This is yet another developer interview that is focused on the consumer revolt that is known as #GamerGate. A previous interview I conducted with another well-known developer, Christian Allen, got the attention of Adrian Chmielarz, another video game developer.
Upon probing him for an interview, he obliged and gave me some of his time, even though I’m sure he’s busy at work porting The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to Playstation 4. Without further ado, please enjoy our interview below:
Niche Gamer: For our fans that are not familiar with your background or your work, could you give us a brief rundown of where you come from? What got you into games?
Adrian Chmielarz: Games being awesome got me into games. As for me, I am a Polish game developer who was the creative director and co-owner of People Can Fly (Painkiller, Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment) and I am the same at The Astronauts (The Vanishing of Ethan Carter).
NG: Let’s cut to the chase. I came into contact with you under the discussion of Gamergate. What are your thoughts on the entire thing?
AC: Gamergate was something awful for me in the beginning.
In the past, I have been attacked directly and indirectly by some gamers for my work or opinions, and that slightly affected me. It always affects you, even if you tell yourself you’re dealing with vocal idiots or a trolling minority.
But whatever I went through was absolutely nothing compared to, say, a massive flood of pure hatred against Adam Orth or the creators of Mass Effect 3. Orth said something silly, but the internet made it sound like the police discovered a half eaten human head in his fridge. The Mass Effect 3 ending was controversial (but it kind of worked for me) and the internet made it sound like the creators stole and spit on the public’s only childhood photo with grandma.
So when I heard about Gamergate, I bought it. Gamers behaving like shit? Yeah, sure. Making a storm in a tea cup? Of course. Territorial to the point of madness? Yup.
What slowly opened my eyes were two things.
First, Gamergate’s persistence. When you’re on Twitter, it’s impossible not to hear about Gamergate. And then every now and then you read something pro-Gamergate that makes sense and that forces you to dig deeper. I have a very analytical mind, so I did dig deeper. And what I saw was not matching what some call “the official narrative”. Like every human being, I am biased, but I am trying my best to fight it. So after learning more on Gamergate, I admitted to myself that I was wrong about it.
Second, the more I heard about Gamergate from the hardcore anti- side, the more I became suspicious of their views. It’s not just stuff like their reflectionless support of dishonest, manipulative game critics like Jonathan McIntosh or Anita Sarkeesian. Or their “if the facts don’t fit the theory, too bad for the facts” philosophy. It was also their total contempt for anyone who disagrees with their views. Contempt supported with some of the most vile tweets I have ever seen on Twitter. I try to learn as many facts as I can from anyone, pro- and anti-. Check who I follow on Twitter to see that it’s true. But I had to stop following a couple of journalists and fellow game developers simply because I could not take the poison anymore.
To sum it up: I was against, but something was fishy, I started to dig deeper, discovered that Gamergate was not what I was told it was.
NG: Are those who identify as pro-Gamergate individuals a bunch of misogynists? What does the demographic ratio look like, to you?
AC: To see anyone still holding on to the “bunch of misogynists” narrative is deeply unsettling to me. Anyone who ever voted or cares about politics knows that certain feeling when your party loses and you see someone you really dislike win the election. It’s the feeling of dread, of hope lost. I feel the same way whenever I read someone talking about Gamergate as a “bunch of misogynists”.
That narrative has been disproven in so many ways … You click on the hashtag and read tweets from women gamers who are with Gamergate, or you read Gamergate tweets supporting women in gaming. We had journalists investigating and coming back with, “Hmmm, well this is unexpected but they’re not misogynists.” Hell, we had people using science to investigate Gamergate and coming up with the same conclusion.
Obviously misogynists exist. Misandrists exist. Idiots exist. Trolls exist. The things is, they joined both sides, or did not really join but just like to watch the world burn. But they are not dominant voices on Gamergate’s side no matter how long you stare at it. And this is where the bias problem comes into play. Because an anti- declares they want to give Gamergate a fair chance, they click on the hashtag, see some idiot harassing another anti- and boom, misogyny and harassment confirmed! They don’t want to admit that with a lens like that you could accuse literally any movement or hashtag ever of being evil, simply because trolls and idiots are everywhere.
