A Screenshot, a Meme and a “Transphobic” Tweet: How Game Journalists Hounded One Man Out of Work

Sean Halliday, a community manager for Good Old Games, was fired after he accidentally tweeted under a hashtag with sociopolitical connotations. Now he’s been hounded out of a second job and is unlikely to find future work in the games industry, due to the obscene coverage surrounding his dismissal from the company.

Halliday, a part-time Twitch streamer and video game critic, thought he’d got his dream job when he was hired to work at Steam rival Good Old Games, which publishes classic video games, and forms an extension of the famous Polish studio responsible for The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. With his keen understanding of gamers, Halliday was able to clean up the derelict GOG forums and spark healthy interaction within the community.

By all accounts, Halliday was very good at his job, and he was swiftly promoted to managing the company’s public-facing social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, where he drove interaction and attention to GOG’s social media profiles, which had previously been posting little more than out-of-touch PR snippets and announcements about new games, which no one would have had any interest in even checking out—were it not for his ability to make them sound interesting.

Halliday sparked gamers’ interest by lending the warmth of humanity to the company’s cold social presence and engaging in trending topics on Twitter. He was good at memes, and he was good at giving the otherwise faceless company a likeable image its audience could relate to.

But, overnight, his dream job turned into a nightmare.

He made the mistake of tweeting out a promotional image for Postal 2, a game once decried by fundamentalist boomers as the worst video gaming had to offer.

The promotional image for Postal 2, which he didn’t look at too closely (and who could blame him because the detail is so low), featured a tombstone inscribed with the words Game Journalism with a cause of death and date that accurately corresponds to reality. You would be forgiven for not recognizing the importance of these details, minute as they are, as they correspond to the event of the Twitter hashtag GamerGate—which took place on 28 August 2014 and continues to reverberate through the gaming press. In one regrettable series of articles, the press declared itself irrelevant.

Game journalists took issue with the promotional tweet, declaring GOG to be problematic because it offered what they saw as tacit support for a harassment movement. GamerGate was essentially a manifestation of gamers’ dissatisfaction with the gaming press, whose moralistic journalism attempted to socially manipulate its audience into the acceptance of an unsubstantiated and often radical ideology. What they should have done, instead, is provide objective information about games.

Halliday weathered the storm, at least at the time, and the seas of outrage calmed as the games media moved on to the next outrage du jour.

Then a tweet appeared, on the topic of Cyberpunk 2077. It was a joke—a hoary joke that pokes fun at intersectional feminists: “Did you just assume their gender?” Halliday was not responsible for the tweet, which was issued by CD Projekt Red’s independent public relations team, dedicated to promoting the game. Gamers got the joke. Games journalists did not. Instead, like small dogs that bark loudly, they complained until the studio was forced to delete its tweet and issue a public apology—no doubt an insincere one, given the triviality of the topic—to appease the madding crowd.

Already on thin ice now, Halliday then stumbled upon the hashtag #WontBeErased under European trending topics on Twitter. Lacking context for the hashtag, which was a political one, the social media manager tweeted a joke under the hashtag, to promote GOG. Before he did so, he ran it by his manager and got his okay. Everything was looking good until he received a message from a fan of GOG advising him of the hashtag’s true purpose and he deleted it, just two minutes after it went live.

Halliday would later tell Eurogamer, the first and only publication to interview him over his firing from GOG, that he had drafted an apology for the tweet to go live as soon as he realized his error, but his manager wasn’t overly concerned and went to bed.

By the time his manager had awakened from his beauty sleep, it was too late. All hell had broken loose. The damage was done, and any effort at an apology would’ve been hours too late. The mob declared the tweet transphobic.

Halliday’s family was doxed by members of the ResetEra gaming forums, his personal details exposed and laid bare by activist game journalists from Rock Paper Shotgun and VG247, who linked to and shared his information in their articles, as if they were performing a public service by ruining his life. His sixty-four-year-old father back home in Newcastle received harassing phone calls from Americans shouting bigot and you should be fired.

None of that mattered to his bosses. Instead of using his pre-written apology—the only thing that could’ve saved his career had he been allowed to put it out sooner—the company opted to run with its own statement instead.

“The intention behind our tweet was to inform about a release known for controversial content,” the tweet read. “Unfortunately, we’ve failed to make the association between the image, the date, and an abusive movement. Our intention was never to hurt or condone hate.”

It wasn’t much of an apology.

They fired him anyway. Halliday was, apparently, more trouble than he was worth for GOG, a company too skittish to properly handle social media and the braying of an incomprehensibly rabid mob that sprints from outrage to outrage.

His story would’ve been over then, had it not been for his decision to speak to Eurogamer—a publication that had already proven itself to be a part of that rabid mob, and which had written extensively on GOG and CD Projekt Red’s excesses of unwokeness. It was a mistake to speak to Eurogamer, but Halliday just wanted to put the past behind him and grant an interview to a mainstream publication, which he thought would clear his name. After so many one-sided takes on the situation, he wanted to tell his side of the story and present himself as who he was—a man who made a simple error that cost him his dream job.

But Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese was anything but sympathetic. The game journalist offered up a simulacrum of Sean Halliday, which he’d already sculpted in his mind. This Sean Halliday was a bad man. A man whom you could and would learn to hate. A man who would brag about his friendships with minorities and his penchant for watching LGBT YouTube channels, “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” in his off hours—as if to excuse who he truly was. A dishonest man, who lied about his ignorance of the biggest gaming controversy since Hillary Clinton went to war against violent video games.

He was a man who polluted the gaming industry with his bigotry towards the marginalized. He represented everything that is wrong with the game industry—he was a man who made people feel excluded on the basis of ability, race, gender or economic background. He had a fashy haircut in the only photograph published in the article. Sean Halliday was the avatar of GamerGate, projected into the form of a human being.

The evidence for his insidious nature was compelling, as presented by Purchese. According to the Eurogamer author, he claimed to be a freelance games journalist unfamiliar with GamerGate. Purchese asked, “How could a paid freelancer—a games journalist—writing this kind of sentiment be unaware of what GamerGate was?”

If you did not hate Sean Halliday by the end of the article, it was because you knew better.

Sean Halliday wasn’t an actual games journalist. He ran a hobbyist blog, while working full-time for the UK government. In his blog, he shared his passion for video games with his limited audience and talked about contemporary video games in dozens of articles. Only two of these articles were critical of politics in the games industry. The blog was called Pixelgate. Despite being established prior to the events of GamerGate, it would be a name that would come back to haunt Halliday and was cited as proof of his association with GamerGate.

One of his crimes was to offer mild criticism of feminist Anita Sarkeesian and her male feminist ally, Jonathan McIntosh. The two were viciously attacked by a handful of gaming enthusiasts, who saw them as colonists encroaching into native territory, wanting to change games into a vehicle for feminist politics. He criticized them for using E3, the world’s largest video game expo, as a soapbox for their politics. They certainly did that. His only other crime was to criticize writers of the mainstream, left-leaning games website Polygon for using identity politics in their condemnation of triple-A video games. Halliday wrote, “It’s not that these people can’t express an opinion, it’s just the way they go about it. Rarely offering alternatives, they prefer to preach and preach and preach.”

He wasn’t wrong, and he was not alone in his remarks. The world’s most popular webcomic, Penny Arcade, offered scathing criticism of Polygon time and again. The publication was, and remains to this day, a living meme—full of games journalists who don’t know how to play video games but love complaining about them.

Halliday was not wrong to criticize them for being out of touch. But his words, once again, came back to haunt him. Kotaku’s Ethan Gach notes in his own hit piece on Halliday that the two articles in his blog had been “deleted.” Gach, much like Eurogamer’s Purchese, ignored the many other articles published on the little read blog, or the stories he wrote for another small (and now nonexistent) website.

Halliday had written about how The Last of Us presents its only homosexual character. The effort to make his sexuality so subtle and understated, he wrote, should command enormous respect for its writers. He wrote on the topic of female video game characters, offering a diverse set of examples to state that “the world needs” them, if only to provide broader representation for women in games.

Insofar as the narrative goes, none of these articles, which he presented to Eurogamer’s Purchese, ever existed. They were memory holed, replaced by a fictional narrative about Halliday, which continued with the publication of another hit piece in the Daily Dot, which followed Halliday to his next gig—at an upcoming publication called Exclusively Games.

Assigned to work with YouTube gaming personality Jeremy The Quartering Hambly, Halliday was to manage the site’s social media presence and do for the site what he did for GOG—keep the conversations clean and the community apolitical. After all, the stated purpose of this new website, which was created by Hambly, was to serve as a counterbalance to the increasingly partisan mainstream publications and cater to gamers disillusioned by political content in gaming criticism.

Writing for the Daily Dot, games journalist Ana Valens incorrectly describes the largely apolitical Hambly as a “right-wing YouTuber,” and misrepresents his history with Magic: The Gathering. Like others in gaming, Hambly is disillusioned by the gaming press and hired Halliday to work for him after witnessing the unfairness of his dismissal from GOG.

Although the author largely regurgitates the Eurogamer interview, the Daily Dot went undercover onto Exclusively Games’ Discord channel, where Valens sat around and took screenshots of Halliday’s interactions with the community. His most damning indictment was to advise chat participants to stop using SJW and other incendiary political buzzwords and remain calm in their conversations.

Valens refused to allow Hambly to comment—probably since his response would have damaged the narrative that the gaming media, and the Daily Dot, are actively promoting: it’s a smear campaign against Halliday, who was essentially forced out of the game industry with his prospects in ruin over a Twitter hashtag. Halliday decided to step down from his role at Exclusively Games, due to the gaming media’s continued scrutiny of his life.

Halliday, an otherwise unknown figure in the game industry, is only the latest casualty in the on-going culture war that’s being actively fought by a woke gaming press, which cannot go away soon enough. How many more sacrifices will it take before these arbiters of the game industry are finally overthrown in favor of a gaming media that serves the interests of the consumer?

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2 comments

  1. Sadly I can’t take Ian very seriously after following him on Twitter. He feeds into outage culture just as much as those he claims to fight against, just from a different angle.

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