GamerGate Interviews
Greg Costikyan GamerGate Interview

The Escapist Staff | 10 Oct 2014 16:30
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Greg Costikyan is an American game designer and science fiction writer. Costikyan's career spans nearly all extant genres of gaming, including hex-based wargames, role-playing games, boardgames, card games, computer games, online games and mobile games. Several of his games have won Origins Awards. His company Manifesto Games, founded in 2005, helped spark the indie game scene. We interviewed Mr. Costikyan over email.

What is your definition of "gamer"?

A gamer is someone who plays games. There are all kinds of gamers. There are people who play Bridge, Canasta, and Mah-Jong, and people with a weekly Poker night. There are people who play Chess, or Go. There are Eurogamers, LARPers, tabletop roleplayers, board wargamers, trading card gamers, and amateur sports players. There are retro arcade game enthusiasts, sidescroller players, bullet-hell shmup players, interactive fiction fans, casual gamers, digital wargamers, graphic adventure players. There are people who play only JRPGs, or love doujin games, or dating sims; there are people who play who love MMOs, or CRPGs, or shooters. For my part, I have 12 different console systems hooked up to a switch-box in my living room, and a library of over 500 console and PC games, as well as hundreds of tabletop games; I have accounts on Steam, GOG, and Gamersgate (who must be cringing through this whole controversy). I consider all games, of all forms, equally interesting and worthwhile. And everyone who plays games is a gamer, whether they personally use the term or not. I have been a proud gamer, since I first encountered the term-in 1974.

Do you make games for gamers? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast")

I don't think you have defined the term sufficiently well. If you mean "console gamers," no; I have never designed a console game. Not that I wouldn't like to, but the opportunity hasn't arisen. I have designed board and tabletop roleplaying games; online-only games (including the first such to reach 1m players); PC strategy sims; mobile games of a variety of types; and social and mobile games, of both the casual and midcore variety. I neither limit what I will set my hand to, nor whom I consider a worthy a valid player.

Do you think gamer culture more toxic than other enthusiast cultures on the web (political enthusiasts, fashion enthusiasts, car enthusiasts, gun enthusiasts, etc.)? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast").

...for the first time since the mid-90s, it's possible for games that do not aim to be million-seller blockbusters to find an audience, through digital distribution, and that the diversity of games that we once had has been renewed and recaptured.

Almost every gamer, of every variety, whom I have ever met I have found to be a grounded, sensible, and intelligent person.

What is your reaction to this sentiment, expressed in Gamasutra: "Gamers are over. That's why they're so mad."

It was a well-written argument, offered by Leigh Alexander, one of the most interesting journalists writing about games. I disagreed with it, not because I thought the line of argument was incorrect, but because I do not define "gamer" so narrowly. I also think that in some ways, the article failed to understand the diversity of the medium and of the people who love it; what has actually happened, in the commercial digital industry, is that for the first time since the mid-90s, it's possible for games that do not aim to be million-seller blockbusters to find an audience, through digital distribution, and that the diversity of games that we once had has been renewed and recaptured.

"Gamers" are not over; indeed, "gamers" defined in this narrow way are still a large (and lucrative) audience. But more niche products can once again find an audience, and that's fantastic. And the people who play them are gamers, by any meaningful definition of the term.

Briefly stated, what is your opinion of GamerGate?

It's repulsive, of course. Clearly, GamerGate is a conspiracy, a conscious and planned effort by the PUA and MRA community to enlist some kind of sympathy for their pernicious and misogynistic beliefs from gamers, by attempting to paint the modern independent games movement as some kind of conspiracy by feminists and "social justice warriors," at the expense of "real games"-when, ironically, the real conspiracy is theirs! A fact which they attempt to hide by decrying this imaginary conspiracy!

I'm being facetious, of course. But the argument holds about as much water as the notion that there is a conspiracy of "social justice warriors" and feminists to destroy the holy, manly games, the true games, not like that insipid indie crap, that All True Gamers Hold Dear.

