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How Recent Outrages Made Me Question My Writing

twitter flame wars 04-03-15-1

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

Hello everyone, keeping with the tradition of Elysian Shadows being as open and as public about game development as possible, I am going to write about something, well, rather unpleasant that I found out about myself recently.

I will preface this, however, with how writing in Elysian Shadows is handled. The whole story idea is handled by Falco and Tyler. Dan and I can suggest what to add/change, but ultimately everything’s up for discussion amongst us all, and so far there hasn’t been a thing that we couldn’t agree on after having a civil debate. Also, the rest of the team are well-known not-givers of fucks (Falco and Tyler with their Alabama redneckness, and Dan with his British sass), so we don’t really have to worry about Elysian Shadows self-censoring itself as a whole. I am going to talk about me from my point of view. Also, I want to stress the point that I am Polish. English language and culture is—and always will be—somewhat foreign to me, so if any of you want to take offense, please ask for clarification first—chances are things got lost in translation. And now, without further ado:

I, as Art Lead, am significantly contributing to the “background lore” of the universe, writing about cultures, past history, and so on. After all, I am designing how these people dress, how their cities look and what their environment looks like. It makes it easier for me to have some sort of lore backstory for what I draw, so I naturally write something, submit it to rest of the team for discussion, and then we move on.

elysian shadows 04-03-15-1
The above is an example of design shaped by culture and the people’s toxic environment. Their culture shuns showing bare skin and especially eyes; nowadays it’s largely ceremonial and of minimal use, but in the past, long ago, it saved lives.

However, I was part of the gamedev scene one way or another for the past few years (mostly as a spectator, more recently as a participant) and that left a considerable mark on me. I saw gamedevs that were fighting against “games cause violence” now supporting “games cause sexism”. I saw gamedevs being threatened and labeled as sexists if they did not comply with the angry mob. Most recently I saw gamedevs apologising for a drawing of a barmaid.

And then I realized, just yesterday, I was already censoring myself too. “Will it upset someone?” “Will it cause outrage?” “Will I be called sexist for writing a sexist character in the game?” Questions like these were lingering and now the shadow of doubt cast on everything I wrote in the past two years. How can I wholly portray the entire world if I restrain myself from certain topics? In Elysian Shadows‘ history, we have people destroying entire swathes of land, starving and poisoning entire countries, committing genocide, murdering entire civilizations, slaughtering men, women, and children without exception, committing crimes against humanity, experimenting on live subjects … And yet I didn’t write a culture that was homophobic for fear of offending someone. As I write this, I wonder bitterly: out of all these topics, what’s more relevant in this day and age? How many countries have sexual discrimination problems and in how many does being homosexual warrant jail time or even the death penality? (Bonus points for checking out how Poland stands on the issue.)

I can see some people seeing it as a good thing—that my drive to not offend anyone was noble and just and I did right, not wanting to trigger people. But I disagree with that. Examples of bad behaviour are just as important—perhaps even more important—than good ones. Most of my views have been shaped by seeing the bad that people did, and what I shouldn’t perpetuate, alongside seeing the right. I remember my parents’ tales of communism and censorship of that era, I listened to tales of people’s homes being raided by militia because they had dared to be “too political”. I saw my childhood friends being pushed to fulfill their parents’ dreams and what it did to them. I saw what poverty, true poverty, does to people. I saw people bullied at school and I was bullied myself, being an immigrant. I saw what happens when people don’t love each other anymore and decide to lie instead. But all these experiences made me grow, made me a better person. I saw what exactly happens when you do something bad and why you shouldn’t do that, why we should strive to be better people.

Games are uniquely qualified to put us in someone’s else shoes, in a safe environment. They can take aspects of our society and exaggerate them, in order to show what really is bad or good about it. They can take a white, rich, heterosexual man, and make him play the role of a poor elf who is discriminated against in a fictional world. They can explain the death of a dear friend to someone who is too young yet to have lost anyone. They can force pacifists to choose between brainwashing entire sentient species or xenocide—a crime of a magnitude that the human brain struggles to comprehend. They can show everything that we subconsciously hate about ourselves in a new context, forcing us to confront and examine it, or reveal the hardships of living in a totalitarian state, or what war does to common folk.

