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We Love Games

Approaching her 30th year as a game developer, Brenda Brathwaite of Loot Drop resists the concept of the rant and instead looks back upon the industry's many challenging spots in her GDC 2011 talk, "No Freakin' Respect: Social Game Developers Rant Back!"

[At GDC this year, I took part in the "No Freakin’ Respect! Social Game Developers Rant Back" panel. Except, I didn't really want to "rant" or to "rant back". I wanted a call to action to move the medium forward, to join forces as we've always done, and to work together toward great gameplay. This is the full text of my talk.] 

Brenda Brathwaite, Loot Drop, Inc.
COO, Co-founder and Game Designer

I resist this rant. I resist its leading title, and I resist the will to fight. I will not turn against my fellow developers who have supported me through 30 years of my career.

We have been through this before. For me, it begins in 1981.

“You’re ruining games, you know.”

My Dungeons & Dragons DM said this to me when I started working at Sir-tech Software on the Wizardry series of games. “Games aren’t meant to be played like that, not this game.” He had heard about Wizardry, how I could create 6 characters and take them on an Apple II adventure, without interacting with any other human beings.

It wasn’t social like D&D was; it wasn’t even particularly intellectually challenging. The entire game had maybe three puzzles in it, and an absolutely endless series of button mashes - Fight, Fight, Fight, Parry, Parry, Parry. It would have been a clickfest, but we didn’t have mice on our machines back then.

I remember people writing letter after letter after letter when they found the Lesser Demons and Greater Demons that haunted the lower levels of the maze. They called us evil and said our games promoted Satanism. They didn’t, and we didn’t, but it was a reflection of the time we were in.

It was a challenging time. We stood together, you and me, because we loved games.

I remember when graphics started to replace text, and we worried that the game’s deeper meaning would be lost, and that soon, games would be nothing more than meaningless images incapable of transmitting any deep type of play, never mind the feared complete loss of story.

I remember lamenting the loss of the text parser and absolutely railing against keyword conversations because, to me, they dumbed down the whole game to the level of toast. I remember when cutscenes first appeared in games and we committed the cardinal sin, taking the game out of the hands of the player, because we wanted to show something cool and wow them, even if they just sat there waiting for it to pass.

I remember these things, you remember these things, because we loved games.

I remember when we really started having fun and players were slapping each other silly in arcades and at home in Mortal Kombat. It seems so quaint now, the ripping out of your opponent’s heart. Thanks to a bunch of concerned legislators, Mortal Kombat and Night Trap were dragged to the floor of Congress in 1993, and that same year in front of the same Congress, Sega and Nintendo fought each other like two foolish characters in front of the world.

Then DOOM was released and blamed for Columbine and every police officer stopped asking, “Did he listen to Ozzy Osbourne,” and instead wondered, “Did he play GTA?”. We stood together, most of us, because we knew that games were games, and that games didn’t shoot people. Real guns and real bullets did. 

We’ve been called murder simulators, sex simulators, rape simulators, insensitive and horrible. In this very state, legislators have tried to class games with drugs as “harmful substances” in order to prohibit their sale.

I remember these things, you remember these things, because we loved games.

I remember when a cut feature was found and hacked, and the term “Hot Coffee” no longer referred to a steaming hot beverage but a steaming pile of shit as the game industry was once again threatened, re-rated, and subjected to over 100 new pieces of legislation in response.

Some game developers made really bad games about sex and explored its frontiers. And I remember Elder Scrolls getting re-rated, because they revealed that underneath a woman’s bra, God forbid, there are nipples, even if you can’t actually ever see them through normal gameplay. More recently, Fox News called Mass Effect a virtual sex simulator.

We stood together, you and me, because we love games.

When the powers that be asked us to work a little bit more, then a lot more and then seven days a week, we supported one another. When seven days a week turned to months and sometimes months turned to years, we stood behind a lone courageous voice, EA Spouse, and forwarded her call to everyone we knew. When they came for our products, our creativity, for our companies, for our hours, and for our families, we did everything we could in public and behind the scenes to fight against the people in suits and for our games.

We stood together, you and me, because we love games.

I remember when on the floor of this very conference, we fought against allowing console game developers admission and vigorously debated letting our beloved CGDC become merely the GDC. I remember when I first heard games called “addictive”. I’d returned from a morning spent volunteering at an alcohol detox center. I wondered what their definition of “addictive” was. I remember the horrible month of September 2001 when flight simulators were blamed for the horror that was 9/11. Racism, hate crimes, violence against women, children, and animals: all of these have been our burdens to bear.

We stood together, you and me, because we love games.

And then we moved to Facebook.

I know the things that are upsetting to you, and I can assure you they are also upsetting to me. I have seen the strip miners and their entry into games. I have seen them exploit technology and new platforms not for the purpose of crafting beautiful creative works but rather taking the audience for all they can get. They are not one of us or from us, but rather from another space, and they do not understand this contract that we’ve had with our players since 1978, because we are our players.

These people do not care about gameplay. They do not care about games. They do not care about players. They do not care about fun. And you know what? I dislike them just as much as you. I have witnessed decisions made not for fun but for fortune. I have seen games gutted, and players churned and burned. I have seen things I never want to see again.

And these game developers here on the stage? We are not like them, and we do not come from that world. Like you, we want good gameplay, we want compelling experiences, we want casual, and we want hardcore. We want to make a great game for the 43-year-old Facebook Mom, because - damn it - she deserves a great game, too. We are not the ones making what some of you call “evil games” but rather the first fucking wave, the Marines storming the beach to take our medium, our culture, and our potential back.

And as you look upon these games and curse them, know that we look upon the very same horizon and see a great space of possibility. I hope you will someday be the occupying force.

We stand together, you and me, because we love games.

Thank you.

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