Why you want assholes to make your video games
A few days ago we posted a conversation with Dan Teasdale, a long-time industry veteran who is starting his own studio with a firm idea of the type of games he wants to make, and another set of strong ideas about what he wants to avoid. He discussed all these things rather forcefully, and the comments in the article more or less tore him apart for his thoughts.
“He seems a bit contemptuous of games that don't adhere to his narrow focus. It makes me value his opinion less,” one reader wrote. Dear lord in heaven, I couldn’t disagree more.
Why it’s okay for assholes to make your games
Now, I want to make it clear that I’m using the word “asshole” here in a very specific context. We don’t get to see these people at home, or with their friends and families, or in any other context. Most of them are probably perfectly lovely people. I know for a fact that Teasdale is. But when we talk to many strong-willed members of the development community, they can come off… well, you know.
This is a good thing. The same personality traits that make Phil Fish spout nonsense at industry events or troll people on Twitter are the traits that allow him to crack down on Fez for years. This is the artist who created not just a fun puzzle game, but a title with an almost pathological sense of detail and mystery.
If you’ve ever sat down with a notebook filled with the insane-looking scribblings of a player who is trying to figure out Fez, you’re aware of the sort of dedication I’m describing. People who have a singular vision, who give up much of their personal lives for their work? They’re not often pleasant to be around. It takes that sort of dedication to their convictions to make truly amazing pieces of art, however.
Unreasonable people often create amazing things.
So when I hear Teasdale saying how tired he is of fantasy and science fiction games, I don’t get upset that he doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction games. I don’t have to invite the guy over to play games with me, and frankly the idea that developers need to validate the games we personally love is a little childish.
Teasdale may rather do anything except make a game like The Last of Us, but who the hell cares? We have people to make games like The Last of Us already. The company is called Naughty Dog, and they’d probably rather vomit into a shoe and eat it than make a puzzle game. They’re just smart enough not to say so in a public setting.
“This week I've played several recent games that are critically acclaimed, but are obviously terrible, even at the acclaim-garnering things,” Jonathan Blow said on Twitter this February.
This is not the first time he’s shared his opinions on other games, and he tends to be frank about those thoughts. Blow has a reputation for being somewhat aloof and arrogant, and it’s not entirely undeserved. I’ve had a few conversations with the man, in person and over e-mail, and he’s certainly prickly.
He’s also an amazing designer, and after playing through an early build of the Witness last year, and then seeing it again at industry events for the PlayStation 4, I’m very excited about the work he’s doing.
There’s a difference between someone you want to go bowling with, and someone you want to make your games. I feel like we often get these two things confused.
I think we often underestimate the amount of time, effort, and mental resources it takes to create a game, especially games that don’t fit into the current mold of action titles or free-to-play mobile games. You don’t want someone making these things who is trying to reach the largest possible audience ever, or is interested in making everyone happy.
When someone expresses dismay at the few topics that make it into modern games, I get happy. I may like many of the games that person is bagging on, but I want them to believe deep in their heart that to make such a game would be a personal failing. That is the conviction that allows people to make a great piece of art, whether it’s in video games or any other media.
When Christopher Nolan is openly disdainful of digital cameras, it’s not worth getting worked up about loving so many films that were shot digitally. He’s not attacking our enjoyment of entertainment, he’s showing the single-minded devotion to a personal and particular standard that allowed him to make The Dark Knight and Inception.
I don’t need Christopher Nolan to extend an olive branch to digital cameras in order to enjoy his movies, I just want him to make good movies. He’s kind of an asshole about the method of shooting them, but so what?
I enjoy those who are uncompromising about their games, and what they want those games to be, and what they don't want those games to be. I want them to believe in what they're doing 100 percent, and to make a game for someone, instead of a game for everyone, which is another way fo making a game for no one.
You can't have that personality, or that drive, without it affecting how you speak, and we love to turn these quotes into sound bites in order to demonize people. I read Teasdale's words and fell in love with what he is trying to do. I've walked through too many studios where it's clear the cultural understanding of the world begins at the Lord of the Rings, and ends at James Cameron's Aliens. I get excited when developers share their convictions in strong ways, even if they sometimes attack games I personally adore.
Here's to the assholes.