We can experience fictional worlds as our own, examine them, and draw conclusions. Through the lens of gaming we can learn something about others and about ourselves. But if any other gamedevs think like I do (and a lot probably do, as I’m hardly a unique snowflake), we could very well lose a lot of that. This recent re-emergence of puritanism, of outrage culture, dissuades gamedevs from certain topics, consciously or otherwise. How can we examine the worst of humanity if we’re at risk of being labeled as such for doing so?

Fortunately, I have recognized my own biases and can re-examine my work in time. Fortunately, our team as a whole embraces difficult topics, and encourages discussing them. Fortunately, Elysian Shadows simply doesn’t give a fuck. But if recent months are indicative of a larger trend, amongst gamedevs we seem to be in the minority.

[Editor’s Note: the above editorial was re-published with the author’s permission.]

,

About

Patryk Kowalik is art lead for Elysian Shadows project. Responsible for everything from the design and concept art, down to very last pixel art tile and frame of animation. Previously freelancing in game development as an artist since 2012.



45 comments
  1. Kaos
    Kaos
    April 3, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    NEVER CAVE IN TO THOSE THAT BELIEVE TO SPEAK FOR “THEIR” PEOPLE, KNOW THAT OTHERS ARE BY YOUR SIDE. UNITED WE STAND!!!

  2. sanic
    sanic
    April 3, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    “Elysian Shadows simply doesn’t give a fuck”

    Good, maybe I’ll check this out for my dreamcast, so weird that the dreamcast still gets games.

  3. Cy
    Cy
    April 3, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I’m even more glad that I pre-ordered this now. Writers should *never* self-censor themselves to try and appease people who are professional outrage peddlers. Not every story is going to appeal to everybody, and that’s how it should be. *That* is real diversity. Congratulations to everybody on the Elysian Shadows team for telling the story they want to tell, and if I had the money I’d pre-order fifty more copies right now.

  4. reaxxionrj
    reaxxionrj
    April 3, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Very well written article, very introspective

  5. Patryk Kowalik
    Patryk Kowalik
    April 3, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Easily half of the credit goes to Dimi; good editor makes piece shine.

  6. mrwizeass
    mrwizeass
    April 3, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Here’s to hoping other gamedevs have the same epiphany you did and stop self-censoring and caving to the SJW lynch mob.

  7. UntamedLoli
    UntamedLoli
    April 3, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Not giving a fuck or just laughing at these clowns is really the only way to go about it. They’re certainly not out to improve the quality of writing. Everyone around me holds similar views. I look forward to the day when our own projects get out there.

  8. TheCynicalReaper
    TheCynicalReaper
    April 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Welp, then you just won yourself another , mate

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous
    April 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    You’re awesome, the industry needs more brave people that speak up!

    The more people speak, more people will be willing to speak, because right now everyone is afraid of that angry mob that wants to lynch anyone who doesn’t conform to their whims and this kind of articles give everyone hope that we as an industry of artists, creators and fans have grown enough to stand united and survive the attacks going on against it.

  10. Nonscpo
    Nonscpo
    April 3, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    But but it’s not censorship unless the government does it, check your privilege!

  11. Falco Girgis
    Falco Girgis
    April 3, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Lead engine developer here. Thanks for having us again, Niche Gamer. Love you guys. Stay golden everyone. Don’t give up your artistic freedom or creative integrity to a bunch of self-righteous pricks. :D

  12. m0r1arty
    m0r1arty
    April 3, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Upvoted, but really, CAPS?

    Also, Ricky Steamboat bested Ultimate Warrior back in the day (Not that I’m into that kind of thing – your avatar brought back odd memories (Could be a trans in waiting SJWs – don’t attack!!!))

  13. m0r1arty
    m0r1arty
    April 3, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Do want you want, if it sells, do more if that’s your motivation, if it spurs on thought – well done if that’s your motivation.

