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Subnautica sound designer Simon Chylinski was fired this week, as a result of a series of tweets he had made that were branded racist, sexist and transphobic. In the tweets, Chylinski responded to a post from far-right InfoWars editor/conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, discussing “Islamic no go zones,” writing: “importing random ppl from the 3rd world is also importing 3rd world tier crime rates and IQ.”
In another tweet, Chylinski shared a survey asking participants which gender they most identified with, including transgender male and transgender female. He replied: “Helicopter. The attack kind,” in reference to a meme frequently used to mock trans people.
After the tweets began to do the rounds online, Unknown Worlds Entertainment promptly shut the door on the sound designer. “Over the weekend we discovered that one of our team members had made many hateful statements online that are against our company values,” Game Director Charlie Cleveland said. “After discussing the matter with him, we decided to stop working with him immediately.”
Inevitably, the backlash against Unknown Worlds began. Subnautica has already started to receive an influx of negative user reviews, the early stages of the review bombing we so often see when a developer takes a stance that doesn’t fall in line with the angry internet hivemind. It’s been used as further evidence of the gaming industry’s supposed conspiracy against Conservatives, with the notion being bandied about that Chylinski was fired simply as a result of his political inclinations, rather than the divisive opinions he had opted to share with the general public.
As he noted in a live-streamed discussion following his dismissal, Chylinski had been working with Unknown Worlds for eleven years. Considering the long career he had enjoyed with the company, it seems that his right-leaning politics previously hadn’t factored into his employment. The cause of his firing was directly related to the opinions he had decided to share online, not his private politics.
People being fired for sharing inflammatory opinions online isn’t a new thing. For the better part of two decades, we’ve read countless stories of employees being ousted by their employers for their online conduct, ranging from them being given the boot for slandering their company online, to making insensitive comments regarding controversial current events. Protestors complaining that Chylinski being fired for conflating transgender people with “attack helicopters” is laughable are correct — it is thoroughly laughable that any individual would risk their career over a transphobic “joke.”
The majority of us understand how the modern world works. We know that sharing controversial opinions online is much the same as shouting them out loud in a crowded place, only there’s more chance of you doing so being recorded for posterity. Is it right that this is the case? The answer to this question firmly depends on the situation but in this specific example, Chylinski’s comments were brought into question by his employer as a result of them potentially having a negative impact on the future diversification of its workforce.
In an interview with alt-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos’ outlet Dangerous, Chylinski discussed the reasoning behind his firing. “They began asking me how I would react if they hired a Muslim or trans person. I said I’d debate them like anyone else on the team if I disagreed with them,” he said. “They said that this would create an unwelcoming working environment and that they see it as a problem that almost only white men are working there, and they need more diversity and that what I said would make that difficult to achieve.”
Firstly, I would wager that a Muslim or trans person wouldn’t want to join Unknown Worlds in order to “debate” its sound designer; they probably just want to create good video games. Secondly, these comments are completely reasonable; if Unknown Worlds is looking to diversify its workforce, then would a trans person or anyone even remotely sympathetic to trans issues want to work with a guy who compared being trans with being an attack helicopter? Or how would immigrants/children of immigrants react to working alongside someone who berated their “3rd world tier IQ?” Or how would white people with the propensity to acknowledge and respect others outside their own immediate worldview feel about it?
The storm of controversy surrounding Chylinski’s firing is frustrating though not surprising. As those sharing their opinions online are being held increasingly accountable for what they post, individuals who share similar opinions to Chylinski are inevitably becoming nervous, and are left to ask: “If this is the direction the world is headed in, will I eventually get placed under the microscope for my opinions?”
It is understandably scary to think that anyone could lose a career spanning over more than a decade as a result of Twitter, looking past the content of his tweets. If you aren’t particularly self-aware or aren’t sympathetic to the beliefs of those around you, then I should imagine that looking at social media is a little like standing in front of a minefield and wondering which opinion will eventually blow you up.
Sometimes employers overreact, other times they understandably want to wash their hands of an individual who is likely to cause them further problems down the line. In the streamed discussion following his firing, Chylinski noted that he thought Unknown Worlds would give him a slap on the wrist and tell him to “stop making us look bad.” He knows the comments he was making online were divisive, but he wasn’t quite expecting them to divide him from his place of work.
Many believe it to be absurd that a man has lost his long-standing job over a few tweets, but this would be the case in literally any job — you put your employer in a compromising position publicly, and unless they want to go down on the ship that you’re intent on sinking, there are almost certainly going to be ramifications. After he was fired, Chylinkski tweeted: “Feeling like im spinning.. almost like a helicopter.” It seems that he won’t be using this debacle as a learning experience.