GamerGate Interviews
Dave Rickey GamerGate Interview

The Escapist Staff | 10 Oct 2014 16:30
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Dave Rickey has worked in the game industry for 15 years, with stints at Verant Interactive, Mythic Entertainment, Mutable Realms, and Sony Online Entertainment. We interviewed Mr. Rickey over email.

What is your definition of "gamer"?

I would have to go with a functionalist definition: Homo Ludens, "mankind the player." Someone who plays games as a major portion of their leisure activity is a gamer.

Some of the misogyny you see in this slapfight may be genuinely felt and expressed, but most of it (especially the worst examples) appears to be trolls that are using misogynist language because they're trolling feminists

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

I've made games for the "core gamer" and for other markets, such as teen/tween girls. Making games for people who are not like me, who do not play like I do, is harder (which is why I did it), but making games for "core gamers" (and I do consider myself one) is much more enjoyable.

So much of game design is about "finding the fun", the core mechanic that is enjoyable, and then progressively iterating around that while preserving it. It's incredibly hard to do that if you can't enjoy it yourself. If you didn't see the fun to begin with, how can you know when you killed it?

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").

Have you seen the unmoderated comments on articles in your local newspaper's website for any of those things? "Core gamers" don't have a thing on gearheads for sexism or hostility to outsiders. I'm not even going to reference some of the certifiably, clinically insane stuff you can find on gun or political sites, and although the language and tactics of fashion enthusiasts may be a lot less direct, they're no less a bubbling snake pit of backbiting and insults, in-groups and out-groups (you should lurk in one of the perennial threads on "Plus Size Models", you'll learn a whole new definition for "vicious").

In any sufficiently large population, you're going to have a fairly consistent proportion of people with anti-social and narcissistic personalities, people who just want to stir up drama and exert power through social engineering. In the early days of MMO's, we called them "griefers", other communities have other names, but the one used generally on the internet is "Trolls".

Some of the misogyny you see in this slapfight may be genuinely felt and expressed, but most of it (especially the worst examples) appears to be trolls that are using misogynist language because they're trolling feminists, and that's what will stir things up.

By the same token, a lot of the reverse aimed at gamers is oriented around them being ugly, fat, unhygienic, etc., dateless losers beneath contempt, not because it's true but because it speaks to the fears of the targets (and "others" them in the eyes of the audience, its permissible to be cruel to them because they're terrible people).

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

Why are you attacking your customer base? "Core gamers" may be numeric minority of "gamers" but they still spend most of the money, especially in the AAA space. Now, Gamasutra in particular is aimed at game developers more than players, but that same sentiment has been everywhere, and I just don't get it.

I think a lot of people create a social network that creates a form of epistemic closure. "Everyone I know agrees with me about everything important." If someone you know disagrees with you, you have to either decide that it isn't important, or that you don't know them.

I think a lot of people create a social network that creates a form of epistemic closure. "Everyone I know agrees with me about everything important." If someone you know disagrees with you, you have to either decide that it isn't important, or that you don't know them.

One of the weirdest things about GamerGate is that a lot of people are deciding that things that up until now weren't important, are. People are going through their lists of friends with fire and sword, cutting off and shunning people not just for being on the wrong side, but for not being on the right side with sufficient purity.

Somebody I would have considered a close friend (known each other fifteen years, I helped get him his first job in the industry, we've loaned each other money) has gone really hard into the "Social Justice" camp. I won't go into the detailed circumstances, the significant thing is that I pointed out an inconsistency in how he was treating the "Core Gamer" side of the argument (being me, I was somewhat snarky about it, but I wasn't actively insulting).

He didn't just cut off contact, he blocked me on Facebook (and I presume other networks, I haven't tried). 15 years of friendship was less important that the fact that I was threatening his epistemological cocoon, the safe bubble of mutual agreement he wanted to live in. And that is just an illustrative example, that sort of thing has been happening a lot in the last month. For every case of cutting ties, there are several where people are "biting their tongue", not expressing an opinion for fear that the relationship won't survive honesty.
One of the great things about games online was that they brought you into contact with people that were far outside of your normal view of the world. In the context of the games, it wasn't important what they thought about anything but the game. With GamerGate, we seem to be losing that.

Briefly stated, what is your opinion of GamerGate?

"A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I dislike the extremists on both sides of it, and I hate what the fallout is doing to the culture.

What strikes me most about GamerGate is the incredible pettiness of so much of it. The industry has serious problems about "quality of life" for workers, but it fixates on the personal drama of one particular bad breakup between two developers. "Games journalism" is 99% bought and paid for advertorial, but it focuses on how the small sliver known as the "indie scene" is all about personal relationships and favor-swapping. 9-figure budgets have pushed all innovation out of the AAA games, but it is fixated on developers at the opposite extreme that can innovate but mostly lack the resources to execute effectively. Publisher consolidation combined with the budget inflation means that studios have to sign contracts for indentured servitude creating IP that will, one way or another, wind up belonging to the publisher, but we go round and round over whether games that are given away for free are "stealing" from each other or somehow "hurting games" by not being "real games".

