David Jaffe Interview—Ethics, Censorship, and #GamerGate

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I’ve been trying to encourage more game developers, big and small, to voice their concerns, thoughts, and opinions on #GamerGate. The “consumer revolt” has been going on for over three months now, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. A few questions had been coming up in my head recently – what is GamerGate defined as, exactly? Why hasn’t it made huge progress? Why is it so hated by the so called “anti-GamerGate” side of the equation?

I came in contact with David Jaffe with these very questions. Thankfully, he gave me the opportunity to speak with him for an interview, despite his busy schedule revealing new games and the like. Below you can find the written form of our interview, and I hope you enjoy it:

Niche Gamer: I know this is kind of a silly question, but for those of our fans out there who may have not heard of you or what you’ve done, or what you’re doing now, could you just give a quick rundown?

David Jaffe: Right now, I’m a Game Director at The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency. We just announced our new game, Drawn to Death, at the PlayStation Experience. Before that, I was the co-creator of the Twisted Metal series, the co-director, I was the Lead Director and Lead Designer on the first God of War, Creative Director on the second God of War, I did some smaller games like Mickey Mania, Calling All Cars … Last big retail title I did was Twisted Metal on PlayStation 3 back in 2012.

NG: I guess we’ll just jump right into it: Gamergate. I got into contact with you under the pretext of Gamergate, so, I just wanted to make it clear that this is not going to be a pro-, neutral, or anti- thing, we’re just trying to encourage discussion between gamers, devs, etc. What are your thoughts on the entire thing? It’s been going on for a long time. It seems like Twitter isn’t the best place to talk about this.

DJ: What are my thoughts on what specifically?

NG: On Gamergate, the movement itself, the people that are supporters of it…

DJ: I don’t think it’s a real movement. It’s a valid question but the question breaks down very quickly. In order for a movement to be a movement, almost by definition it needs a leader, it needs a manifesto, and Gamergate’s biggest problem is there are a number of things that are noble and in my opinion things that are worth supporting that some people who claim to be part of Gamergate espouse, and I’m like, Yeah, fuck yeah, I agree with that!

And there are other things because there is no real leadership, which they seem to take some twisted pride in, which is just stupid, and there is no real sense of being able to sort of bring the message back to what the essence of that “movement” is that you can almost say, “I’m really into Swiss cheese, and that’s what Gamergate stands for.” And who’s gonna tell me I’m wrong? No one.

And it’s not so much the fact that, “Oh, that sucks for Gamergate,” it’s that I had somebody reach out to me on Twitter and say, “We don’t need a leader, we don’t need someone to tell us what to do.” That’s not a leader, you idiot. That’s your fucking mother, or father, or your teacher. A leader doesn’t tell you what to think. A leader basically takes what the group is collectively going after, and tries with their skills and talents and abilities to reach out to the press or reach out to other people, to take that movement and actually allow it to grow and become something meaningful, and to effect change in the world.

And some of these people are just looking for a fight, and they’re angry and pissed off, and they sort of live under the umbrella of Gamergate, and they speak in this rhetoric that sounds like it’s a fifth-grade production of Les Miserables, like they’re fucking storming the goddamn barricade. It fucking drives me batshit.

Fundamentally, there are aspects of what these folks are saying … Yeah, of course, there are really corrupt and shitty journalists. And sometimes people who are supportive of what they call Gamergate will tell you that they’re supportive of inclusion and I think that’s great. Men, women, kids, gay people, straight people, transgender people, different religions—of course, everybody should play games if they want to play games.

In the very next breath you’ll see a Gamergate hashtag that sort of espouses a different philosophy. Let’s put it this way: if the people who really claim to care about what they say Gamergate is about really genuinely care about that—and they weren’t coming from a place of ego and from a place of just wanting to fight, and are pissed off—if enough of those people really felt that way, they would actually look at movements that have worked in the past, and they would ask: alright, what are we doing wrong? Why are we so hated? Why are we (according to them) so misunderstood? Let’s adjust, let’s course correct, to reach the goal. That should be the most important thing: the goal. Instead it becomes this pissing match and they just look like fucking idiots.

NG: You make really solid points. It’s something that I’ve noticed. It’s hard when I’m running a gaming site to try to be not one way or another, trying to just encourage the discussion and the positive message. Do you think Gamergate is becoming insular? Do you think it’s …

DJ: Again, and I’m not trying to be smarmy or contrarian, but: Gamergate does not exist. For you to say “Gamergate becoming insular”—what is it? Is Gamergate the couch I’m sitting on? I don’t know what Gamergate is. It’s an amorphous term that so far anybody can put anything under and shout from the rooftops that they support Gamergate. It’s embarrassing, is what it is. So I don’t know if that’s become insular, because it means different things to different people.