    Don’t let non-creators, nor those with no understanding of the form, dictate what you can or cannot do whilst flying the flag of freedom for all.

  14. Kaos
    Kaos
    April 3, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    RICKY STEAMBOAT MAY HAVE BESTED THE WARRIOR, BUT IT ALL WAS JUST A PART OF THE ULTIMATE DESTINY AND MADE THE WARRIOR JUST MORE FOKED ON HIS ULTIMATE TARGET, ULTIMATE DESTRUCITY!!! “SKRONK”

  15. Fenrir7
    Fenrir7
    April 3, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks for writing this, Patryk! As an artist myself, I really hate that these pro-censorship ass wipes think they can tell me and other creators what to do.

  16. SpaceRunaway
    SpaceRunaway
    April 3, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Seeing that you guys are this cool makes me disappointed I passed on the Kickstarter. Elysian Shadows is definitely on my Radar and you pull off everything you’re setting out for.

  17. DeusEx
    DeusEx
    April 3, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I know the game I’d want to produce and write for wouldn’t give a fuck. I’d love to use the story and humor to satirize the industry as a whole. Because I think what we need to do at this moment in time is mock the other side of the isle. Ruthlessly.

  18. KefkaFollower
    KefkaFollower
    April 3, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    A world of difference between Patrik Kowalik’s stance and Josh Sawyer’s stance.

    (I’m still mad about obsidian)

  19. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    April 3, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Never heard of this before but, for being based, I will immediately look into it

  20. Astralwyrm
    Astralwyrm
    April 3, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    The industry needs to become an immovable object to this kind of external feedback. These hyper-activists are complete hypocrites. They act like puritans and have the cheek to call the targets of their body shaming misogynistic. They label anyone who doesn’t outright agree with them a member of a hate group and then proceed to lead witch hunts on what/who they don’t like. Every time they get to impact the industry; the industry is adding fuel to their ego trip activism.

  21. mrwizeass
    mrwizeass
    April 3, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    You and me both. It’s why I’ve chosen not to buy Pillars of Eternity.

  22. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    April 4, 2015 at 12:35 am

    It honestly disgusts me that some people claim to want games to be treated seriously as an art form and in the same breath try to censor anything that might offend somebody. Art isn’t art if it’s afraid of pushing somebody’s buttons.

  23. Mr0303
    Mr0303
    April 4, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Excellent point about showing the ugly side of humanity. We grow stronger as people when we encounter hardship – be that bullying, oppression or a loss of a close person. Falling down, failing and getting back up is one of the pillars of human nature. There would’ve been no progress if cavemen were offended at the weather and the wild beasts, or if scientists didn’t question the existing status quo.

    Thanks for the amazing article and good luck with your game.

  24. Ben (Broken)
    Ben (Broken)
    April 4, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I understand your concerns,Patryk. It’s good to have empathy to a point. However, you cannot cave to the censorship mafia. Once “kneeling” occurs they’ll expect “further tribute” and you will never be able to truly appease their ridiculous demands. I think this is due to histrionic narcissism. These individuals want to believe they’re truly better than you and the only way to keep that sense of superiority is to talk down to you as if you are constantly disappointing them.

  25. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    April 4, 2015 at 4:00 am

    The whole “background fear” is what upsets me the most.

    Devs caving in to threats only serves to reinforce that almost sub-concious voice in the back of any artist’s head, “What if people will be offended”?

    This is the true little-death of artists, and why I hate outrage culture.

  26. Patryk Kowalik
    Patryk Kowalik
    April 4, 2015 at 4:24 am

    And that’s excatly what I’m writing about. A lot of people think that it’s about active censorship, truth of a matter is that it’s much more subtle. And therefore more dangerous.

  27. Patryk Kowalik
    Patryk Kowalik
    April 4, 2015 at 4:27 am

    I don’t plan to, I never did. Yet, to my dismay I noticed that I actually did – I never actively was afraid of outrage, all of ES team are bunch of narcissistic cocksuckers, myself included.