It's as if all the real problems that have been developing for years are just too big and too hard, so we need to distract ourselves by getting incredibly vicious over symbolic equivalents on a scale we can relate to. It's the world's lamest LARP.

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

It has become a proxy fight for the larger "Culture War" between feminists and conservatives.

It has become a proxy fight for the larger "Culture War" between feminists and conservatives. Neither really has any regard for games and gamer culture (one conservative piece even referred to them as "losers in yellowing underwear" while ostensibly taking their side), so they don't care what the fallout does to that medium and sub-culture. Both sides would be willing to leave a smoking crater in the cultural landscape labeled "Games", and they would not feel that anything of value had been lost.

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?

At one level, you have the AAA market and the mainstream of the "gaming press", where most of the money is, and you can't even call it corrupt: It's a bought and paid for auxiliary for the PR and marketing operations of the major publishers. They spend the ad money, they control access to the teams, they get the kind of coverage they want, when they want it. The most visible stuff like the press junkets to what is essentially a giant theme party and ever-inflating swag-bags are just the actual writers getting a bit of the grease.

The rounding error worth of coverage left for the "indie scene" is almost trivial in comparison. If you don't have a marketing budget, all the usual word of mouth channels have gotten incredibly resistant to being pushed into talking about anything. Years and years of one version or another of "viral marketing" has made people reluctant to promote a game just because they like it, and suspicious of anything game-related that turns up on their social circles that even whiffs of astro-turfing.

So getting attention from that tiny bit of games media that is available for talking about no-marketing-budget titles is incredibly important. And there, it's all about who you know, and who owes you a favor (or wants you to owe them one). It's not corruption as much as it's beggars squabbling over loose change. Keep in mind that in the best case scenarios, that "loose change" by the standards of the AAA market is still "set for life" money on a real scale. But mostly it's comparatively small amounts of money and as often as not, it isn't even money, but just attention and recognition that is being fought for.

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

That they will ignore us. "There's no such thing as bad press," you can always turn attention into dollars but nobody buys a game they never heard of.

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

That they will notice us. We want them to notice our games, and sometimes that means promoting ourselves as a "Personal Brand", but sticking your head up means becoming a target for trolls.

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

It's probably been brewing since the "Indie Scene" started to overlap so much with the "Social Justice" community, and game journalists started to assuage their guilt for being cogs in a corporate marketing machine by promoting what they saw as a positive political view.

As far as this particular manifestation goes, it's probably been brewing since the "Indie Scene" started to overlap so much with the "Social Justice" community, and game journalists started to assuage their guilt for being cogs in a corporate marketing machine by promoting what they saw as a positive political view. It became more important what a game's "message" was, and what the "personal journey" narrative of the creator was, than if the game was actually well executed or fun to play.

"Core gamers", for whom it was all about the gameplay and the fun, saw this as a betrayal. They wanted to see innovation, and instead they were getting politics. They wanted games they made them say "Wow!", and instead they got games that made them say "WTF?" And they were told there was something wrong with them for not appreciating these "art games".

But when it finally blew up, it was all mixed up in personal drama, salacious rumors, and agenda-driven trolling, and it stopped being about anything but which side was more contemptible and who was going to drive who off the internet and out of "gaming culture".

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

It's accelerated some trends that were already there, where if you don't have an incredibly thick skin you don't want to get anywhere near the spotlight.

If you have concerns with the press, what could the press do to improve relations with you?

I'm not sure if the press is relevant anymore, or at least if they'll be relevant for much longer. Increasingly the players don't trust them, and the industry sees them as just the place you spend money to make money. Obviously that dynamic can't continue. YouTube and Twitch have really emerged as the "trustworthy" source for information about games, and it's worth noting that the high-profile figures in that scene have mostly taken the opposite side from the "journalists".

If you have concerns with gamers, what could gamers do to improve relations with you?

The gamers I have concerns with aren't interested in improving relations, they just want to be noticed. An axiom of game design is "You get the behavior you reward," and for trolls, recognition is the reward. When the Social Justice side of this controversy swaps around their "outrage porn" of "gamers" saying incredibly hateful and misogynistic things, they are paradoxically feeding the beast, encouraging more of that kind of behavior.

"Gamers" is not a label anyone gets to assign, or that anyone has to earn. Anita Sarkeesian plays games. She doesn't play them the way I do, or take the same things away from them that I do, but she's a "gamer" as much as I am. In as much as she's playing them with an eye towards analysis and deconstruction, she's playing them more like I do than most, and I certainly still consider myself a "gamer".

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