Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Heather Chaplin's GDC Rant + GAME MAKING CAN BE DEPRESSING!
Ok so here are some links on what Heather said:
Regarding this portion of Heather's rant:
And here it is a bit more in depth.
Ok, so look:
I like Heather- always have. Love her writing and curiosity and passion for my industry. And I have hung out with her socially and always enjoyed her company. She's a cool woman, for sure.
But even with all of that, I am still compelled to respond to her rant.
Here is what she said at GDC about the majority of game developers who make power fantasy style games (and- it seems- most commercial games in general):
“You aren’t men. You are stunted adolescents."
She also said:"It's not that the medium is in its adolescence, it's that you're a bunch of fucking adolescents"
And this gem (taken from an article on her rant by a reporter who was there): "It's not that the medium is in its adolescence, it's that you're a bunch of ****ing adolescents," she said. "It's even worse because you're technically supposed to be adults." Chaplin traced the paucity of more mature content in games to four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery. She described game developers in terms of neoteny, an idea from developmental biology that describes adults of a species who have juvenile traits. This can be seen in mature Chihuahuas, which resemble infant and fetal wolves. Chaplin closed by challenging the audience, "What do you want to be, a Chihuahua or a wolf?"
And here is my response: Hey, Heather. I really, really disagree.
The two children whom I spawned and whom I support and love and nurture every day would beg to differ. Even when dog tired, even as a divorced dad who is trying to figure out his new life, I still am an amazing father who shows up for those kids every day. And I do so with joy and love and a strong sense of gratitude that they are in my life. To me, this is the measure of a man, not an adolescent.
The employees who work for the company I co-own and co-founded, the employees-who after years of working at it have become some of the best programmers and artists in the business and who previously created simulations for the government in order to train the troops that protect our country-are clearly adults, not adolescents.
Adolescents do not start companies that support other folks' livelihoods. And yet our industry is FULL of start ups that support numerous individuals and families. That sounds pretty adult to me.
The folks who get joy and comfort and escape and laughter from the games my industry has created would beg to differ, as well. To me, to bring people joy instead of pain (especially in times where things are pretty grim) is a measure of an adult and the measure of a man.
The men and women in my industry (i.e. the ADULTS) have contributed to the world and their families and friends and their fans in significant ways. I take issue with you saying we are stunted people.
I think it's crucial not to mistake the ability to stay in touch with our sense of play and wonder and joy with immaturity. I happen to love games like GEARS OF WAR and GOD OF WAR and FALLOUT 3 and TWISTED METAL and MORTAL KOMBAT. I love playing them and I love making them. That love of those sorts of products does not negate my manhood. It does not mean I suffer from neoteny (which, according to this guy ain't that bad of a thing, at least mentally). I agree that games have the potential to be more powerful and meaningful and that some games should strive for this (and more and more, some games are achieving this great goal...just ask Jonathan Blow or the man who created PASSAGE). I also agree that even pure commercial games often suffer from a lack of imagination and that you can only play a space marine game so many times before- theme wise- you start to yearn for something else. I ALSO agree- and we've talked about this before- that as I get older, some of the more pure commercial titles are no longer as compelling. But the mistake I think you make is to equate the theme of the game with the gameplay itself (the very thing that makes our medium special). GEARS OF WAR 2's theme is generic, 14 year old boy/Heavy Metal magazine power fantasy turned up to 11. And NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT. If I am in the right mood, I LOVE that stuff. Other times, not so much. But to assume that the game is the theme shows that perhaps you are getting stuck in the same quicksand as most folks who attack games simply based on the surface presentation (i.e. congressmen who want to pass bills banning games). As a GAME experience, Gears is fresh and alive and semi-new. The game marks the first time the cover mechanic was executed well enough to impact the stale shooter genre in a significant way. This is worth celebrating but you fail to see the guts of the experience and instead. criticize the surface. And even more bizarrely, you choose to criticize the manhood of the folks who create such titles.
But for the sake of argument, let's assume that you have issues with both surface and the guts of most of today's games. Fair enough. But I am amazed that you would question my adulthood simply because I choose to make and play games that you do not feel are meaningful enough. Instead of me being an adolescent, perhaps your lack of interest in the games we make simply means you don't 'get' the stuff I 'get'. It doesn't make me- and my many colleagues- adolescent. It just makes us different from you.
By the way, where are these mythical men of which you speak; these mythical adults that we should aspire to be? Where can us stunted game developers discover this wonderful idea of what it means to be a man? Is it written down somehwere so we can study it? I wonder if these folks you define as men are working in industries that have seen- even in this economy- the kind of sustained growth that we have created for our business.
