gonna need to hire a secretary or PR person just to handle these comments! 😛 just kidding, conversation is my lifeblood.

          Fully with you on the first paragraph. With the second, I’d ask you at what point somebody is released from complicity if they have the information and (some) ability to not do so? Struggling doesn’t necessitate a complete lack of choices. In the homeless example, there’s the choice to deliberately earn funds through whatever means possible to avoid purchasing the cheap shirt but is that a moral necessity and is purchasing a shirt from Walmart a morally better choice? It may be amoral, for example, and there may be no answer to the question of whether we can measure the degree of immorality between all behaviors (given that that’s possible with some [cheating vs murder], but is racism better or worse than homophobia, or which of those are better or worse than murder for example?). I do agree that consumerism doesn’t allow moral statements and doesn’t care about morals, simply because it’s a non-autonomous concept. Morals are irrelevant until humans bring them into the system, but clearly spending X amount to purchase Y and sell Z doesn’t function on a moral level.

          As for the final paragraph I’m glad to have your clarification! For a note on your take on the abolition of slavery, I’d still hold that that fighting tooth and nail to be seen as human and to see others as human happened again in the western world, and the question then is why if the western world is somehow morally inferior to the eastern where slavery happily persists in far greater amounts. I originally thought you meant either that the west was inferior morally to the east (which I don’t think is evidentially defensible) or that the west is amoral in terms of morality being irrelevant to life in the west (which I think our moral discussion now as members of the west discounts). Your response seems to me to indicate that there is rampant immorality in the west, with which I wholeheartedly agree and which I’d go further to say is a universal humanity issue, and has been since our ancestors fought over watering holes. So then I want to ask you what you think the solution is, as it seems we’ve both come down the realization that individuals act in ways to bolster themselves at the expense of others, resulting in the institutions in question which, should they cease to function, could easily be remade by those same individuals at fault. Of course there are many possible definitions of what is immoral, though selfishness as you pointed out is a good line to think along, but then, with the question of what to do with individuals, we find selfishness present even in ourselves.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I would love to have a clone, but I don’t know if I could put up with myself. God bless my husband for doing so XD

            Struggling doesn’t mean a completely lack of choices in some situations, but it certainly cuts down on them for example, it’s well known that in the long run it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, but if you’re living in poverty/pay check to pay check, you probably can’t afford to do that, because you never know if that extra money you spent will be necessary for some emergency later. So while yes, you are choosing to patronize a company that someone with more options wouldn’t because of the way the business is run, you’re choosing it because later on there may be a situation where you either have no or less choices. It’s ironically extremely expensive to live in poverty, because people with resources are able to use those resources to spend less.

            Oh goodness no! I’m just used to the misnomer of western world, because it tends to often be synonymous. There’s no moral judgments about directions…except for the north. It’s really grim up there.

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  3. I liked what I played of Fez but never got very far in to it. I keep saying one day I’ll get back to it. I also say that about a lot of games.

    Anyway, I think the more interesting topic to come out of this review is the one of creator vs. content. It’s one I’ve often struggled with. For instance I’ve long been a fan of The Cosby Show and for that matter, Bill Cosby in general. My appreciation for his work came long before any of the allegations of sexual assault had come out. Now, knowing what has been released to the public (and also living very near where he is being tried), my opinion on him has changed a bit. I can’t really bring myself to return to his standup material as much of that seems like a lie now but should I feel bad about liking the Cosby Show? Should I discourage my kids from watching it? I mean… the show was good television. Similarly I’m conflicted on authors like Orson Scott Card (whom I knew nothing about when I read Ender’s Game) or H.P. Lovecraft, whom is often referred to as the grandfather of modern horror. And these are some of the artists I know have things in their past I don’t agree with but what of all the others that I don’t know about?

    And where do I draw the line? I care that Bill Cosby may have been a serial rapist but I don’t necessarily care that the members of Guns N’ Roses were flagrant drug users and often engaged in criminal misdeeds (even if they were misdemeanors). Yet I appreciate their art in both cases. Is that wrong? Is it wrong if I don’t stress myself out about it too much and just enjoy the art while (in the case of Cosby) condemning the crimes? I’m not sure what the answer is but ultimately I think it comes down to each individual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I finished I finished with Fez and I don’t know I’ll ever have the lateral smarts or the time and desire required to wade through its post-game content and solve every abstruse puzzle, as much as I enjoyed playing it early on. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the ethical portion of this piece. Ethics of course frequently raises questions which are hard to answer and that’s why constructing your own established moral system, open to input, is valuable in my opinion.

