GamerGate Interviews
"Damion Schubert" GamerGate Interview

The Escapist Staff | 10 Oct 2014 12:30
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Some developers have expressed concern over being blacklisted or stonewalled by if they side with gamers on #GamerGate. Are you concerned by this? Do you feel this is a legitimate concern?

I know that some companies have asked their developers not to talk about #GamerGate on EITHER side, because it's a delicate issue and it's so easy to screw up and somehow alienate half the people in the games industry. I know this because two of those people have privately given me 'thumbs up' type messages on my posts, which to be clear aren't anti-GamerGate as much as anti-Harassment and pro-chill-the-hell-out. I would assume there are others who are more sympathetic to the GG cause, but I haven't heard from any of them.

Some developers have expressed concern over being attacked by gamers if they side with game journalists or do not support #GamerGate. Are you concerned by this? Do you feel this is a legitimate concern?

Sure. A lot of developers, especially women, see what happened to Zoe, Anita, Leigh, Jenn, Anne, Mattie, Phil and in the past, Jen Hepler and Jade Raymond, among others. And before someone pulls out a list of people who were harassed on the other side, I'll say that two wrongs don't make a right, and that it shows how pervasive the mentality that this is an okay way to solve problems has become. It's not cool. Worrying about death threats, swimming through email and tweets full of rape, murder and other graphic references, having family members get phone calls threatening you and having to call the FBI should not be an eventuality that every developer or academic has to consider when stating an opinion about a video game.

Also, I think every male gamer should actually take the time to investigate what harassment looks like when a woman is deemed 'uppity' by the internet. Because if you haven't, you have no idea how much more vile it is than what men experience as 'average' harassment. Read this link. Now imagine a flash mob sent this stuff to your wife, girlfriend or mother. If you aren't really angry, you're doing it wrong.

Have you or developers you know received any abuse or harassment from gamers? If so, what form did it take?

Oh, jeez. I've been accosted in person in the parking lot by someone who wanted to complain about his class. More than a handful of people that 'dropped by' an MMO office to complain about a nerf, some driving from hundreds of miles away. I seem to remember Origin getting locked down due to a guy with a gun once. Richard Garriott had a fan break into his house. Jen Hepler quit the industry due to death threats. Jade Raymonde had all sorts of awful things said about her, including porn cartoons, because she had the audacity to be pretty while heading up a games team. Tons of people saying all sorts of things about my design skills or manhood because of changes I made to the game. Kotaku announced that someone threatened to bomb GDC this year because they gave an award to Anita. What's happened to Zoe Quinn in the last month is the most extreme case I can recall, but it tragically is nothing new.

Have you or developers you know received any abuse or harassment from game journalists? If so, what form did it take?

Not really. Journalists need to be nice to developers, or they stop getting information from developers pretty damn fast. I should note that most of these interactions aren't particularly shady - they're usually discussions between two people who love games.

Do you know of any studios or developers that have been silenced by concerns of how gamers or journalists will react to their opinion of GamerGate?

I don't have anything to add here that I didn't say above.

I think every male gamer should actually take the time to investigate what harassment looks like when a woman is deemed 'uppity' by the internet. Because if you haven't, you have no idea how much more vile it is than what men experience as 'average' harassment.

Have you ever been subjected to criticism of bias, radicalism, agenda-pushing, misogyny, racism, or similar because of your public comments, your actual game development, or other work in the industry?

Sure. Everyone has an agenda. On SWTOR, we shipped without same-gender romances, and we were pilloried - not by the press but by our own fans. For a YEAR they complained about it on the boards. So we added some in the X-pack. And then we got backlash coming the other way. Not including something is as much as an agenda as including something.

Here's the thing. Game developers are big boys (and girls). We can handle criticism and feedback. We can handle input in our craft. Good designers CRAVE input, because it's how you grow as a designer, whether it's a feminist criticizing how women are represented, or a gun nut complaining about accuracy if your gun models. Criticism is how art gets made. Developers can - and do - ignore this feedback all the time. People have been complaining about boob-plate and excessive violence since Doom, and yet we're just getting better and better at boob physics and making body parts fly off the torso in an orgy of blood-which I'm cool with, because I personally like both those things in the games I play.

And keep in mind that we get a TON of feedback. Because most games now have their own forums and community teams, we get most of that feedback directly from the people giving our money - our FANS. The press may decide to raise up some issue about something, but to be honest, they'll usually move onto a new story in a day or two. If our FANS don't decide that it's a priority, it'll disappear from our boards. If not, we know that the issue is actually a priority from the people actually playing our game and giving us money.

And all this feedback is mindblowingly contradictory. Read this nearly zen-like mock review of Destiny. Think about the dizzying list of 'things to fix' are implied if you're a game designer. Imagine a couple of lines were added to it about feminism, racism, whatever. It's one piece of feedback on a mountain of feedback, and the dev team has to decide what actually fits their vision, and what the priority is. That's how it should be. It really bugs me when gamers attempt to silence people who have legitimate voices in the debate, and claim they're doing it for me. They're not. They're trying to deny me information and insights that might help me make better games and reach broader audiences.

