Whatever Happened to the Electronic Artist?


On Waypoint Radio 190, Danielle, Rob, and Patrick look at the image of the game developer. Spurred on by a recent Eurogamer piece examining early 80s EA advertising for "software artists," and the infamous 2008 New Yorker profile of Cliff Bleszinski, and the image of creatives in our field through the years.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/vbn3za/whatever-happened-to-the-electronic-artist


I was thinking about the rejection of auteur theory and how we should emphasize the contributions of a team when we like a game, and it’s something I agree with generally. But what about the games we don’t like on ethical grounds? Games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance or Shadow Complex, which were developed by teams of (presumably) decent people but were spoiled by the involvement of prominent shitheads. Are we using a sort of reverse auteur theory to dismiss these games? Granted, a big part of my reticence for playing these games rests on not financially compensating bigots, but then does that reservation melt away when Epic gives away Shadow Complex for free? I’m honestly conflicted on where to land on this. What does everyone else think?


You can’t pin a game like kingdom being massively racist on one person as if there are just “a bunch of undesirable elements” or whatever and you can just take them out to get a good game. It’s bad all the way down, that ideological stance is present in all stages of that game’s design.


Since the issue is that you have ethical misgivings about supporting certain creators, it’s probably right to say that you wouldn’t want to play a game that itself nakedly represents the values of those creators. given that KC:D fundamentally does do that, in its intentionally rare and specific use of dark skin tones and some of its gender dynamics (there may be more, these are the ones that come to mind for me), I think that Shadow Complex is a better example.

The story is, purportedly, written entirely by Orson Scott Card, so it’s fair to cite Card when talking about the game. Having said that, I don’t remember Shadow Complex representing his repugnant values in any way. So the question is, do you want to support a game ‘by’ Card, regardless of its content? Do you want to support a game created by a team who decided to work with Card?

I think that, when we talk about auteur theory in games, we are talking about the influence of a creator’s life and values on the themes of the game. We’re using that lens to try and frame the work in a critical sense, as in Leigh Alexander’s amazing piece on MGSV as a mechanical representation of Kojima’s experience working under Konami. But when we talk about KC:D and Shadow Complex, we’re not always talking about how a bigot’s values ended up represented in the game. Sometimes they are, as in KC:D, and sometime’s they’re not (at least to my memory), as in Shadow Complex.

I can only speak for myself, but when I think about if I want to buy Shadow Complex, I’m thinking about if I want to give Card money, or if I want to show the industry that a developer who works with Card can expect no pushback. Although KC:D does arguably reflect the presumed values of the shithead ‘in charge’, for me in the case of both games, my decision not to buy them is less about whether or not I want to play a game that represents their values and more whether or not I want to support an asshole.


It doesn’t express his bigotry (likewise, as far as I remember), just his right-wing paranoia. Shadow Complex is about an army of radical leftists called the Progressive Restoration who assassinate the US VP and start a civil war.


Shadow Complex is a weird one because while it was based on Card’s novels which had the radical leftists. The game was written by Spider-Man writer Peter David who turned the the Progressive Restoration into radical fascists with a fraudulent populist slant. And refused to apologize when Card got upset about his vision even though the novels were commissioned for the game by Chair entertainment from their own ideas (Which did not include radical leftists) and went with them to Epic.Gotta love Epic explicitly saying the game was written by Peter David on their website as well and just completely erasing Card from the project. @Navster You’re free! Play Shadow Complex, it’s one of the best Metroidvania’s of the last decade!


Yeah, here’s the novel series that ChAIR had Card write. Woof.


I don’t necessarily want to attribute the whole game to just everyone that left Infinity Ward to go to Respawn, but I could see the argument that activision really fucked up on not having Titanfall. I also can’t wait to see how EA totally fucks up since buying that studio and saddling them with a star wars game. I may end up being one of those people that gets their heart broken by EA doing what it does best.


So I have a dilemma.

