During the onslaught of media coverage attacking #GamerGate, developers were rarely given an opportunity to speak openly about how they felt about the media’s stance toward their own readers; demonizing their entire audience. Now that a lot of games journalists involved with damaging the reputation of the games industry have either left their positions or taking a backseat in how they express their opinions about gamers, #GamerGate and progressive topics in game development, developers have finally taken the opportunity to speak up and share their experiences about life, art, creative freedoms and progressive subject matter in game development.
I had an opportunity to ask some questions to three independent game developers working on a role-playing game with an interesting gameplay twist. Using pseudonyms, Gwen Lily, Nickolas Cage and Steve Macintyre offered to share their thoughts on #GamerGate, freedom of creative expression and the critics who have opted to silence and demean gamers and game developers who have chosen to stand against artistic authoritarianism.
Billy: I know you mentioned that you’re still early on in the development of the game, but is it possible at all to talk a little bit about the project?
Gwen: Yes. In fact I am posting dev vlogs about the it. The first one is here.
In short, the game is about killing monsters, grafting their body parts in place of your parts. You can also eat them, cook them, and make gear our of them. Use all parts of the mob!
We are using unity to create the game having been inspired by solution 6 months. We plan to make videos every step of the way. It is a simple enough game to make and we hope to use videos about what we do to help others learn to do it. We need more games made for a healthy free market. While we plan this first game to be a free product on release my hope is that we are all able to make more games in the future either together or on bigger budget teams.
Nickolas: We’re going for something mechanically simple and familiar in the RPG genre because, at least for me, it’s the first real game project. Fundamentally it’s about collecting body parts off of monsters to become the most effective, most silly-looking, hero you can. I saw it as a clever take on a lame joke you might make about old RPGs; “Why does this random wolf have a magic helmet I can wear?” Well in our game, you’re taking the wolf’s head and replacing your existing one! Other than that, the story operates as a framing device for this core combat system.
Billy: How did you all come together to start working on the current game project?
Nickolas: I saw a post about if from [Gwen Lily] and expressed interest. I liked the idea a lot and she invited me on to talk about it and flesh it out.
Gwen: [Solution6]. While many folk offered the only ones to be there for me since then are [Nickolas Cage] @BeesQuestion and [Steve Macintyre] @Draconis. [Nickolas] offered to help me make the game after reading my long tale and asking questions. [Nickolas] knew [Steve] and invited him to join in this exchange [on Twitter].
At this point the only ones active are [Nickolas] who will be starting to code in May, and [Steve] who is already working on art and animations.
I am the project leader and designer. I suffer from joint stiffness that gets worse by the year and hits all my joints. I can barely write on paper. I typo much because my hands don’t respond properly. I will never be able to code easily and writing for this interview takes energy away from working on just the game design. I also have random bad pain and on some days can’t think clearly enough so I derp on twitter and voice chat. Without folk like [Nickolas] and [Steve] I will never have a chance to make my ideas a reality.
Billy: Regarding the controversy that erupted last year… how did you hear about #GamerGate and what is the extent of the team’s involvement with the hashtag?
Gwen: I heard about #GamerGate on a rare visit to 4chan and /v/. It is because of the hashtag that we all followed each other and eventually started work on a game together. Though #Solution6Months helped spur us.
Steve: I actually witnessed the birth of GamerGate when moderaters on 4chan began censoring threads on the political forum when they tried discussing certain game devs and soon banning people for trying to keep posting to discuss the matter. Continual bans made it so difficult and frustrating that it made people begin to look for alternatives where they could discuss the issue, that lead to an exodus to 8chan where they started a new politcal board, It was later disovered that a close friend of said game dev was responsible for the censorship and it outraged visitors to the site which fueled the fire which would become gamergate.
Nickolas: I found out about GamerGate from being randomly recommended one of Sargon’s videos on the topic sometime in November. I joined Twitter shortly after Christmas to stay updated on the situation. I’ve really only spread info and done what I can to keep up morale and talk to people who seemed sensible. I met both Gwen and Steve from seeing them tweet about GamerGate and having interesting conversations with them.
