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Dear Sim Devs: Stop Being Insane

I think I said it best on my personal Instagram page; the past 48 hours have felt like living inside a Fox News article. After four years spent as a mildly successful sim racing content creator, and then another four as a contract worker inside the industry itself, I found myself out of a job and unable to comprehend the chain of events that led to this point. As I began opening up to my close friends and family about the situation, they didn’t understand it either, and they are equally as angry and confused as I am. This sentiment soon spread to some of my online comrades, and even former coworkers of mine.

There are a lot of people who want answers.

My official title with Slightly Mad Studios was QA Consultant – so the responsibilities of a regular QA guy, reporting bugs on Jira and the daily grind that comes with that role – along with simply giving everything another set of eyes from a hardcore sim racer’s perspective. It’s no secret that as a sim racing developer, Slightly Mad Studios have struggled with putting out quality titles since their time spent on top of the mountain with GTR 2 some sixteen years ago, and by having a “sim racing autist” on staff to nudge them in the right direction, they hoped to recapture some of that magic.

As we began work on the very early stages of Project CARS 4, I was told I was integral to the team and had settled into a really nice, relaxing rhythm after a few years of working on titles that weren’t my particular cup of tea – notably Project CARS 3 and Fast & Furious: Crossroads. I can’t really elaborate further than that because the game is that early in development – there’s nothing to leak even if I wanted to.

Enter Jason Jacoby, who I’d written about before on the original rendition of Pretend Race Cars. In the four years since my site was last active, he had progressed from running simple GoFundMe scams, e-begging, and having this fixation on being recruited into NASCAR among the likes of Josh Berry and William Byron, to exhibiting very psychopathic traits. This behavior was confirmed when his ex-girlfriend appeared in small iRacing groups on Facebook asking for help, and Jason’s YouTube videos deviated from iRacing content in favor of sporadic vlogs more akin to stuff Terry A. Davis would put out during his final years. The stories you hear about Twitch or YouTube personalities like Onision or James Saroka being absolutely batshit insane behind the scenes, that was now happening in sim racing.

I churned out a very hastily made video cautioning the sim community about Jacoby because it was the right thing to do, using the snippets of info his ex-girlfriend had provided me with, and encouraged people to call the police if anyone from his Discord or small YouTube community had any additional info to share – which they did, and most stories centered around him trying to lure young children to his house for “sleepovers.” I then departed for Rimbey, AB to film a friend’s mini-stock race because that’s about the only way to clear your mind after learning you might have accidentally exposed a predator.

From this point forward and after at least one arrest, Jason became fixated on yours truly and I would be the primary subject of his increasingly deranged YouTube rantings. As this dude lived in Georgia some 3,000km away, I very obviously wasn’t concerned for my safety, and really didn’t know what to do other than laugh it off. I think that’s a pretty natural reaction to have when some guy is writing piano pieces for you and angrily encouraging you to eat avocados or work out with arm bands. As this was at the height of various international lockdowns, this also passed the time at work – when I’d sign on for the morning, the QA department would all watch his recent uploads as a group. A coworker’s wife could even be heard in the background muttering I will destroy Austin Ogonoski when I signed on to the chat program.

Work knew about this guy for months, saw it for what it was, and didn’t have a problem with it.

That changed in early 2021. After violating his bond conditions via YouTube and getting in trouble with law enforcement for it, Jason began aggressively writing Slightly Mad Studios, Codemasters, and eventually Electronic Arts, these absurd emails detailing a suicide attempt nearly four years prior and said I was solely to blame for it. He would then brag about doing this on YouTube, so even though work would not let me see the emails, he proudly displayed them on his public channel anyways. His claims were obviously not true and conflicted statements he himself had made earlier on Facebook, in which he wrote the same story about his 2017 suicide attempt and instead claimed it was done for “being unable to escape the sins of my private life” or something along those lines. Reading between the lines, he is referring to having a child out of wedlock with an underage girl.

Our social media guy, rather than contact my department manager who had been following this story for months out of morbid curiosity and spoke with me on an hourly basis, instead went to higher ups, I presume believing this would be an exciting opportunity to get in good graces with the company and rid SMS of someone who deserved to be cancelled. I was specifically told this was the wrong course of action, and should have been squashed in minutes.

He did not realize he had been duped by someone with schizophrenia, nor did he seem to casually poke through his YouTube channel, and was taking the word of someone who was openly threatening to kill his middle school teacher on YouTube and within a month would be arrested for aggravated stalking, over the word of a four year employee that everyone had gotten to know pretty well.