  28. Mister Cerberus
    Mister Cerberus
    April 4, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Capitulating to bullies doesn’t make them go away. It makes them come back tomorrow with their friends.

    Don’t let anyone tell you what your art must be.

  29. Mister Cerberus
    Mister Cerberus
    April 4, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Before you decide that, just want to let you know that the poem in PoE was changed at the request of its creator, not Obsidian’s decision. And it was changed to one that made fun of, quote, “the bitch-bastards that were complaining”.
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CBtvkRkW8AEV75B.png:large

  30. Dimi Gronnings
    Dimi Gronnings
    April 4, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Aw, shucks. This will make for a nice companion piece to an editorial I’m writing. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  31. Patryk Kowalik
    Patryk Kowalik
    April 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Looking forward to it =)

  32. KefkaFollower
    KefkaFollower
    April 4, 2015 at 11:02 am

    That’s no how I think it happen.
    Even he say “they ask me if I wanted to change…”. Its not the same.

    Besides that, I backed the project. I buy the speech from the attached image. I never though that mean we change content at first SJW cry without consider the wishes of the backers as a whole.

  33. Keinart
    Keinart
    April 5, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Based slavs

    I use my free time in writting too and I know that feel really well. Before all the GamerGate thing I remember how unconsciously I would mitigate myself from making someone too sexy or make someone dumb, or klutz or whatever just because their race or sex. The text would feel forced, unnatural, I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, and I felt like a lot of important issues I wanted to tackle were empty.

    In that sense, GamerGate made me realize how important is to just leave your imagination go all out when it comes to fiction, it is not only to talk or write about these issues, is also to help your brain work better. If you start limiting yourself you can notice how your brain stops working as it should, ideas don’t flow normally, it’s like having a firewall of ideas, and the most important thing when you work in a creative industry is to let your ideas flow naturally. Imagine having a brainstorming meeting where you need to think what to say just in case something is offensive or not, that would be crazy. The first rule for a good brainstorm is to just say WHATEVER YOU WANT AS SOON AS IT COMES TO YOUR MIND, it can be anything, from the most stupid idea to the most offensive thought you could ever have, but it doesn’t matter because it makes the brain work and you get in a creative state where ideas flows letting you and your team improve yourselves and pick from all those ideas the ones you think are valuable.

    Now with all this thought police going on everyone has this creative blockade in their minds where ideas must be filtered because of fear of being attacked by this angry mob. Some years ago I would be against girls in ficction going with no clothes at all, I thought it was stupid, but now I realize how even those things we find stupid help to develop a creative and open mind. At the end of the day you can do whatever you want but don’t let anyone filter your thoughts, no matter what you think or try to create.

  34. An Honest Opinion
    An Honest Opinion
    April 5, 2015 at 3:53 am

    We didn’t give a fuck and that’s how we got to this point. Everybody has been ignoring what’s going on, not just in gaming but elsewhere, and now these puritanical, oversensitive people have growing influence.

    They have to be shut down every time they complain, and it has to be in ways that the general public can get behind ever single time.

    They have a cult like mindset, honestly. So they need to be confronted with the truth until they wake up or just stop what they’re doing.

    These people complain by saying they’re offended about things, “Don’t you want things to be more empowering for everyone”, etc. They word their bullshit very carefully so that companies feel like they’d better go along with it or else they’ll look bad, they’ll get bad PR, or they’ll lose sales, even though we all know most of the people complaining will not support the product they’re complaining about, they’ll just brag about how they got some company to back down for no good reason, and then move on to fucking with someone else.

    Turn their nonsense right back on them. Tell them about free speech, tell them about your general audience and how they enjoy your content, etc. Bigger companies with more money should consider PR firms, or at least hiring talented people who can come right back at these people will well worded rebuttals.

    They can’t be ignored any more. Laugh at them, but tell them why you’re laughing too. They’ve got to be dealt with or they’ll just keep gaining ground and setting the world back.