NG: Do you think the allegations they’ve found (GameJournoPros, cyber-bullying, collusion, etc) are legitimate?
AC: Yes and no.
Let’s start with no. I do think that a lot of it is highly exaggerated. Take GameJournoPros. Everything I read so far was extremely weak. So weak that it’s actually showing the journalists in a good light to me. Because think for a second how you talk about others and things in general when you’re among friends and no one else can hear you. American Dad had an amazing episode about it, “I Can’t Stan You”. Now look at the leaks from GameJournoPros. There’s just nothing there. One guy has a problem with another and Gamergaters scream of “bullying”? Are you kidding me?
Some people go as far as claiming that a list like that had no right to exist. Sorry, but that’s just not a view I can accept. Private lists or groups on whatever topic exist as long as the internet and they’re often a good, useful thing.
Or let’s look at how outraged Gamergate is that some journalists and developers and marketers are friends with each other. Newsflash: it’s been like this since the dawn of time, and it’s not an inherently bad thing. Sam Barlow showed a few examples recently, from the music or movie industry. Just read up on how Pet Shop Boys came to be.
I’ll give you a personal example. There are these two game journalists in Poland whom I consider friends and who did a couple of long podcasts with me. The idea for the podcast is we talk games and we drink beer. So the ending is always a bit funnier than the beginning. And then once we’re done we drink more beer, and probably vodka, and then wake up in Singapore with a full beard.
And we never “colluded” or “conspired”. Just as we can separate games from reality, we can separate work from pleasure. And I only have one life, so I refuse to not be friends with great people just because someone may suspect we do favors for each other.
Having said that, I know that a lot of Gamergaters don’t mind people being friends. They just want disclosures. And here’s when we finally get to the “yes” part and another personal example.
I am not a journalist. But I wrote a rave review of a friend’s book once in a fantasy magazine he ran. Trust me, I know how this sounds, but it was nothing like that. He had no idea whether the review would be good or not, as I often both praised and strongly criticized him both publicly and privately for his work. So he took a risk there, that was actually my condition that he doesn’t know what I write. But never mind that, what’s more important is that not having any idea about any journalist code of ethics, I figured it would be a good thing to reveal it in that review that we’re friends. I stated that very clearly, literally using the words “I want everyone reading this to be aware that we are friends”.
So if the necessity for the reveal was clear to me, an amateur writer, how is that it’s not obvious to people who are professional journalists?
And then you wonder that Gamergate has a problem with this?
NG: How do you feel about the argument that “gamers are dead?” How about the multitude of articles saying this, all being published within the same timeframe?
AC: Honestly, to this day I haven’t read any of those articles.
I don’t expect the websites or magazines I read to be 100% in sync with me. Actually, I hope they won’t be, as I like my views to be challenged. But when I saw some “gamers are dead” headlines I just shrugged, thought “lol” and moved on. They sounded so out of touch with reality that I did not believe I’d find anything of interest to me in them. I think I maybe took a glance at one, but I cannot recall that for certain.
And the fact that they were all published on the same day or something? I don’t care. So maybe the editors in chief talked about it together and wanted to thunderclap the message. I see nothing wrong with that, it’s their right to do so. Although it’d be nice if they just openly admitted to it instead of staying silent or pretending it was all a chance.
NG: Are certain game developers/publishers/PR companies way too close to the games press (i.e. negotiating for good review scores or exclusive stories)? Have you ever seen examples of this?
AC: Let me tell you a story. EA organized a Bulletstorm review event in London. It was my first AAA review event. It was quite professional, nothing fishy to me, just a bunch of rooms with TVs and consoles and snacks and water. Anyway, so after the journalists played the game they could interview me and Cliffy. And there was this guy from Edge, a serious lad, who asked a couple of interesting questions. Right after he left the room, a top level marketing guy stormed inside and asked me if I got any vibe off the Edge guy, if I could say what he thought of the game.