I have, like a lot of people here, huge issues with the idea of the “auteur” within media production. It often erases the labor that goes into something, and creates idols out of people, as if an entire film or game sprouted from their skull fully formed.

But I also watch David Lynch movies, and Akira Kurosawa movies, and Paul Thomas Anderson movies, and often will pick the films I’m going to watch based on the “auteurs” behind them.

What I’ve started trying to focus more on is the term “director”, especially within games. Barring the few small indie teams, games are usually a massive collaboration. What a good director does in these games, from what I understand, is direct the group effort of the whole team. They don’t author each individual line of code or toil over each individual art asset; directors don’t and shouldn’t do that. But, hopefully, what they do is help guide the collective strength of the team into a complete piece of art that means something.


Hey fyi Peter David once reacted to a question at a panel by screaming anti-Rromani hate speech. i agree with your points about the game and the writing of it but for real he is not a very good person.


I’m horrified to hear that. Consider it withdrawn and myself incredibly disappointed to hear that because I quite liked his comic writing.


Follow-up article here, including a statement from RomaPop

You can also find footage of the panel, but I won’t post it because what the guy says is pretty abhorrent


So listening to the podcast, I was trying to think about the other media they covered (in this episode and in general, even including stuff like Idle Weekend discussions etc).

I don’t know who created (as is often credited) the TV shows they discussed. I don’t know who the showrunner for Halt and Catch Fire, SuperStore, or Parks and Recreation are (or if it’s the same person or group who are credited as “created by”). I’m sure some people do, but I don’t and I’d bet that a reasonable number of people who watch those shows also don’t. Probably the most likely to be well known is Parks and Recreation because comedy shows are often led by people more in the public eye (as they practice their comedy in public so get larger followings directly) but until I looked on Wikipedia right now, I didn’t even know it was created by two people. I’d almost guarantee that most people don’t know the writing room credits (or episode script authors if not done via a comedy room system) or episode directors and certainly not DoP/cinematographer for each episode (sometimes an easier one when a show uses the same DoP consistently - at least I think, but I’d maybe not know because of how few of the shows I watch and enjoy I actually know who the DoP was).

I enjoy TV; it’s not something I’m extremely passionate about following but I’d say I try to be somewhat informed (I wouldn’t say I’m more passionate about films). But I really don’t know a lot of the names of the people behind it - my following of creative leads is patchy and often after-the-fact, seeing a show and thinking it makes interesting decisions and only then looking up who was involved and what else they worked on (using that to pick out people who it might be interesting to follow to their next project). I realise that unless I’m skipping the credits (now more common than ever as the intro credits also have a skip button on things like Netflix), I’ve seen plenty of names for every show I’ve watched - but often they go in and straight out again.

For long form works which have the potential for the work to have been cut up into pieces and led by different people at different times (on top of just who actually does the work possibly be anyone in the team), I mainly only know who is in front of the camera. Which seems like a good analogy to video games. Better than movies in fact (as movies really push auteur mentality and having a tier of leads who the studios want to be a draw to a project - even “from the producer of” gets thrown at new films to try and get people to associate it with a previous project).

We rarely hear the names of people who aren’t a project director in video games. But I think we hear the marketing for a new team all the time. “This game was made from people who used to work at/who worked on…” is a common way of introducing why the audience should care about this new project that not a lot of people know the names behind. I’ve heard a few TV shows discussed as “a lot of people who worked on X moved to Y” to explain why it’s worth checking out when a new series starts up. Maybe there’s some value in mining why TV shows have less well known leads behind the camera and if that gives insight into video games.


Very much this.

I think the whole idea of the “auteur” needs to evolve to respect that a key part of what “auteurs” / directors do is find the right people for the right project and create an environment for those people to flourish. Like when you think of how PTA uses music in his films and gives composers a chance to make their mark on the film; and, if you’ve ever read about how David Lynch works with actors, it’s really interesting (especially in terms of how, for example, he might cast crew members or non-actors in roles out of an intuitive confidence and belief that that person can add something to the project).