Hell, if you look at what non-geek society defines as a man (well dressed, in 'serious' jobs, not wasting time dealing with orcs and space marines) these sorts of 'men' are significantly responsible for the corruption that has damaged our economy this last year. Are those the men you are talking about? The suit wearing politicians and brokers and bankers of the world? Talk about power fantasies! And granted, you probably won't catch these 'men' at the San Diego Comic Con come July, or lining up to grab HALO 3 at a midnight launch. But these days that's probably because they are too busy defending their actions in court (or already stuck in jail). Are those the 'men' you are talking about?
Or what about the men in other entertainment fields? Men like Spielberg who- when he signs up to make games for EA- what's the first thing that comes out? Boom Blox. Great GAME that doesn't have much to say about the state of the world. It's just FUN. And this from the man who brought us Schiendler's List. I doubt anyone would doubt Spielberg's capacity to create meaningful art OR his capacity as a man. Perhaps the reason games have not had their Citizen Kane moment yet is because games are not movies. And we don't want them to be.
Clearly, our foolish, childish products are appealing to someone. Should we just abandon that audience? An audience that we happen to consider ourselves a part of, by the way? Should we just shove down the things that interest us and excite us and motivate us, should we just put away childish ideas that wake us up at 3am because we are too excited to sleep? Do we slaughter our spirits simply to gain the approval of journalists? I just could not do that. Ever. I would not want to. My connection with what I call my spirit- but what others may call my immaturity- is a vital aspect of my life that I cherish and protect with great fervor.
I think a mistake folks make- in any medium- is assuming we all want to be artistically relevant and important in the eyes of the intelligencia (sp?) of the world. I have to tell you: I think THAT desire is adolescent and spews from a place of need and want and lack of faith in ones own creative powers. And- most important- it gets in the way of creating truly great work (be it film, games, or books).
I don't WANT to be an artist. I don't WANT to make REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: THE GAME! I don't want to be the Bob Dylan of games or make the Citizen Kane of games. I want to entertain people and I do not apologize for that. I don't NEED or WANT to go lecture at MIT or USC or any of these other game colleges that have been cranking out some amazing game makers who truly are key in the 'games as art' charge. As much as I love the work of THAT GAME COMPANY (and very much enjoyed your NPR interview last week with them) and as much as I admire work of Jonathan Blow and all the other folks who make the quirky, arty, and yes- perhaps- more meaningful games, I do not want to BE them. And I think I speak for the majority of game makers everywhere when I say that.
Sure, I think our industry CAN do better at making games more impacting by mixing meaning and entertainment. But that doesn't negate the value of pure entertainment and it surely doesn't negate my manhood or the adulthood of the many men and women who spend years of passion and sweat and tears and love creating these products.
By the way, regarding Citizen Kane-
saying we have not had the game version of Citizen Kane simply shows a possible lack of genuine understanding of our field (or perhaps you just don't understand what made Citizen Kane so special for its time). See, we may very well have HAD our Citizen Kane. It was probably GTA3 or MARIO 64 because what I recall from USC film classes was what made CK so special was Wells being the first director to move the camera in innovative ways that told the story in a fresh way. What made CK so special was it marked the first time directors started making movies like MOVIES versus filming stage plays.
So if you are talking about games that have pushed the very definition of what a game is (which is what CK did for movies, eventually) then I think it's an easy argument to be made that we have already crossed that threshold. Hell, we may have crossed it a few times (2D to 3D; linear worlds to open worlds; the invention of MMOs)...and yes, we will cross it AGAIN when someone makes a game- using MECHANICS- that connects with MANY people in a way that moves them and makes them think about some of the bigger issues in life. I look forward to that day and clearly, the seeds for this watershed moment have already been planted in games like PASSAGE, FLOWER, BRAID, and several others.
When I originally wrote this post, it was a lot more mean spirited and I am sorry about that. What you said brought up the typical "band geek vs. jock" bullshit that has existed since there have been kids and cliques. And while I don't recall myself ever being a full on geek as a kid (altho looking back now, I wish I had been more of a geek than I allowed myself to be), I did travel in the geek circles and have a strong affinity for that group of folks.
And now that I have my own children, I try not to pressure them in one direction or the other, but I do watch and hope that they never burry the things that excite them and fire their passions because the world at large- or perhaps only a very vocal minority of the world- tells them that what they love is not cool, not acceptable, and not ok. And it's a slippery slope. How connected is the bullying that causes a child to put away a favorite toy or comic book to the bullying that tells them who they can love or who they can vote for or what occupation they can pursue? To me, they are dangerously similar.
Anyway- hope you are well. And thanks for stirring up the gaming portion of the interwebs. I suppose that's what a rant is for, eh?
Still your friend-
ps. thanks to Matthew Rosenfeld, iphone and game programmer in general- and lead programmer of the very cool, very fun iphone game KARMASTAR- for the link to the TED talk!