Billy: Mark Kern encouraging developers to use #LetDevsSpeak has had some interesting results, with very few developers willing to step out and put themselves out there. For those unfamiliar with what’s going on, why do you feel indie devs and AAA devs alike are so afraid to speak out about the gaming media’s attack on the gaming industry?
Gwen: Because no one wants to be blacklisted and everyone wants to make their games in peace.
Steve: Simple. Higher ups in the IGDA are threatening blacklisting and exile from the professional game development community in no uncertain terms. The IGDA hung a sword of damoclese above any developers head dare they even mention the word gamergate and they have set up a climate of fear in what once was a secular and nonpolitical professional community.
Nickolas: PR is still a force for devs in a company setting. The perpetually offended crowd may be small group but they travel in tight packs it seems. No company wants to be slandered because an employee said something that made people upset, so they ask their devs not to engage. As for indie devs, I think a lot of them still believe that the clique has enough power to ruin their careers. They keep quiet, whether they agree with Kern or not. Simply put; it’s because they are the media, and people who aren’t used to serious crap being thrown at them aren’t used to dealing with the smear tactics of yellow journalism.
Billy: Recently a gaming website shelved an interview with a developer because the developer didn’t adopt an anti-#GamerGate stance. If we replaced #GamerGate with any number of other social topics, preferences or political stances, we begin to see how dangerous it is for press to have control over who gets to speak and how narratives can be shaped around the story they want to tell. What do you think developers, especially from smaller studios, can do to help get their ideas and their opinions out there without risking media backlash and being attacked by certain social groups?
Gwen: No escape from backlash. Group together and work with consumers to create a strong space. The more voices we have the stronger and safer we are.
Steve: Consider Gaming Media and Mainstream media dead as they are obviously hostile to developers. We have entered a new dark age of game development taken over by a new inquisition where lives are destroyed at whatever double-standard whim the neo-torquemadas and their personal armies decide that day. Thankfully, the rebuild initiative will give developers a safe haven to share their work without fear of personal and professional retribution.
Nickolas: At this point, there isn’t really anything to do but continue to defang the outrage culture that makes the tactic effective. Frankly, no amount of someone accusing you of being a misogynist is going to magically make you actually hate women. Their attacks are often ridiculous and I wish more devs would have the courage to say so in response. So we need to encourage people to say what they actually think and laugh at the armchair psychologists who try to turn disagreeing with them into a disorder. The media is going to supply the backlash as long as it sells papers, metaphorically, so as consumers we can also support media that emphasizes dispassionate truth and welcoming disparate views.
Billy: This idea of folding to pressure groups – having creative designs or decisions reneged at the behest of people who find them problematic – we’re seeing it happen very often and very public these days. Developers shamed or silenced into stepping away from something that select groups are offended by. Has this affected how you plan to approach subject matter in your games or how you plan to write or develop characters? Or have you taken a devil-may-care attitude about it all?
Gwen: I know from experience people will hate anything. I have been hated for being geeky. I have been hated to being LGBT. I have been hated for being poor and on welfare. I have been hated by my partners parents for being with her. People will hate and dislike and want to condemn a person, place, or thing. You cannot please everyone. I will make what I have the capability to make because I want to bring to others the joy games have brought to me. The games that helped me deal with all the hate.
Steve: Absolutely not. I’ve always created imagery that ranges from humorous illustration to more lewd and ‘progressive’ subject matter, but I restrain the latter to proper channels and I don’t force it down peoples throats and I like to believe there’s still a code of acceptable public behavior that everyone except social justice warriors understand and adhere to. People who know me for my comic strips know where to find them, and others who know me for other subject matter know where to go for that content. And never the twain shall meet.
Nickolas: No it really hasn’t. Up to a certain point I agreed “Hey yeah, I would like to see more female characters in games” but my response was to start working on games that feature female characters. I am not going to rework anything unless I see how it makes the work a better version of what I was trying to make. I’ll listen to fans, because I love fan communities, that’s where I grew up, creatively. But if someone who didn’t care anyway and just saw an opportunity to demand people pay attention to them tries to get in a fight with me over petty stuff, whatever.
