I had a random thought recently that won’t leave my head. Allow me a minute to draw a parallel between two of my three careers.
I’m a high level ice hockey official. I’ll never make the NHL or even the AHL, but I’ve worked semi-professional and college club hockey. If I can work Division 1 NCAA, I’ve had a fantastic career. But over the past five years, in every level from youth to college, there’s been a major shift in how the game is played. Not in an X’s and O’s sense, but with some of the violent body contact that has been commonplace for generations. Checking from behind, contact to the head, excessive stick use, and other acts that used to be commonplace are now treated as the anathema they are, and after the death of three former and current NHL players in one off-season, all of whom were fighters, there’s even an increased call to rid the game of sanctioned fighting.
Despite the massive amount of evidence that most of these changes will result in fewer injuries of all severities at all levels, there are a large group of people—most of whom never played the game and could never, ever play it—who feel that hockey is becoming soft. Not softer—a relative term—soft, as if a game that involves grown men with sharp metal on their feet wielding sticks to propel a vulcanized piece of rubber at speeds of up to 100MPH at another grown man who is paid to get in the way of this object was on par with golf or bowling. “Hockey’s a game for pussies now!” I hear people telling me without a hint of irony in their voices. “It used to be a game for men! Now it’s for sissies with visors and all this padding! If you can’t take a beating like a man, get the fuck out!” Only in America can the sincere desire to raise children who haven’t had multiple sports-related concussions before their 16th birthdays be seen as being analogous to the fall of Western civilization, but thankfully, this mindset isn’t mainstream. It has, however, been a detriment for progress in the game, as people have resisted change partly due to machismo and partly due to the previous standard being the way things are always done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; but if little Timmy’s broke, get that kid some smelling salts so he doesn’t miss a shift. Of course, little Timmy knows that he has to be tougher than little Bobby or he’ll be anchored to the bench, the subject of scorn and ridicule. So little Timmy steps out against his best interests, risking getting rung up even worse.
This got me thinking: what is the difference between this mindset and that which permits the massive amount of crunch that is seen as having been a part and parcel of making video games from as far back as we can remember, and even moreso in the days of eight-digit budgets being routine and “delay” being a curse word? Complaints by workers about excessive crunch, and calls to change the culture, are regarded with laughs by executives, analysts, and a large swath of gamers. Why, game developers aren’t just getting softer, they’re getting soft! This used to be an industry for alpha-geeks! Now it’s all for fly-by-night sissies! If you can’t work 22 hours a day like a man, then get the fuck out! Only in America can a man’s sincere desire to have a somewhat normal work-life balance; actually be able to see his children; not feel like he’s being treated like a slave; or in the case of Team Bondi’s staff, actually get paid be seen as being analogous to the death of a righteous society. Thankfully, this mindset isn’t main— actually, it is fairly mainstream, from commenters on web sites to even analysts like Michael Pachter, who only apologized for basically calling the Team Bondi crew wimps once it came out that they didn’t even get paid. After all, in the words of the bitter consumer on most blogs, these idiots should just be happy to have a job in this economy, right?
The mindset is the same in both cases: people who are incapable of doing the jobs, and never will be, look for any excuse to pick at the people who are capable of doing what is still considered by sanely rational people to be a dream job. These people cannot fathom what goes into the things they don’t like to hear, so instead of trying to rationalize, they lash out. They stifle progress, chill discourse about legitimate problems, and make people who are going through very real problems—in this stated example, injuries and a killer work schedule—feel like they’re less than human. All because clueless, short-sighted people refuse to employ even a bit of empathy or common sense.