GamerGate Interviews
Brad Wardell GamerGate Interview

The Escapist Staff | 10 Oct 2014 12:30
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It's not like the bias has been subtle. The dishonesty and bias has been blatant, in your face and shameless. And when they're called out on, they smear them by saying they're misogynists.

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

There's two types of developer in this: "Indies" and Major publishers. The major publishers have little to fear. This whole thing is irrelevant to them. Stardock is probably a bit closer to the latter group than the former. Our game revenue has steadily climbed over the years despite the occasional "I'll never buy a Stardock game because Brad Wardell is anti-UPS, bee torturer, handicap parking, rapist!" comment I'll see online.

The indies, on the other hand, are in a more precarious position. Is their game going to get covered? Why did an amateur text adventure game get substantial coverage? Why do so many journalists seem to know an "indie developer" whose claim to fame is that she wrote a single text game? How does that kind of access even happen?

Imagine being some start-up game developer. You've just quit your job and you're working on some game that you hope to get on Steam and your success depends on getting coverage. Your game is clearly low budget but still reasonably well made but you can't manage to get anyone to even cover it despite tweeting to and submitting your game to game sites. Now, what are you going to make of seeing someone's little text game not just getting coverage but finding out that lots of journalists seem to know this person quite well, sometimes intimately?

When I was first starting out, I was lucky if *half* my media appointments kept their meeting with me even though I flew across the country to meet with them. I know how I'd feel if I saw pictures of some indie whose game was not even in the same league as what I was working on having drinks with journalists and finding out the people who covered them were paying into their Patreon.

So take that together and then see that anyone who raises questions about this stuff being smeared with the misogynist brush. How can any reasonable person say that these aren't legitimate things to be discussed in a civilized manner?

How can any intellectually honest person suggest that there aren't some legitimate issues to discuss?

Are developers changing their interactions with the game press as a result of growing distrust?

Developers are changing their PR based on the gamers growing distrust.

I didn't even know about this issue until last Spring -- which was before #GamerGate. The PR and marketing people' jobs are to get as much coverage of our games as possible. So I'm looking at the marketing plan and a huge chunk of the effort was in approaching and supporting YouTube "Let's Play" people.

Being the snob I am, I said "What the heck is going on? Why is half our time allotted to YouTube stuff? I get all my gaming info from Rock Paper Shotgun. John Walker, Adam Smith and Graham Smith are my Gods and they tell me what I think."

They tell me that, for whatever reason, gamers are making their purchasing decisions based on the recommendations and opinions of "Let's Play" regulars and Twitch posters. Let me emphasize that: They're not making a judgment call on the media, they're simply going to where the gamers go. That's their job. So I go home and ask my 17 year old gaming son about this and he says "Well yeah, because I can see the game in action. There's no one between me and the game."

What could the press do to restore developers' confidence that they will treat them fairly?

A good start would be to quit smearing people as misogynists. It's such a flagrantly dishonest charge that how can you trust the people making it on other issues?

Is the corruption among the game press primarily perceived as mercenary (pay to get a good review) or primarily ideological (toe the party line to get a good review) or something else?

I don't think it affects reviews at all. At least, I hope it doesn't. Other than Elemental, which deserved to get thrashed, I don't think I've had a game get a Metacritic score that was more than 2 or 3 points away from our projection.

[We later re-connected with Mr. Wardell to ask him some follow up questions.]

What is your definition of "gamer"?

Anyone who plays games.

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

Our games tend to serve the core gamer market.

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").

Not even close. The whole reason I make games in the first place is because I like the gaming culture. Gamers, especially core gamers, love to share their hobby with others. Games make people happy. Games are a net good for society.

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

Mainly, I laughed. A lot. I don't have any problem with the author of that piece but I think she allowed her frustration to get the better of her when she wrote it.

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

In my opinion, the root cause is a frustration of having a group of people which doesn't really care about games and knows little about them, showing up in forums and in social media making ignorant, inflammatory statements about people who make and play games.

The initial springboard for GamerGate in particular was when one of the people whose claim to fame has largely been making accusations of misogyny and sexism gets caught seemingly using her personal relationships to get coverage that her actual work doesn't appear to merit.

That whole thing would have died down in a few days except...

On August 28, gamers were deluged with a bunch of insulting, inflammatory and factually incorrect articles that completely misrepresented the situation and painted gamers as a bunch of misogynists. It turns out that if you insult large quantities of people indiscriminately that some of them will be offended.

The people who wrote those inflammatory articles made the mistake of assuming that core gamers are passive, wimpy, basement dwelling losers. Core gamers, demographically, particularly the readership, are 25 to 55 year old professionals who not don't take kindly to having what they do in their precious spare time ridiculed.

The root cause is a frustration of having a group of people which doesn't really care about games and knows little about them, showing up in forums and in social media making ignorant, inflammatory statements about people who make and play games.

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?

Fairness, objectivity and neutrality in game reviews is, of course, a myth. Reviews are a form of editorial and therefore the review score should depend on the criteria of the game magazine. Historically, the mission of the game magazine is to be the advocate of the gamer -- their readership. So in this case, the "fair" review is the one that tells its readers whether it's a good game for them. If I'm running a feminist magazine, then a fair review might be a 1 out of 5. If I'm running a magazine that literally has the word "shotgun" in it, I would imagine a fair review would be based on whether they think their readers would like it.

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?

Not in the slightest. This was a topic well understood when Jack Thompson wrongly suggested that video games led to violence and it's just as nonsensical when the reporter is a woman.

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?

The individual's right to do something, as long as it isn't literally harming another individual (directly or indirectly) should not be infringed. Society can express their approval and disapproval by acting through their individual purchase / playing decisions.

As the people now demanding censorship and complaining about video game content used to say, you can always change the channel if you don't like what's on.


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