Billy: Following up on that last question… in regards to certain media groups telling developers and gamers they need to grow up and be more progressive. Do you think gaming needs to be more progressive and in what way?
Gwen: Sort of. Harvest moon cute had the SSM style option (including adoption) removed for US release so as to not offend anyone. In the end we just need folk unafraid to write from their wants and experiences. Telling everyone that game design is an unsafe for women and minorities keeps them from making games and thus sharing their own experiences. They creating a self fulfilling prophecy. You see so much money going to certain media groups and their personal via patreon and none of this is used to support devs that would bring unique viewpoints. They prefer talking and shaming to putting their money where their mouths are.
Steve: Cathryin Mataga, a trans developer wrote Shamus for the atari 800 in 1982. She has had a long and successful career leading up to JungleVision software that has released Costume Quest. I would be very interested to hear her opinion on any kind of suffering or violence she has endured while being in the industry. Nintendo was progressive 29 years ago when they revealed the strong armored hero that saved the world was a woman. LionHead Studios 11 years ago released Fable, a game featuring the ability to become fat as a positive characteristic in one quest, non-stereotypical female bodies, and same sex marriage. Most recently, the ‘progressives’ attacked them for a non-lewd image of a barmaid because it was ‘offensive’. So far, the actions of those who push ‘progressiveness’ is puritanical and extremist so no. I do not want games to be more progressive at all. Not by their definitition.
Nickolas: “Progressive” is an arrogant term when you think about it. Everyone who wants to change the world wants the change to be for the better. But one group a century ago decided they were the only ones doing it right and took the word “progress” to make their name? What a bunch of arrogant blowhards. Growing up as a medium means addressing any topic. It doesn’t mean making people who don’t care about the medium “respect” it by pulling out everything that makes it unique and unfamiliar to said “respected” people.
For me I realized that if Doom, for example, had a black female hero but the gameplay was the same; then nothing that made me like the game would change. Nothing that I cared about was being changed. This criticism is shallow and not actually useful for making good games. They don’t really care about making better games. Frankly, I don’t think anyone has the right to tell an entire medium what it needs to be; so no gaming doesn’t need to be more progressive, or more liberal, or more conservative, or more ANY ideology. It needs to be a medium where anyone can use their skills to say whatever they want.
Billy: As far as diversity in gaming goes… we’ve seen some indie developers and AAA developers attempt to interject various types of characters and social situations into all manner of games. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Is diversity in all types of genres and game types something you feel developers should be pursuing, or do you feel developers should just stick with what fits within their comfort zone even at the risk of alienating some audiences?
Gwen: I feel that developers should take risks. What those risks are, are up to them. I don’t like the idea of sticking purely in one’s comfort zone. however, I will not fault anyone that does so. This is their project, their baby, and what matters at the end of the day is if it is fun or not.
Steve: There have been polls asking that question that shows people are very open minded about characters and welcome diversity as long as it isn’t just put there for its own sake. Take a cue from JK Rowling who had a very prominent character in Dumbledore who happened to be gay. It added to his character and gave him a very well rounded and interesting backstory without the need to put him in a visual sex scene with a gay minotaur because it’s time for the readers to ‘grow up’. The only people who need to grow up are those acting like terrible two year olds who think the world must cater only to them and their opinions.
Nickolas: In my opinion, diversity of the superficial characteristics of the characters isn’t even on the radar. If a developer wishes to pursue it, that’s their choice. If a developer thinks that making a circus version of humanity will score them points with the Starbucks RaceTogether “Look how interested in society” crowd, it’s also their choice, but I find it grating. Diversity in the content, type, and development teams behind games will come about naturally from gamers and game devs playing and making the types of games they want to play. No one is excluded from gaming.
(Massive thanks to Gwen Lily, Nickolas Cage and Steve Macintyre for taking time out to answer the questions. You can learn more about their project by following Gwen on Twitter at GwenLilyKnight or keeping tabs on the developer vlogs on YouTube.)