When I read Ben Kuchera’s article this morning, “Why you want assholes to make your video games,” I must say I was a little taken aback. It was a unique position to write from, to be certain, but the outcome felt a little… forced? There were assumptions in it that I did not agree with, and a distinct lack of any mention of the other side of things. As Ben (Unkle, my partner, not Kuchera) and I talked about it, we decided that the only way we could properly respond would be our own article.
We have no interest in putting down Mr. Kuchera, a brilliant and talented writer whom we both respect. As he approached the issue from one perspective, we approach it from another. Between the two, and any other viewpoints that are expressed in this conversation, perhaps some will be able to make up their minds.
What makes a great game developer? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either, no matter what they say. Sure, there are examples of etiquette-challenged developers who got game- Phil Fish, David Jaffe, Tomonobu Itagaki- but there are also plenty of skilled developers who are just the nicest guys in the world. Peter Molyneux is a wonderful guy. Yoshinori Ono is as cheerful a man as you will meet. Tim Schafer is a funny, friendly gift to the industry. I don’t think manners has anything to do with the quality of your work.
So where does that leave us? Should we marvel at those individuals who create amazing games whilst being unpleasant in person? It is impressive, in a way, that they can press on and make their dream into a reality in spite of the social challenges they face- it is not easy to get people to help you out when they find your company of questionable quality. I suppose I can see why people would want to point that out. Me, though, I would rather admire the total package. People who are true role models- those who are driven, passionate, and brilliant, but also friendly, charming, and reasonable. Good people who are good at their jobs.
Ultimately, those are the people who will lead this industry to greatness. It’s not enough to make incredible games- not if you want to change the world. Some of these more rude creators, they will make their amazing games, and those games will be remarkable experiences. But eventually, they will make fewer games, and they will retire. And their legacy will stop there. No one carries on the traditions of a man they didn’t want to be in the same room as.
The nice guys, though… their ideals will carry on for decades. Young developers taken under the wings of Ken Levine will take his passion and go on to create their own games from the lessons he taught them. Already there are hundreds of developers who owe their inspiration and devotion to the eternally smiling Miyamoto, and the father of Mario will continue to inspire for years yet. These men are individuals who are not just impressive, but truly worthy of respect. Good people. Perhaps we should spend more time writing about them, and less hyping up people who can’t respect the rules of society long enough to promote their own works.
Look, there’s no question that a few groups or individuals with questionable morals also happen to makegreat games. Twitter’s mostly-naked communication exposes more than developers typically want to reveal, and from time to time, you’ll see someone you admire say something incredibly dumb or meanspirited. It’s easy to dismiss such slips as a bad day, naiveté on an important subject or joke that accidentally turned sour. However, as similar as they make look, there’s a big difference between tolerance and encouragement. The former acknowledges that everyone makes mistakes, while the latter essentially crafts a “get out of jail free” card for that one boss who decided to harass his team.
“It’s OK to be a jerk if you’re a visionary” isn’t the right message to send to developers, press or fans out there. Artists might see it as an invitation to do whatever they please once they’ve tasted the sweet fortune of success. The rest of the team may hesitate to speak out against that artist, since he works hard and these comments just come “with the territory.” Good luck gathering the courage to call them out, lest you wish to lose your job for some silly reason like “You’re too sensitive!” The press might find a jarring statement from someone within the team along with evidence of harassment within the workplace and portray it as just another reality of game development. While this will motivate some fans to take that company to task, others will equate the role of a quality artist to that of an untouchable warlock. A bad problem worsens because the market floods with aspiring Greenhorns eager to let their inflated sense of self-importance run wild. Is that the future you want to see?
Why not champion the positive attitudes and behaviors of the community instead? Polygon ran a great feature extolling the virtues of Klei Entertainment, a developer that fought tooth and nail to buck the status quo and give employees the time and resources they needed to raise families. Vlambeer, Brendon Chung and Derek Yu are all about helping established and up-and-coming creatives alike. There are so many people within the gaming community who are loving, wonderful beings. Instead of excusing bad behavior (or casting many undeserving people in a negative light), let’s cheer for the small and large heroes, and hold everyone else to their high standards. We’ll be better off for it.