Are there particular articles, journalists, or game communities sites that are considered particularly egregious in their criticism on such matters by you, or developers you know?

The only opinions I consider 'egregious' are the ones that go beyond criticism, and bleed into threats, harassments, crusades, or bullying of people with opposing attitudes. And even then, you're often talking subcommunities inside of subcommunities. Reddit has one of my favorite SWTOR communities and Magic: the Gathering communities. On the flip side, it's also got a couple of subcommunities that have really been pushing the worst abusive tendencies and stupid conspiracy theories of the #GamerGate campaign. It's important not to tar all of Reddit or 4chan with one brush, but the forgotten corners of these huge communities did act as ground zero. The other parts of Reddit are still my favorite community on the net (though its weird seeing your name in threads as the great evil).

Other people, they have opinions, but lord knows, EVERYONE has opinions about the games that they play. Artists take the good, leave the bad and improve their art.

Imagine a development team composed of middle-aged white men creates a game explicitly aimed at young men called AMERICAN VENGEANCE that features a lantern-jawed white American soldier attempting to save his exotic-dancer girlfriend (complete with jiggle physics) from torture at the hands of Jihadists. Violence is the only way to advance in the game and the girlfriend's torture is as graphic as anything in the movie SAW. But as far as violent shooter games go, it is exceptionally innovative, gorgeous, and fun. Is it fair to give the game a low review score for lacking inclusiveness? Is it fair to give the game a lower review score for having violent or misogynist themes?

A game reviewer's job is to represent the interests of his readership, and give them the information that they need to make a purchase. Here's the thing, though: Every website has a different readership - and SHOULD. Carving out different niches in the games media is how all these little websites can afford to stay alive - that's called capitalism. As such, I would expect that IGN and GameSpot to have different expectations and values they bring to a review than, say, the Escapist, Rock Paper Shotgun or a girl gamers site. And that's fine.

And for what it's worth, players MASSIVELY are overstating the impact of these issues in reviews. I think we can all agree that GTA V and God of War III both had some representations of women and other issues that activists might consider... problematic. And yet, GTA V and God of War III both had sterling MetaCritic scores. Clearly, even the critics that felt the need to point these issues out didn't diminish the incredibly positive reviews they gave.

Do you believe videogames can affect the personality of their players, making them more violent or sexist, for instance? If so, how do you as a creator respond to this? How should the industry respond? How should society respond?

The best information we have right now is that games make customers more violent - but for a very short period of time, like a couple of hours. Effectively, you're 'pumped' right after you play a game, which should surprise no one. But does it result in real-world violence? Evidence suggests no. Since 1993, the rates of rape, murder and assault in the western world have been in decline, and are currently near 40 year lows. Given that period of time corresponds almost exactly with the rise of modern gaming, I'd say that detractors have a massively uphill battle proving that games cause violence.

Sexism is a trickier discussion. Many activists claim that normalization of women in demeaning and non-active roles bleed into perceptions of them in real life, and I suspect they're right, but this is much harder to actually test for or measure scientifically. Here's what we do know: (1) Sexist attitudes are a cultural product, and games are increasingly an important cultural component, (2) The anonymity of the internet allows the people who ARE sexist to express themselves with little fear of reprisal or censorship, which really is a big barrier into getting more women into games where voice chat is the primary mode of conversation. (3) And it is established beyond any reasonable doubt that more positive portrayals of women, giving more positive role models to girls, and giving more attention to female-friendly issues results in women having higher opinion of your work of art. That means that doing some little things can improve the reach of your game, and the loyalty of your female customers. If you can do that without compromising your core vision or your core audience, why wouldn't you?

I believe artists should be free to make the art they want. I believe that customers should be able to seek out and consume that art. But I also believe that the ability to speak comes with the responsibility to let other people respond.

Ultimately, which is more important: The individual artist's right to create artistic works, regardless of how distasteful we may find them; or our society's right to create an environment free from bigotry and hatred?

I'm a free speech zealot. I believe artists should be free to make the art they want. I believe that customers should be able to seek out and consume that art. But I also believe that the ability to speak comes with the responsibility to let other people respond. People should be able to critique art. I don't have to acknowledge that they're right, but they absolutely have the right to make their point. What I see from #GamerGate is a lot of people who would attempt to shut down that criticism of my work. That isn't cool. Let them speak.

It's been fashionable in recent weeks to compare Anita Sarkeesian with Jack Thompson. I've watched all her stuff, and I gotta tell you, the differences are stark. Jack Thompson wanted to shut down entire genres of games through the threat of legal or political action. I don't always agree with Anita, but she really just wants the games industry to make more kinds of games, make more diverse games, and make better games. Which even if we all disagree on what the term 'better' is, is a mission statement I think should be true for every designer in the industry.

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