  35. UntamedLoli
    UntamedLoli
    April 5, 2015 at 5:46 am

    Oh I’m all for letting them know why they are being laughed at in the most deeply cutting way possible. The issue is that you’re playing against what would be best described as professional victims. Threatening to report rape to get smokes? Been there. They are up there with the batshit insane like David Manning.

    They will do everything they can to drag you down so you need to keep your distance and not get involved in their petty arguments. You’re not infallible, it’s going to wear on you. I would rather spend that time to get something free of their influence out there.

    Alternatively pissing them off is a great way to get free exposure.

    The recent drama with Obsidian, as funny as it is what the epitaph was changed to. It never should’ve been considered to be changed. It was background noise but people keep validating them like Josh did. Given that his twitter went from daily activity to dead since then, yeah.

  36. m0r1arty
    m0r1arty
    April 5, 2015 at 10:23 am

    The Dragon was outright the most talented person who ever stepped in the ring. They changed the name due to his SJW affiliations and his love for pandas – fact!

  37. FalseTragedian
    FalseTragedian
    April 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Let me guess… You “held of on buying it just to see how they would respond.”

    They lost a sale because of the controversy. This is EXACTLY what the SJWs wanted.

  38. Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k
    April 5, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    You just have to be resolved to do the right thing if/when some nutjob starts the complain-train – and that’s to say “Ok. You’re offended. So what. We’re not changing anything.”

    Obsidian was not prepared to do this.

  39. Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k
    April 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Pillars of Eternity is the best RPG in over a decade. To let this prevent yourself from experiencing such a wonderful game is dumb.

  40. mrwizeass
    mrwizeass
    April 6, 2015 at 1:37 am

    I’m sure I’ll live.

  41. mrwizeass
    mrwizeass
    April 6, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Maybe so, but what does this say to devs if you still buy the game after caving? We’ll still support you even if you give in to the demands of ppl that would have never bought your game to begin with?

  42. Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k
    April 6, 2015 at 11:48 am

    You’ll live poorer for it, that’s for sure.

  43. FalseTragedian
    FalseTragedian
    April 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    You didn’t buy the game before they “caved” either. Your purchase or lack thereof is just an increment on a counter to them, how are they going to know that you chose not to purchase because they caved, if you didn’t purchase when the “offensive” content was still present? You’re just another person who never bought their game.

  44. mrwizeass
    mrwizeass
    April 6, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    No, I’m a lost sale as I stated potential interest in buying but decided not to because of this situation.

  45. Fenrir007
    Fenrir007
    April 7, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Same backer said on the forums he would have preferred if it stayed as it was:

    http://i.imgur.com/lfie3XH.jpg

    And says in his blog post he felt censored:

    http://www.orderoflaibach.com/blog/screw-you-firedorn-lightbringer

    Also, the big problem here is how Obsidian contradicted the words of their very Kickstarter (as Kefka has shown below) and backstabbed all their backers, first by listening to the ramblings of a genocide and concentration camp advocate, second by not putting this up for a discussion in their own official forums, third for ignoring the overwhelming majority both in the forums and on the very hashtag the offendatron started was against the change, fourth by not solving this in an elegant way that would please everyone (either through an official toggle or promoting the pre-existent mod that removes the heretical content made by the SJW brigade themselves through the means of pinning it to the forums) and finally, by ignoring the fact that saying there even was a transgender in the limerick was completely delusional (that is, by far, the least likely interpretation, and I can defend that position).

    Add to the fact that they lied to us (so this somehow got past their veto system…? Yeah, right) and that Firedorn never had a choice in the first place (PR statement says this was branded as a rogue element that got past their veto – they would directly contradict themselves if Firedorn had a choice and had chosen to keep it as it was).

    I can’t say I will boycott PoE since I’m a backer, therefore I’m stuck with it, but I downgraded any Obsidian games to “buy on 75% off” instead because now I have no idea if there will be censorship “post factum” enacted by them on game content. At least, once it reaches 75% off, I know all the censorship will have happened and I can judge appropriately if the game in its current incarnation deserves to be bought. I definitely will not back any of their KS’s again.