In fact the modern independent games movement is a bunch of developers not interested in working crunch for months on end in a dismal games factory generating version VI of some established IP for the benefit of a publicly-traded company, and instead want to do something of personal interest. And they're all over the lot, and more often do retro-nostalgic titles than anything remotely reminiscent of a "social justice warrior." There are exceptions, of course, but then, Anna Anthropy's work is always interesting (and at least as motivated by retro-nostalgia as social justice concerns; the antiposition of the two is part of what makes her games tasty).

Clearly, EA is not cancelling the next Madden, nor Activision the next Call of Duty, in favor of the next Anna Anthropy or Zoe Quinn design.

GamerGate is an attack on the weak by assholes, supposedly in defense of multi-billion dollar corporations who need no defending, and are likely embarrassed by this crap.

It's worse than that; it is one of the most repulsive excrescences of anonymous, bullying, Internet culture. These people seriously need to be taken behind the woodshed, spanked long and hard, and reminded of what it means to act like a civilized person.

It is very easy to set up "an other," paint that other as somehow threatening and less than human, and get a clique of people worked up about the supposed iniquities of the other. And, apparently, get them to issue death and rape threats, make threatening phone calls, harass family and friends, hack accounts...

How is this even remotely acceptable? Why is this even a debate?

The GamerGate idiots have-some of them, anyway-acted like total assholes. They don't even deserve the effort it requires to spit on them.

The GamerGate people are looking in the wrong places; the people corrupting the press are the major publishers, who have tens or hundreds of millions to spend on marketing.

What is the root cause of GamerGate? Do you see it as part of a larger "culture war"?

Not really. It's a product of instinctive rage on the part of privileged idiots who respond defensively to a perceived attack on things they love, not realizing that critical analysis of those same cultural artifacts is also motivated by love. Anita Sarkeesian is a gamer; she could not possibly comment so cogently on games if she were not. Zoe Quinn is a gamer; she would not be creating games if she were not. We should all be working to advance the art, not attacking people who don't agree with our own beliefs. Books argue every viewpoint; so can games.

It's an ugly expression of a fundamental truth about humanity -- the easiness of dehumanizing others. Fundamentally, it is about a kind of reactionary conservatism: a desire to preserve games "as they are," lacking any knowledge that games "as they are" is a temporary historical moment, and the games were not "as they are" as little as fifteen years ago, and will not be "as they are" fifteen years from now.

Do you feel there is corruption among the game press? If so, is it primarily mercenary corruption (pay to get a good review) or primarily ideological corruption (toe the party line to get a good review), or a mix, or something else?

Of course there is corruption among the game press. Not, I would add, among what remains of the print media (though historically there was); nor among the more reputable of the online game sites. But YouTubers can (often, not in all cases) be bought, as can some reviews on less salubrious web sites.

But the GamerGate people are looking in the wrong places; the people corrupting the press are the major publishers, who have tens or hundreds of millions to spend on marketing. Indies got nothing. Except for Zoe Quinn, who is apparently such an amazing sex goddess that she has spun her net so wide as to delude an entire industry.

Which is patently ludicrous.

What are the primary concerns that developers have, vis a vis the game press?

Are we talking indies? The primary concern is to get noticed AT ALL.

Are we talking the majors? The primary concern is to control the message at all costs, and got forbid you have a game designer who goes off the reservation and talks without your PR people controlling that message.

This is a product of misogyny and the propensity of the Internet to throw off ludicrous conspiracy theories.

What are the primary concerns that developers have, vis a vis gamers?

Are we talking indies? The primary concern is to develop some kind of community that is actually interested in your product, and can help spread the word about it, likely with your direct involvement and participation in the community.

Are we talking about the majors? The primary concern is to control the message at all costs, and to build recognition so that on launch day you generate the maximum possible sales, so that the retail channel keeps your game on the shelf beyond the end of the month.

I believe GamerGate is a situation that has been brewing for years. Do you agree? If so, when did the situation begin brewing?

No. No one cared enough about indies to attack them before. This is a product of misogyny and the propensity of the Internet to throw off ludicrous conspiracy theories.

Are you or developers you know changing their interactions with gamers or press as a result of GamerGate?

OBVIOUSLY.

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