I couldn’t, the man was an enigma, and until the day of the magazine’s premiere we had no idea what was the score (it was 9/10). But see what I am trying to say here? A top level guy at EA had no idea what Edge thinks of Bulletstorm. Does that sound like the gaming journalists are nothing but corrupt to you? Does that sound like AAA companies can easily manipulate the scores through bribes or other shady deals?
So, no. Obviously PR people have the journalists figured out. “This guy likes to be left alone”, “We need 3D headphones for this guy, he’s a tech freak”, “This guy will provoke you a lot, be ready”, etc. etc. But from what I saw, even if journalists and devs and PR folks drank together all night long, it never resulted in any suspicious chatter. On the contrary, I saw a lot of examples of professionalism in this area.
I’m not saying we don’t have a problem at all. For example, here in Poland there is Playboy-like magazine which publishes reviews of video games, and somehow always awards five stars to the games from the local company that everyone else laughs at. But I am saying that what I have seen personally was not Sodom and Gomorrah like some people seem to believe.
NG: Is there a reason for concern with gaming publications? Is the lack of ethics a real problem?
AC: Yes, it’s a real problem. It’s not like it’s all bad; on the contrary, I think that gaming websites mostly do a fantastic job. Yes, even the ones that Gamergate dislikes, like Polygon or Kotaku. I’ve read tons of amazing material on both.
However, and I can’t believe I am quoting Spider-Man here, with great power comes great responsibility. And I don’t feel that all powerful gaming publications behave in a responsible way. We saw examples of some of them literally destroying human lives with their articles. We saw examples of pushing the agenda so hard it’s actually suicidal. We saw examples of promoting friends without disclosure, what ultimately was completely unnecessary and only resulted in a severe backfire and shitstorm.
So, one more time, yes, it’s a real problem.
NG: Should there be an ombudsman for the gaming press?
AC: I guess you’re referring to what Damion Schubert wrote on his Zen of Design website? I didn’t dig deep enough to have a firm opinion, but at first glance what he talked about made sense to me, yes.
NG: As a European developer, do you see any differences between the dev scene across the pond versus the one here in the Americas? Are there “dev cliques” in the old country as well?
AC: There are still a few big differences between US and Euro studios, but not necessarily from the point of view we’re talking about here. The dev world is slowly becoming homogeneous, and I think you’ll find any type of behavior or problems on both sides of the ocean.
NG: Is the game industry really as “small” or “tightly knit” as many outspoken devs make it out to be?
AC: No, it’s not. Just because you can reach anyone on Twitter doesn’t mean we know each other or that we know everyone there is to know. I am over five years on Twitter and I keep discovering new industry people worth following.
Look, marketing and PR companies have a problem with keeping up with all the changes in the magazine/website scene, old heroes are falling, new are rising. The power is constantly shifting. It’s a big, lively industry. Let’s not think otherwise just because a well-known name or two keeps popping up here and there.
NG: Are women at a disadvantage at getting into the games industry, in any way? Do studios and publishers actively discourage women developers?
AC: On the contrary. Every studio I know would love to have more women on board. I guarantee you that in most cases if a studio owner had to choose between a woman and a man of identical skills, they would either go for a woman, flip a coin, or they would dig really deep until they found that one thing that gives one person even the slightest but still meaningful advantage over another.
But I have never seen or even heard of any dev or a pub discouraging women developers. We had some examples of men behaving like jerks towards women and women behaving like jerks towards men but nothing that was an example of any sort of a trend.
Majority of hardcore gamers are men. Majority of gaming journalists are men. Majority of game developers are men. Any of the above has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny. Just like there being more female teachers than men has nothing to do with misandry. What it is exactly is a much longer discussion, but for now I want to make it absolutely clear that I have never seen anything resembling any real anti-women problem in game development or publishing.