      I personally think that you can indeed separate the creator from the creation unless a few factors are present: the creator did something deemed too extreme by society and individual principles, and the creation represents and advocates for the personality and principles of that creator. I’m sure there are other things to put into consideration but that’s plenty for now! haha It’s a rough issue because there are so many different samples to apply this question too, as you pointed out. In the case of Cosby, of course we both agree that serial rape is wrong because rape is objectively wrong (I’ll make that assertion if no one else will), and the question then remains if the art is distinct enough from advocating and representing that great evil or not.

      Personally, I don’t think I can enjoy Cosby again because of the father figure he represented in that original show which was a perspective he clearly violated, but that’s me. I can’t tell you to do the same and I don’t expect you to. I’d expect a moral human being to arrive at a conclusion based on their morals, open to discussion. So in essence, yes! Individuality!

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  4. good point in touching on the topic of controversy of creators being involved in such things and whether or not that impacts our perception of their work. I think it sadly does impact most peoples view on their work. But like you said in anther comment, you never got to the bottom of Phil Fish’s controversy, simply because you don’t care. And neither do I. I hear to much gossip about people in the media, and it’s just noise to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading! There’s a lot of nontroversy and hysteria in our world. Occasionally there’s a very real extreme crime some creator commits and their work may actually advocate for their views, but in Fez’s case it easily comes down to the discretion of the individual. Fish might’ve been a jerk but I don’t think that enjoying Fez means I think his was acceptable behavior. It’s been fun to talk ethics with people here!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had heard about the game and of the controversy surrounding its creator, even though I never got to the bottom of what happened exactly, but I had never read about the game and its insane puzzles in as much details as I read here, and it was quite engaging! So great job, both in the review and in the discussion that preceded it.

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    • I don’t feel like I got to the bottom of it either but from what I learned, I don’t really care to. To me it seems like both “sides” were in the wrong, especially when you start telling strangers to kill themselves. These are games, people. As for this game in isolation, it’s pretty great. It’s worth picking up on sale but anyone will only 100% through tons of dedication or tons of Googling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “These are games, people”

        That sums up my feelings. But the Internet is, after all, a place of overreaction and where people show what they usually try to hide in real life. So I am not entirely surprised.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I mentioned this to some extent in my writeup on Vagrant Story, but I’m of the opinion that the “auteur,” as applied to video games, typically is used as a way to cheerlead much like one might for a favorite sports team as opposed to a means of examining a work through the lens of its creator. In other words, I firmly believe it’s possible to examine and enjoy Fez without the consideration of Phil Fish – to put it in a reductive way (my favorite way of phrasing things!) I can enjoy a burger without caring the tiniest bit about the life story of the chef, no matter how important that chef feels their life story might be. Something that’s come to define my views on games and gaming culture is that while I’ve never especially cared much about the personal lives and views of the people who make games, I’ve steadily grown to see the focus on the people over the games as an intentional distraction, a sort of smokescreen.

    The Fez controversy is particularly interesting because it occurred during an interesting period for games writing and culture alike. 2010-2012 was still a period where indie developers were riding high on the hog after the success of Braid, a point where much of the visible part of gaming culture was full speed ahead on the idea that indie games were going to “save” gaming from those vile publishers – and indie devs absolutely knew this and lapped it up. This was also the early days of open disagreement and dissent with regards to mainstream games journalism; until this point this was EXTREMELY rare, and even today it’s not something that most outlets are great at dealing with after decades of holding divine and unquestionable authority on all things regarding the hobby, thus the comments-are-closed culture on many gaming news sites.

    The combination of these factors, I feel, played a significant role in the backlash we saw over Fish and his comments: an indie scene growing too big for its britches ran headlong into a populace that had begun to find its voice, and that populace finally found the arrogance and condescension that was coming to define indie games just a bit too much to bear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of your Vagrant Story and auteur theory mention hen I was writing this, and I’m glad we share the same thoughts on this subject. The grayest area of it is the concept of supporting the creator based on purchasing their product, giving them money, but stellar sales help to sort out that area and make it a little less gray, at least in my mind. A smokescreen? That’s interesting. I’m thinking of the Last Night right now. Lots of politics bled into gaming. I just don’t care for any of that outside of the context of the game.