And the problem with it is that I fundamentally agree with a lot of the things that a number of the people who claim to support Gamergate agree with, but I’m not gonna go online and go public and [support Gamergate] just because I agree with some of the messages of Gamergate. I don’t want to associate … “Why don’t you say you’re part of Gamergate?” Because I don’t want to be part of a stupid fucking movement. Grow up and learn how a movement works, and then maybe I’ll be interested in having a conversation. Until then … It’s so embarrassing. Have you read some of the shit they say? “We’re not gonna give up this fight!” What fight? No one’s fighting you, you fucking idiot.

NG: The main thing that I’ve done with Niche Gamer and Gamergate is basically try to encourage the developers, publishers, whatever to come forward and try to confront these real issues, instead of just …

DJ: You always have to be careful with that. I imagine most people care about that kind of stuff. It’s kind of like saying, “I’m interested in getting the truth, so I’ll make sure to book someone who believes in evolution, and someone who believes that God created the Earth in seven days,” and act as if they’re equivalent theories. That’s absurd. Just like it’s absurd to say “I have to give the Gamergate people their time to express their view.” It’s like, cool, then I can just name … if you’re trying to be fair, then you need to make sure anybody who calls your show and says, “I want to be on, because I have something to talk about,” they have to be able to get on.

Unless that movement gets its shit together, it’s not an equal conversation between even journalists I dislike … I dislike—not as a person, but as an Editor in Chief—I dislike Stephen Totilo’s work at Kotaku. But at least he has a platform out in the world that says, “This is my work as Stephen Totilo”, and you can say, “Okay, let me put that up against someone who has a different theory.” But when it’s like, “Okay, let’s give Gamergate their opportunity to express their view” … They’ve done such a poor job. And I’m being somewhat inflammatory intentionally because I hope that they see that they may very well have some things worth sharing with the world, but they’ve done such a poor job at really figuring out how to get their message out, that it’s just … I don’t think they’ve earned a place of equivalence in the discussion yet. Because they can’t show what they stand for. And I guarantee you the minute someone reads that, they’ll say, “No, that’s not true, have you read this link, and this link? Look at that.” And that’s great, but is that coming from the official Gamergate headquarters? “Well, we don’t have that. We don’t need that.” Yeah, you fucking do. ‘Cause otherwise I can send something out that says, “Gamergate is about eating your own shit with a straw,” and that’s just as valid.

NG: So do you think the big personalities that were involved with Gamergate, like Internet Aristocrat, and King of Pol, do you think that that’s the closest that Gamergate has ever gotten to some sort of leadership—even though they never claimed ownership of that?

DJ: No. I don’t think so. I think if you really want to have a movement, you should say, “This is the name of our movement, this is what we stand for, we’ve had elections, here are the five people who can go out in the press and represent our movement, if we don’t like how they’re representing us, we can get them out at any time or place.” Then they’ll start to be taken seriously.

The problem with Gamergate is that for every good thing they say that’s true, there’s a bunch of stupid shit that’s just angry whining that’s hurting their cause. So they need to pick their battles and say, “Here are the two things that are really important to us, that we think we should get out there, with this manifesto, with this leadership, with this PR skill, let’s work on those first, and then let’s decide are any of these peripheral things [important], after the initial things have gotten done.” It’s just an embarrassment. It’s not an embarrassment because there aren’t people in the “movement” who have a noble goal, it’s an embarrassment because it’s run with the tactics and the intelligence of a fucking junior high school debate.

NG: I’m curious: what are some of the really inane things you’ve seen? Is it just shitposting? Give an example of some of the actions and/or the things that you’ve seen pro-Gamergate people saying or doing that are basically detrimental to the “movement”.

DJ: Well, I mean, it’s everything from … I think there are probably members of Gamergate or people who would, if it was a real movement, would throw their hat in the ring and say “I’m a member of this group”, that are doing really awful things, that if there were a movement called Gamergate that had actual leadership, would say, “Okay, that person is no more a part of our movement than a member of the Republican party … Like [when] you say “I’m a Republican or a Democrat”; they’re not responsible for the actions of their members. I think it’s fair to assume that things like the death threats and things like that, are absolutely not what the people who genuinely believe in Gamergate are about. I don’t believe that’s accurate. I don’t think most people that really believe in some of the core values are out there threatening people. I don’t believe most of them are misogynistic. I don’t believe that. But I do think that their idea of this corruption in game journalism and … I don’t even know what the fuck they want to do. I don’t even understand that.

That’s where I get really upset with a lot of those folks. It’s like, Hey, guess what? I don’t like the website, I don’t go to it. I don’t like Chick Fil A, ’cause I have a gay brother and he told me all about their anti-gay policies, guess what? As much as I love their fucking waffle fries, I don’t eat there anymore. End of story. That’s all you have to do. And if enough people agree with your views, they’ll put those sites out of business.