NG: On the subject of censorship, as a native from Poland, I was curious of your experiences with institutionalized censorship. Forgive me if this is too forward (as I’m unsure of your age) but do you have any memories of Soviet Poland’s censorship?
AC: I’m 43, so yes, I remember the censorship quite well. Censorship and propaganda.
The propaganda was that, for example, you turned on the TV only to learn that Solidarity is the “enemy of the people” and they “stole some money”. But you were able to understand—combining the credibility of the communist propagandists, the verifiable info you got from the underground Solidarity press, and the experiences of every day life—that it’s all a lie. However, you could not be open about it, or you would face consequences or, at best, you’d be censored, silenced, ignored.
However, I want to make it clear that I am not comparing Gamergate to Solidarity. Let’s not compare the fight for a nation’s freedom, a fight full of the fallen, the hardest sacrifices, the impossible choices, with a feud over video games, shall we? But still, some elements are uncannily similar, and were actually the reason why I decided not to be silent on the subject.
NG: Should any game be censored? Does censoring a game directly go against the argument that games are considered “art”?
AC: We have two options here.
One is that art cannot be censored, and that means we should allow VR pedophilia video games where the protagonist tortures and rapes children, and that we should fight for these games’ right to exist and for their creators not to be punished by law for them.
Second is that art can be censored, that censorship is not inherently bad, and that maybe we should not allow people to make and distribute certain types of games.
NG: Do you feel like some game critics are trying to be “gatekeepers” to the populace? E.g. they lampoon a game that doesn’t correlate with their politics, but they put a game with an approved message on a pedestal?
AC: Sure, but that’s not inherently bad. It’s in the consumers’ best interest that websites and mags differ in opinion. That one praises a game while the other dislikes it. What is the alternative here, that all publications speak in the same voice? So let’s just have one website to rule them all? If they’re no different, why would we need more than one? No, obviously we need games analyzed and critiqued and reviewed from multiple angles. The end result is that a game can get 10/10 from one publication, and 5/10 from another. But that’s fine.
The only problem is that Metacritic often counts for dev royalties and bonuses, and that atrocity needs to die.
Note this is not about being a bad or good critic, that one is different. A good critic will fight their own bias, try to empathize with different takes, look for unusual, interesting angles, and only then express and explain an opinion. A bad critic pushes their agenda even despite facts or reason.
In short, I am all for variety in opinion, and that’s why whenever I read reviews of something, I sample every kind of opinion, from “I loved it” to “I hated it”. We should not fight against that variety, and we certainly should not get emotional just because someone else does not like the same things we do.
We should only fight for the higher quality of the gaming critique. That is a noble goal.
NG: What are your thoughts on Youtubers? Let’s Players?
AC: They don’t bother me. I feel that if someone decides to watch my game instead of play it then it’s a customer I wouldn’t get anyway.
Yeah, sure, casters make money partially off developer’s hard work, but whatever. I am yet to see a good game fail in sales because it was streamed. On the contrary, we have a lot of examples when a game became a commercial success exactly because it was streamed.
NG: You mentioned that for as much good you see in Gamergate, you also see the silliness and even bad things. What is GamerGate doing right?
AC: GamerGate is at its best when it’s fearless, but civil. I think it’s the most effective when that happens.
I also think … Now look, these are going to be big melodramatic words, but I genuinely think so: I think that Gamergate is one of the last few voices of reason in a world being haunted by the extreme left and their ghastly and dangerous caricature of political correctness.
I have nothing against political correctness as such. Changing the language or behavior to respect the feelings of others? Sure, of course. But the problem is that it went too far. You save a princess and that is sexist. A fictional game character being racist equals the creators being racist. A game cannot be a male fantasy because then it is a misogynistic piece of crap. The only explanation why a woman supports Gamergate is that she has internalized patriarchy. If your PC has Intel inside, you hate women. If your game does not feature closed captions, you are an ableist. If your studio is not at least 50% women, then sit down and think long and hard at how you failed as a human.
