No matter how realistic Electronic Arts makes its NBA Live series, we all were hoping to escape mention of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling in the world of video games.
By now you've heard of Sterling and his incendiary opinions on race. But it was a community manager for Evolve and Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock that dragged the racial debate into gaming.
On April 30, the studio's Josh Olin tweeted: "Here's an unpopular opinion: Donald Sterling has the right as an American to be an old bigot in the security of his own home. He's a victim."
A bit later, he added, "When you were raised in an era where segregation was perceived as 'right,' that will stick with some people. Doesn't make him a monster."
Apparently some tweeters thought otherwise, and told Turtle Rock as much. About 24 hours later, the studio responded to complaints via its own Twitter feed.
"The comments made by our former community manager stand in stark contrast to our values as a game-development studio," Turtle Rock said. "We sincerely apologize for his remarks and in no way endorse or support those views."
If you didn't catch that, Olin is no longer employed with the studio. And according to the former community manager, the whole thing was an overblown mistake over his criticism of the media.
"Anyone who follows me knows my tweets were not in support of Sterling's actions," Olin told Kotaku in a statement.
"Rather, they were promoting three core tenets I believe in: 1) The harm sensational media presents to society. 2) The importance and sanctity or your privacy within your own home. And 3) The right to be whatever you want to be as an American, as long as it isn't hurting anyone else. That last point was not to be confused with condoning Sterling's actions, which I don't.
"That said, it's disappointing to see that a select few in Turtle Rock and 2K Games management bought into this hysteria without even having a conversation with me — or even thoroughly reviewing the context of the tweets themselves."
A lot of people have come out in support of Olin, agreeing his point was taken out of context and that he was treated unfairly. Some have even called for a boycott of Turtle Rock's Evolve, a move Olin doesn't condone.
There's a larger issue here than just whether you should punish a studio for either having an employee make a controversial remark, or for punishing the source of said remark. And ironically, it's a similar problem to what Sterling faced when getting bounced out of the NBA.
Sterling didn't lose his team because he's a racist. He was a well-known racist for decades prior to commissioner Adam Silver taking action. He lost his team because he eventually presented himself in a public way (unwilling though it was) the league, as a moneymaking enterprise with 30 franchises, found too detrimental to its business plan.
That's a distinction Olin would do well to keep in mind when he badmouths Turtle Rock and 2K Games. As much as he wants to blame what he described in a Kotaku follow-up this month as a knee-jerk reaction to "outrage culture," the bottom line is that Olin was an employee — a community manager no less! Paid to interact with the public and represent the company! — and he said something he had no business saying.
Whether you think Olin's opinion is accurate or not, there's no escaping the fact that what he deemed "malleable management" has the right to boot him to the curb if they feel he has damaged the perception of the company. Given that scads of people complained to the studio about his conduct is proof enough he had broken the rules.
And like Sterling, Olin certainly is allowed to say whatever he likes in private, but when it becomes public it's lights out. Olin didn't even have the benefit of being surreptitiously recorded by a mistress like Sterling was. But posting something on Twitter, bulletin board to the world, carries certain consequences, whether comments spark calm discussions or rancor.
Unfortunately for Olin, there was enough of the latter to cost him his job.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.