But how bored must you be with your life to be going around trying to … who gives a shit if Gamasutra publishes an article by Leigh Alexander, who I assure you I dislike more than most people who consider themselves Gamergate members, because she’s personally attacked me online publically and teams that I’ve worked with … I do not like her one bit. I think she’s just poison with her work. But she has a right and a platform to publish it. If she can find a publisher to do it, just ’cause you don’t like it, or the folks in Gamergate don’t like it, she still has a right to do it, and I think if the public that consumes online media agrees with people in Gamergate, then you know what? No one’s going to hire her to write anymore. But back the fuck off. Why do you care so much? I guess what it is, is that their actions when they tie them to what they claim is the motivating factor for their actions, which is, “Oh, game journalism is corrupt”, the fervor and the vitriol is such that … The actual thing that they’re saying is causing it, is so minor in terms of the damage that it does.

It really makes it hard to believe that that’s what they’re really upset about, and it gives those anti-Gamergate folks a really good platform to go, “These folks are women-hating, violence-loving, threatening assholes.” I’m not saying they are, but it does make you go, “Why are they so upset about the fact that a review may or may not have gotten a really good score because someone fucked someone else?” If it’s true, who gives a shit? Why do you care so much that Depression Quest got great reviews? Did it affect your day in one motherfucking way? I don’t think so.

NG: What recently happened with the whole “fucktard” thing that you said at PSX?—you’re pretty liberal with how you talk. Do you think that actually discourages you from saying certain things?

DJ: No. This is why I feel when it comes to a lot of these folks, I’m dealing with people who, quite possibly—and this is wonderful, it’s wonderful to be a child—who are quite possibly children, who are 14 or 15 years old, who aren’t mature enough to understand an actual discussion. And I’m not being facetious. I have an 11-year-old and I don’t expect her to come down to the table and have a genuine intellectual discourse yet, she’s too young, she doesn’t have that experience yet.

There’s a huge difference between … People just want to paint me with one brush because they don’t understand subtlety and nuance on stage … I’ve never used the word retarded in a derogatory way, ever. It happened after I had children. My kids are not, thank god, not mentally challenged in that way, but it made me realize, just like I have a brother now [who is gay] … We grew up in Alabama. We’d say, “Oh, that’s fucking gay,” or we’d tell our friends, “You’re a fucking fag.” It never occurred to me that anybody around me, even my own brother [who hadn’t come out], was being hurt every single time I said it.

So when I had kids and I knew that there were parents who were suffering through holy shit and they’ve got this baby and this is going to be a challenge for the rest of their life and the rest of their baby’s life … To say, “That’s fucking retarded” and “I didn’t mean that, I’m not talking about kids.” I know you’re not, but you could be sitting on the bus next to a parent whose heart is fucking breaking because they know that their child who they adore is going to be put out into the world with people like you that basically have taken the word that defines their person and said, “That’s a bad thing.”

So when I said “fucktard”, I never … It’s funny we’re talking about the word “fucktard”. But when I said that word, I never put two and two together and said, “Retarded is a derogatory word.” Even though “tard” is in there, “fucktard” was just sort of an amalgam of things that I never thought about. So when that was pointed out to me, I very quickly apologized and I very quickly was like, “Oh my god, yeah, I get it now, thanks for pointing it out, and I’m not going to use that word anymore, in the context of saying something is bad or stupid, because I get that there’s an association with the word ‘retarded’ as an insult and I’m not about that.”

Well, some people online, they were like, “Don’t cave, Jaffe. Don’t cave!” and I’m not caving. I’ve never been an asshole, and by doing this I remain not an asshole. [You can] stand up for yourself, and say what you want, express yourself in the world the way you want, but also have an open mind enough to know that you live in the world with other human beings and you don’t need to be an asshole. So the fact that these people didn’t have the listening and comprehension skills to understand the difference, makes me go “Why the fuck would I take their ‘movement’ seriously?”

NG: Do you think that a lot of these mainstream journalists, that they try to look for that kind of stuff, you know, where you slip up or you say something in a certain way, and they cherry pick that, and then they spin it, and they try to do a hit piece on you?

DJ: In that case, I had a wonderful conversation with a journalist. […] We had a really long talk and it was a really heartfelt talk at PSX yesterday. At the end, he said thanks, I said thanks, and I said “I’m really looking forward to how you basically take this all out of context and come up with a great clickbait headline.” And he assured me that he wouldn’t, and I thanked him, and I believe him, but yeah, my guard is always up for that.

I know those journalists and I don’t work with them anymore. I told Sony on Saturday, they said, “Hey, do you want to do some press for the game at PSX?” I said yes, “I will not speak with Kotaku, but I will speak with anybody else right now.” And I have about three people who I will not work with, and that’s okay. They don’t need me. But I’m not gonna give them the time of day until they change their policies or they get a new editor in chief. And I personally like Stephen Totilo as a person, but I think he’s been a rotten Editor in Chief for Kotaku.