This very obviously angered my coworkers, and set off a chain of increasingly bizarre HR meetings in which I found myself having to explain basic human decency such as why I felt the need to warn people about GoFundMe scams and why I felt the need to warn the sim community about a potential harasser and predatoramong us. Once it became obvious that the company had been been duped by a schizo and things should have never gotten to the point of official investigations, both SMS and Electronic Arts began moving goal posts and trying to find ways I was guilty of something anyway. If this sounds bizarre, it gets worse – Jason would be arrested again for aggravated stalking, and be sitting in jail without bond while we were having these meetings. Law enforcement had already made up their mind on this guy and pretty clearly deduced he was a threat to himself and others, while Electronic Arts felt differently.

This was compounded by a truly bizarre phone call I received on January 20th, 2021, from the CEO of SMS, Ian Bell. On a whim, I whipped out a GoPro camera and hit the record button. Begging me to keep the conversation private and not let anyone else in the company know about it, Ian had revealed the company wanted to get rid of me and began giving me detailed instructions on how to navigate future HR meetings, before claiming HR was “lazy” and didn’t investigate the situation thoroughly, as well as casually rattling off what mental disorders he believed I had – but it was somehow okay because he had them too.

Usually for any sim racing related stuff I try to just hit up friends on Facebook for advice, but this was deep into “I need multiple adults and possibly a lawyer” territory. I walked upstairs to my parents and tried to explain what had occurred, but the story was so bizarre and so far fetched – a multi-millionaire CEO personally called you to say you might lose your job, the HR department sucks, and diagnose you with mental illnesses – that they didn’t even believe me, immediately dismissed the idea of finding a lawyer, refused to watch the video I’d just captured, and assured me I wouldn’t lose my job. As someone who went through a mental health crisis in his teens, no matter how long it’s been without issues, there is always an underlying fear those issues will pop up again. I believe my parents had the same mindset, and accidentally mistook my honest request for assistance as a sign that my mental state was deteriorating and I was having some sort of episode.

In layman’s terms, what happened at work was so bizarre, that telling it to my own parents made me sound crazy, and made them not take me seriously.

A stance they continued to take until they watched the Zoom call in which I was told by HR my values did not align with Slightly Mad Studios or Electronic Arts, and my contract would not be renewed.

And to please take down the video of Ian Bell drunk dialing me. That was an important one.

With everything I’ve written thus far, I think a lot of people are going to want to indulge in some sort of online campaign against Slightly Mad Studios, Codemasters, Electronic Arts, or a combination of each. You guys can do what you want and it’s hard to argue that there shouldn’t be some sort of public backlash over this, but I feel like this is part of a much bigger picture and that’s what makes this all very difficult to swallow. It’s been a few days now and my anger hasn’t really subsided. Walking around the house and just completing simple errands is difficult; I often lose track of what I’m doing. Thank God I’ve abstained from alcohol or drugs as this could spiral out of control quite quickly.

Having worn many hats over the years, from avid sim racer to content creator to contract worker, I’m able to say in pretty good faith that sim racing does indeed have an issue with toxicity – as much as I hate that word having grown up in Modern Warfare lobbies and experiencing real toxicity, it’s true. However, the source of this toxicity comes not from the players, who are for the most part well behaved, but rather the developers themselves.

As I’ve displayed in the video at the top of this article, it’s really crazy and disturbing to see the amount of legal threats that have been thrown around over the years for something as simple as a critical review of a game or an update. When you wake up and are told a video of a car traction rolling in a game is “illegal”, or a 7/10 review is “slanderous”, something is very wrong and you also wonder how many others got the same email, for the same reasons, but are afraid to come forward. Multiple developers, yes, not just iRacing, have engaged in harassing professional drivers for otherwise mild opinions on certain games, making people like myself doubt 99% of content that is produced regarding sim racing – especially with the increased focus on professional drivers promoting these games. Developers quite regularly lip off their own customers in the forums, and seem unable to take criticism unless it comes from the right source, on the right day, written in the correct format – forcing their own customers to walk on egg shells just to talk about their favorite video game candidly.

And that’s if they’re allowed to do so, as some sims have implemented rules barring this criticism.

When called on their shit, some companies opt to just bribe their way out of it and get certain articles or videos pulled, rather than apologizing to said customers. Which is odd, because the latter is a much cheaper option.

A lot of us just wanted to play video games at the end of the day, and it has instead turned into an experience more akin to dealing with a girl suffering from borderline personality disorder. The examples of push/pull behavior, the gaslighting, future faking, splitting & devaluing of employees and customers, this is all stuff you’d expect from a girl you’d picked up in a psych ward, not your favorite video game, or in some cases, your employer.

The point I’m getting at is this: If this behavior continues to remain unchecked, the hobby is going to fall apart. Professional drivers are going to start leaving. Employees integral to each dev team, will find work in another field. Beloved content creators will suddenly go MIA and claim they’ve “lost their passion” for the hobby. Sponsors and investors may slowly pull out. These entities will not want to deal with constant legal threats, attempted bribes, behind-the-scenes meltdowns, or being rang up in the middle of the night and diagnosed with various mental illnesses.

So what’s it gonna be?

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