And it all bothers me for two reasons. One, that there are real issues—sexism, misogyny, misandry, racism, bullying, etc.—that the world needs to deal with, but all the extreme left achieves is for the neutrals to stay away and the extreme right to grow. Second, pushing the agenda no matter the cost creates an atmosphere of fear, resulting in impotent, chewing-gum art that offends no one and means nothing.
This is why I think Gamergate is important from my personal perspective as a creator. It’s one big loud “enough”. And I love the amount of critical work that Gamergate has produced, and this, in my opinion, is what Gamergate does right.
NG: Now for the silly/bad things—where should pro-GamerGate folks get to improving?
AC: That is going to be quite a list. Ready?
First, stop making storms in a tea cup. Stop seeing collusion and corruption everywhere, it’s just not true.
Second, control your anger. Yes, I know you’ve been shit on and you still being shit on. But antagonizing is the easiest thing in the world. Changing the opinion and beliefs of someone is the hardest. You won’t change anyone’s opinion when they look at what you have to say and all they see is anger. I remember watching the video debunking the “25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male” and I was this close to promoting it but then the caster went with “fucking morons” and similar. No, that’s not a video able to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced.
As a bonus, nothing pisses off the extremists more than a calm language or just ignoring them. Remember, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
Third, focus on the real work, not on distractions like “drinking SJW tears after TotalBiscuit won”. Yes, I get it, a little mischievous humor cements the tribe and you need to let off steam every now and then. Fine, I enjoy good pro-GG jokes as much as I enjoyed antis’ “It’s about ethics” cartoons. But damn, it’s such a waste of energy. It does bother me when I see some fantastic critical work—like Cain’s incredible analysis of FemFreq’s work—being tweeted about ten times less than another #FullMcIntosh screencap.
Fourth, stop with the sea lioning. For example, sometimes I have a discussion with an anti- and boom, ten people cut in with nothing to add, really, confusing the discourse. So unless you have something really valuable to add, preferably supported with a link, I kindly propose you stay away.
Another example. I just saw an indie dev showing off his email to a Gamergater, in which email he tells them to, basically, fuck off. Of course this is infuriating, but explain to me how dogpiling on that guy is going to change anything? Is it going to make him reconsider? No. Is it going to change the curious neutrals’ view on Gamergate? No. What’s to win here with this behavior? Nothing. So, instead, screencap, distribute, expose. Kindly reply to the guy with links proving he’s wrong about Gamergate. These links are not for him, but for any curious soul that reads the replies.
Fifth, just learn from Christina Sommers how to Twitter. She’s killing it with kindness, facts and logic, and that is extremely effective. She’s not my hero, I see problems with parts of her work and I did tweet about it in the past, but still, she’s just great at being effective.
NG: Do you think Gamergate is having a real impact on the industry?
AC: Yes, and in multiple ways.
NG: What advice do you have for Gamergate? Where should the supports focus their efforts?
AC: Personally, I would love to see more critical work produced, but one that is “distributable” to anyone who is not a hardcore Anti-. Way too often I am seeing an otherwise great piece of work tainted in places with storms in a tea cup, speculation, wishful thinking, anger, etc. That works well for an echo chamber, but it achieves nearly nothing in the end, merely another pat on the back.
So I’d love to see these Gamergate-fueled mainstream alternatives grow. One of the things that Gamergate managed to achieve is that I am pretty sure it has increased the readership of the websites it dislikes. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, as I don’t have emotional relationship with websites and I can find interesting, inspiring things anywhere, including highly anti-GG places. But I guess that’s not what Gamergate wanted to achieve, right? So instead of Gamergate being vocally outraged by whatever it dislikes, and thus in reality promoting these places, I’d love for it to focus on creating alternatives, supporting ones that are being created, or supporting ones that are already there and do a good job of being sane and in the service of honesty, logic and reason.
I wanted to thank Adrian Chmielarz for the opportunity to make this wonderful interview happen. I hope this can encourage other developers to speak out on the gaming industry, GamerGate, and the quality of both games and the reporting on games.