Do I think people go after that? Yeah. Whether they care or not, they’re willing to hurt people and hurt people’s reputations in order to get people to click their sites. Yeah, they absolutely do that. Do all of them do that? Absolutely not. But some of them do. And that’s why I don’t visit their sites, and that’s why I don’t work with them. And that’s why I advise people not to do that, either, because ultimately all that matters to those folks, clearly, is money and getting clicks, and the best thing you can do if you really want to hurt those people and put them out of business, then put them out of business by not going there.

NG: I wanted to move on to the kind of games that you tend to make, the reactions that they get. You tend to make games that are, I would say, kind of more “pulp.” Do you think that any game should be censored? I’m curious about your stance on censorship.

DJ: I don’t believe in censorship, I believe in responsible parenting, I believe very much in a rating system as long as it is non-corrupt—and I think for the most part the games rating system has done a really good job of accurately representing what’s in the box or on the other side of the download for people and for parents—but no, I think games should be able to be about whatever they want to be about.

I just think that the public and the game creators shouldn’t be ignorant and assume that if you want to make a game about the Holocaust told from the side of the Nazis, where the Nazis emerge as the heroes, don’t act surprised or offended if you have a really hard time finding funding for that game. But do I support the right for it to exist? Absolutely. One of the things we fought the Nazis over, one of the things that we lose troops over every day, in America, anyway, is to have the freedom to express ourselves, especially when that expression is offensive, so I don’t think things should be censored. But I do think that people should stop acting surprised when super niche stuff is not given an $80 million budget and promoted like Uncharted 4.

NG: Moving on. Do you think that certain journalists, writers, bloggers, etc. are trying to be media gatekeepers in the sense … I’ve seen it with that game, Hatred, obviously a very controversial game, lots of writers in their news stories actually said “Do not buy this game, do not support this game” …

DJ: I had a journalist reach out to me—“Will you comment on this game?”—and it was clear that that journalist wanted me to help him build a story about all the outrage over this game, and I said, “Well, I don’t really like the trailer, but I support its right to exist. Isn’t you writing a story about a game very few people have heard about, simply contributing to that game getting more attention, when you’re telling me that you’re writing this story from an angle that you’re up in arms about games like this being made?

Doesn’t that really make you full of shit? Because all you’re really doing is making money off the fact that this game is going to push people’s buttons, and you’re going to hide behind the role of being some concerned journalist, when if you’re really concerned you wouldn’t write about it or give it any attention. And he kind of never wrote me back, I don’t know why.

NG: I think I know why.

DJ: Do I think there are journalists like that? Absolutely. And I avoid them. I recommend the same to everyone else.

NG: One more quick question. To kind of go back to Gamergate: what are your quick suggestions or tips in order for them to actually have a real impact on the games industry?

DJ: I think if they want to have an impact on the games industry they need to figure out what kind of impact they want to have. Can you be more specific, what aspect? There’s a multitude of things, depending on who you ask, that Gamergate stands for. Which specific thing are you referring to about them having an impact on the industry that I would need to advise them on?

NG: The lack of transparency and ethics between, say the devs and the pubs and the games journalists.

DJ: I would advise them to find a hobby, because who gives a shit? That’s my answer. Who gives a fucking shit? If EA has paid—I’m not saying they have—I don’t want to say EA because people will think I’m saying something I’m not … Let’s say Big Corporate Publisher has paid Big Corporate Site a shit ton of money to make their game sound better than it is? Guess what, this is so awesome. Once you feel that’s true, stop reading that site and stop buying that company’s games.

What do you think is going to happen? You think suddenly Stephen Totilo is going to wake up or one of these sites is going to wake up and say, “Well, now I need to be a better journalist,” or do you think these companies that make billions of dollars are going to say, “Oh well, you know, we’ve spent $70 million on this game …” As long as it’s legal, they’re going to take every route they can to recoup their costs to make a profit. That’s their job. That’s their fiduciary responsibility if they’re a public company. I don’t agree with it. I don’t want anybody to feel that they’ve been lied to about my game. And that’s why I […] give companies and websites and moviemakers, I give them my support and money if they treat me respectfully, and if they don’t they can go fuck themselves. But I don’t think they need to be put out of business. I think they need to be put out of business via capitalism, not by a bunch of people who are acting “We’re going to take to the streets!” There’s no law that’s been broken. They’re just shitty. I’m sorry, you’re not going to form a movement to get rid of just shitty. That’s life.

NG: Excellent. That’s pretty much it. I know you’re out of time. Thank you so much for this opportunity Dave!

Brandon Orselli

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Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer. Also an IT guy.