Some thoughts from an anarchist and demagogue

Snipehunter's picture

As an aside, I'll mention that a fellow designer once called me an anarchist. It was mostly unrelated to work in that it was a conversation about censorship and personal responsibility. My stance was that, while people should be accountable for what they do and say, they shouldn't be penalized for the way other people react to what they've said. The example at the time was of someone saying, "I hate you, you really ought to go off yourself" and then watching in horror as the person being spoken to acted on the suggestion. The stance I took was that it was the suicide's responsibility to not kill himself - after all, how can the speaker be held responsible for what goes on in the mind of another person?

I think that the moment we begin to regulate speech, we risk shutting down the exchange of ideas - and that society as a whole suffers for the sake of the thin-skinned or those lacking the self control to police their own reactions. My colleague couldn't disagree more, stating that it was irresponsible to speak when you know it might offend someone and shame on me for saying otherwise. To tell you the truth - I didn't mind the label. I don't believe for a moment that I'm an anarchist, but gods know this world could use a little revolution in thought, so maybe this designer wasn't so far from the mark, in labeling me.

Fast forward a year or so and here I am, the latest in a long line of people whose opinions have inspired a wave of invective from the thin-skinned and those lacking the self control to police their own reactions. I find myself still feeling as I did before... and yet, simultaneously an instigator of what amounts to internet anarchy, at the same time. I guess my colleague and I were both right... You know, in this industry that happens more often than not....

I think the thing that amazes me most about this whole writing dust up is the way everyone assumes I'm some sort of expert, or that I somehow view myself as much. As any long time reader here can attest - I do not consider myself an expert. In fact, I don't think this industry has any experts in it, at all. We're all struggling in the dark, trying to find out what we are and any one of us who claims otherwise is either sadly mistaken or deliberately misleading you.

Never trust a "game industry expert" -- they're trying to sell you something.

In fact, that's a big part of why I don't think there are any experts. Everything the experts say out on the internet is filtered, redacted and decathected by their benevolent corporate overlords specifically because people listen to them. People listen because they believe that these so called experts will show them the way, but all they’re really doing is schilling the company line. You have only to look at the ridiculous braggadocio amongst the console makers to know what I’m saying is true. Who cares that Stringer hates the Xbox? Why is that reported as news? It’s because Stringer was important – because people were listening. So the real question is, why did Stringer say it? Because he knew you all were listening and he needed to sell some PS3s, that’s why. That’s expertise? Thinly veiled commercials? I guess I’m unfamiliar with that definition of the word.

For now, at least, I have the luxury of obscurity -- I can get away with speaking my mind, but how long will that last? How long will it take until I'm the next Chris Hecker, parroting off an apology that the world knows I don't believe? This row about writers has brought my name up to people all over – especially people you might think have no stake in the games industry at all, like Hollywood producers, actors and writers. The cloak of obscurity that gave me the freedom to really speak, is basically gone... and I say all of this despite the fact that the company where I work has not actually done or said anything of the sort, yet.

They will, though.

They have to -- The internet is as much a marketing machine as it is a source of information and even though what I write here is in no way connected with my job, someone out there will make that connection for me... despite my protestations. The second they do, any part of the market that disagrees with me will begin to hate on my product. Witness the way gamers manipulate Amazon ratings and reviews when someone speaks up against gaming in general.

It's sort of sad, isn't it? We limit ourselves with this atmosphere of retaliation. We end up so defensive that we lash out instead of actually listening to what people have to say. We miss opportunities to better ourselves and our art form, as a result. The questions and thoughts brought up by Gama reprinting that blog were good ones. It could have been a good dialog - a step forward in truly defining what it is that games actually are, but instead, the last few weeks have been largely squandered in knee-jerk reaction that does nothing to further the debate for anyone, regardless of their position.

That being said, I’m glad people did see that article. There were reactions - both positive and negative - that were interesting and thought provoking. Many of them helped me to examine and evolve my position, from that vague rambling that was its origin, into a strong and real desire to redefine the way games can be used as expressive media. I hope that I'll find it's made me better at my job... can the people who spent their time casting aspersions (or worse, who did so as a way to pimp their contract writing service), say the same?

Ah well, I digress. To get back to the point, I'll say simply: The one thing none of this has done is make me an expert. I've been working in the game industry for well over a decade now and I still don't think of myself as an expert -- I won't when I retire, either. Video Games are unique and more importantly, they're young. They are unsophisticated, not because they can't be anything more, but because we have only just begun to truly explore what we can and can't do with games.

Everyone loves to make comparisons between Hollywood and Games and when they do they often liken the current gaming market to the Big Studio era of Hollywood, but I'm not sure that's true... Or if it is, we're in the very early days; we’re nowhere near the “Citizen Kane of games” that everyone talks about. But you know what? If we keep comparing ourselves to Hollywood, or worse - let them press us into their mold - we will never get any closer than we are, today. That's the wrong course... and I think Hollywood knows this.

With my friends, I often joke about folks wanting to "eat my lunch" (a reference to a Raph Coster blog I read last year), but there's a point where that stops being a joke and that point involves the imposition of the modes and structure of traditional media in video games. How many of those writers who took their time to lambast me (rather than contribute to the debate), did so because what I said frightened them?

Traditional Media as business is in its sunset years. It stands at a crossroad where it must adapt or stand aside and be supplanted.

Hollywood really does want to eat my lunch -- it has to because some day, maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but some day (and for the rest of its life) it won't have a lunch of its own. Traditional media makers see this and want to make sure that this happens as a result of fusion, rather than supersession. Do you blame them? I don’t. They want a say in their future.

The thing is; so do I.

To be blunt: I'm not sure that fusion is a bad idea, but I know one thing for sure: I don't want Hollywood - or any traditional media - to drive that process. If media is going to fuse, all forms have to do so on an even footing, or all we’re really talking about is more Big Studio consolidation, right?

For this industry to come into its own, we will need the freedom to experiment. We will need an environment where our developers can speak their minds – where collaboration and thoughtful debate are king rather than subjugated and pressed into service as marketing vehicles. We will need an environment where experimentation and innovation are rewarded. We will need an environment where risk is preferable. We will need an environment unfettered by the modes and forms of traditional media.

Most of all, we will need an environment where all involved recognize that there is more unknown than known – an environment where no one is an expert.

- Snipehunter

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