Game Developers Aren’t Slaves

A while back I saw this pro-GamerGate post and had a flashback to my days in the political blogosphere. I’ll save you the time of reading it: It’s a long, very well-worded piece of propaganda disguised as anti-propaganda. (You know you’re reading propaganda when you come across the word “indoctrination.”)

Destroy this mad brute

The part that really made my jaw drop was this:

Never forget that you [developers] are here to please the gamers, they are not here to please you, validate your beliefs or prop up your ego.

That statement could not possibly be more wrong. Game developers are not prostitutes, servants, or slaves, as not just suggested there but stated outright. Game developers are artists, craftsmen, and businessmen. They create a product or service, and it is up to you the consumer to decide whether to purchase it or not, the same way you decide to buy a couch or a television. Or more accurately, the same way you decide to watch a movie or buy a book.

That sentence up there, in my opinion, is the very crux of the problem with a lot of crowd-funded game supporters (otherwise known as angry mobs). Most of them seem to feel that donating some money to support a game buys them ownership of the developers themselves, as if they have literally purchased slaves in some Mereen marketplace.

Full disclosure: I’m a software developer, so I have a very strong pro-developer bias. It absolutely infuriates me whenever a user feels that they own the developer as much as they do the software. “I bought your software so you have to do what I tell you or else!”

The other part of that post that I found pretty insulting was the implication that gamers are idiots who will instantly fall under the spell of whatever hidden message a game developer puts into their game. If that were true, then politicians would be right to ban violent video games because impressionable gamers will become violent after playing one, right? If you say gamers are so impressionable that they’ll turn into liberals after playing a game with a socially-conscious message, then there’s nothing stopping them from turning into serial murderers after playing Doom. Next up on the Gamergate agenda: Book-banning and record-burning!

I agree that it’s not a game developer’s job to teach morals, whatever they might be. Same for authors and movie-makers. But I strongly disagree that a game or a book or a movie can teach any morals. That teaching is much more effectively done by parents, social circles, and individual soul-searching, and those things will always trump whatever a game is trying to say.

Gah! This is why I stopped writing about politics. It’s too stressful.

Posted on Blaugust Day 11. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

One thought on “Game Developers Aren’t Slaves”

  1. As a developer myself, I think there’s a middle ground here that should be made.

    If I were building an app, say, MS Office Word, I need to make sure that app fulfills the needs of my target audience. It’s a tool, and users need that tool to be useful/effective. From that perspective, the developers are beholden to the customer in a large respect.

    A game is slightly different. Generally, they’re used as a form of entertainment, so if you look at a game from a completely utilitarian point of view, you would expect it to be entertaining.

    Now, where this gets muddied is that an app often has a very specific target audience in mind. Often times, games do not–or when they do, you end up with Barbie Horse Adventures. Not a bad game necessarily, but one with a very narrow audience. So without a target audience, how does one determine what’s “entertaining”? Some might find the social justice aspect interesting, despite others decrying it as propagandist. Others just want to shoot Nazis (which, apparently, isn’t propagandist, but let’s ignore that for now). Subjectivity is at play here, and anybody stating what a game “should” be is probably wrong.

    Where Wolfshead is correct is that gamers aren’t here to please us, validate our beliefs, or prop up our ego. There’s enough products out there that gamers can pick and choose to support whatever they like. Don’t like shooting Nazis? Don’t buy Wolfenstein. Don’t like Barbie? Don’t buy barbie Horse Adventures.

    But developers aren’t necessarily beholden to gamers, either. Think of film festivals. Often niche, artsy films will be shown, some make a few bucks, and otherwise it’s often about messages, or off-the-wall creations. They’re not selling a product, they’re showing a vision. Some games are exactly the same. Others are meant for mass market appeal.

    Also think of design by gamers. Look at City of Heroes, when they introduced player-generated content. The most popular levels/dungeons were farming levels, the ones that gave the most XP per hour. If they let gamers design the levels entirely, it’d be a very boring game. As a developer, you cannot be beholden to gamers’ requests, but if you’re trying to sell your product, you do have to please your audience, or they will leave. The question is how you go about pleasing them.

    Make it and they will come. The world is big enough with enough customers that niche products can get a following, if you so desire and can put out a quality product.

    (Aside, if folks are concerned about media moralizing, one should start with dealing with fiction literature, which has been moralizing since humanity could put words to paper. Think of your favourite science fiction book, and I’d bet a lot of money there’s some sort of moralization or reflection of society at the period of time it was written. Games, movies, television shows, song lyrics, whatever.)

Leave a Reply