      I don’t really have anything to add to your second paragraph. That bit of history is something I was very much unaware of yet it perfectly describes how we got to where we are. I read a post a while back about how “Breath of the Wild is about white colonialism and Link saving people of color”, but I noticed the comments were disabled. I actually contacted the writer on Twitter to ask if they wanted to discuss their theory, but they never responded.

      Like

  7. Now, I’ve not palyed the game here, but the topic of creator behaviour vs. content enjoyment is an interesting one. As an example from a different industry, I quite liked a handful of songs by the band Lost Prophets, but never got around to buying any of their albums. Then, the singer was arrested for some truly vile crimes. Now, I am of course aware that listening to the band does not make someone identical to singer, but I still personally find it hard to split the songs and singer apart now, and so still do not own the songs that I enjoyed. That was an extreme example though.

    To a degree I think that it depends how much of an attachment I have to the content, and how extreme the controversy was, at least for me. It would be silly to say that all fans of a peice of media must agree with or share the creator’s views or behaviours, but it is possible for said actions to tarnish enjoyment, at least for some.

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    • Ah thank you for sharing your experiences on this! I agree and I think there are numerous factors that need to come into play: personal principles and values, the extremeness of the creator(s) crimes, moral failings, character, etc, how closely the creator(s) morality is associated with their content (is it their manifesto? is it advocating for their crimes?), and so on. In your case, it sounds like you were educated and principled enough to decide against purchasing the music which is fine. Music is interesting since you can listen to a lot of it without ever actually buying it. In the end, we both seem to agree that it comes down to individual agency to decide whether an individual chooses to purchase and enjoy some particular product.or not. But yeah, merely taking part in it doesn’t make you complicit in that creator’s moral or immoral sphere.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely! Guilty by association shouldn’t really apply to the enjoyment of a lot things. Take Earthworm Jim for example. I wouldn’t assume that all fans of the game share the creator’s recent views. I mean, I love the games, but it would be daft of me to support what he said. It all comes down to personal choice in what you buy and enjoy.

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        • Given that information is so plentiful today and that divisiveness and controversy are more prevalent than ever surrounding nearly every figure, it’s necessary that there’s no guilt by association with enjoying games, seems to me.

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  8. When it comes to the indie scene, I feel he wasn’t the only one engaging in that hyper-dramatic brand of posturing; circumstances (some of it his fault, some of it not) just happened to make him the most visible in that regard. It ended up being a another reason why I didn’t really get into the indie scene until 2014. By that time, the scene had mostly done away with that and the artists started letting their work speak for itself rather than having them speak highly about their work.

    As for the game itself, I have to admit I’ve never played it for a significant length of time; I tried at one point, but I didn’t get far. I do intend to somewhere down the line because it seems interesting enough even if by this point, its reputation precedes it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for you comment! I wasn’t aware of all that went down as it went down so my perspective on the drama is from a perspective of looking backward, but even with the few things I’ve read on the Fish fiasco, I am more than assured that all the dirt that got kicked up wasn’t due to Fish alone. People frequently use the anonymity of the internet to say garish and cruel things. It seems that the situation and emotions spiraled out of control because of people, and that’s how it always is, with Fish at the center culpable but not completely so. I played a few indies around that time but I had no idea what the scene was like until dipping into the ugliness around Fez. The game itself is quite good though so it’s a shame a lot of folks decided they wouldn’t play it.

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      • Yeah, I don’t think the unduly negative backlash was entirely his fault, but I do believe that he had the ability to cut down on his own vitriol, and one reason why the situation ended up as bad as it did was because he chose not to do so until it was far too late. It’s not a reasonable expectation to get that many people riled up at once and then say to them, “Okay, I’ve had enough. Stop being angry now, please.” It’s possible that his work still would’ve received hate had he been civil the whole time, but at that point, the negativity would likely have been directed at his work rather than Fish himself.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Seems like that’s the case with nearly every dumpster fire online. I don’t think any of the really big controversies would’ve been so big had the person at the center immediately said something that took the pressure out of the situation. Telling someone to choke on your junk doesn’t exactly do that but it just seemed like fire on top of fire from a lot of people. I don’t necessarily trust the articles and videos I watched that painted Fish out to be the devil. Seems like he had interesting points but didn’t go about making them in a civil way and people responded to that in kind and more. There’s no way we’ll ever know how much he could’ve deflated the situation but in the end the gamers who didn’t pick sides lost out on Fez 2.

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