My name is Archie. I live in Los Angeles, I'm originally a native from New England, Connecticut, but that is a whole other story to tell.
Growing up on the outskirts of blue-blood New Haven, as the son of immigrants I did not fit in much with the other kids. Back then most I had in the way of friends was the games I played on the NES and a 486DX PC. It filled up a large chunk of my childhood and even then I had a glimmer of an idea that videogames would take up a large part of my life; I'm kinda happy it has became a bit of a reality.
Playing videogames and learning every aspect of it has been outlet for me to get deep into the bowels of art and computer science. I'm one of those DIY folks that if I want to see or do something I'll just go make it happen. Like, learning every bit about the game process is something that really resonates with me. Doing the art, the design, the programming, just every bit of it brings me nothing but joy. The hobby that became a career.
Wanting to have a hand in every aspect of games is something that can be rough, largely due to the fact the games industry only wants people that specialize in one aspect of production and this boils down to the mentality of the production pipeline. Generally you are forced into being a modeler or the person that does the levels or the programmer, but for someone that's really curious about all aspects of the industry, there's not much in the way of jobs. So, you are forced into making your own games.
But the interesting aspect is we live in a time where you can do that in a sustainable way, and the barrier of entry of making games is getting lower and lower. This is giving people the power to tell their own stories and bring their ideas to life and most importantly giving the power to create games in a short amount of time. Even in the 10 years that I've been in the industry, the changes that have occurred are just mind-blowing.
Have you worked in the game industry proper? That can be a nebulous concept, but I think you know what I mean, like, at a game company and drew a salary and had benefits.
Yeah, I worked at Electronic Arts in the lowest rungs of that company. That was my first job when I moved out to Los Angeles. That was also at the time when the EA Spouse article came out, which was a huge scandal about how workers at Electronic Arts were just getting worked to death. One of the spouses wrote this email saying how she does not see her husband ever and how it's affecting her family life and so forth. At the same time, I was just non-stop working. I had seen nothing of Los Angeles for a year; all I did was get up, go to work, come home, and go back to bed. And literally 29 days out of the month, living in a perpetual crunch.
I was like, "This is not right. This is terrible."
And it's all under the assumption that I'm willing to do whatever they tell me to do because I love videogames.
How old were you at that time?
I was 23, I think.
So, you were 23 and able to have that realization that, like, "Maybe this isn't right."
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs.]
I just started noticing that, like, "How come my friends have full-time jobs but also free time?"
When you are younger you want to get your foot in the door and that means, "Hell yeah, I'll take a hit and do what it takes to make something happen." And, you know, I think maybe it's just because I don't put up with a lot of crap, so when I see it I tend to just speak up. Most times it is in the detriment to myself, generally getting me in trouble. But at the end of the day, it's like, I'm glad I said something because, you know, someone had to say it.
Eventually after sticking to it for a year I up and quit EA -- I took an R&D job at ABC/Disney and then eventually I just went full-time freelance for the VFX and motion graphics industry. Which was kind of similar to games but it really let you set your own hours, giving you the freedom to work for a time and then take off for a time.
And that really resonated with me and really helped get my chops up as far as working different aspects of 3D and art and production and so forth. It provided me with a way better learning environment than games would have given.
Why is that? Why is that a better learning environment? Like, what's lacking from the games environment?
This goes back to the production pipeline mentality. You sometimes become a cog in a giant wheel. I am not knocking it, but it is not for everybody and I am sure some people thrive in that kind of place. But that large tech company atmosphere is something that is rarely suited for people of color and a place I was rarely accepted or felt I fit in. But motion graphics was a bit more accepting and the intimate team sizes where you can have a hand in every aspect of production. Moreover, it presented opportunities for upward mobility to move into positions where I could express myself more creatively and have direct input on what is being created.
What was it like being at EA while EA Spouses was happening?
Overall -- it was a neat place at times, I still look fondly and enjoy the part I played(although minute) in helping to make Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth and then also one of the Medal of Honor games. I think Pacific Assault? It's a little fuzzy.
That sounds right.
Yeah. Yeah. The Marina del Rey office building was huge at the time and a lot of the people I meet even today are like, "Oh, I used to work there as well!" We shared the same office and it's funny how barely any of these people associated with me. So, even with your development group you are cloistered away, you were working so hard that you barely got to meet anyone outside of your team, which is kinda weird to me.
It was a decent environment. I didn't feel like I got treated badly or anything, but there was an unspoken word that was like, "Yeah, you have to work yourself to the bone here or leave."
And a lot of people did leave, and maybe for the better, and it's sad in the end. If you go by that office building today, it's basically gutted and that whole studio is barely on a respirator if anything.
Does the game industry even seem like an industry? Is there actually any connective tissue? I get the sense in doing these interviews and just over the years paying attention to it that there's a bunch of companies making products but no real cohesion. Just a pile of money. Do you ever get that feeling?
You mean, like, a collegial togetherness?
Yeah. I mean, I don't think E3 really counts.
E3 at its heart is a trade show to sell games to the public -- It is not a place you go to meet other developers and industry professionals. If anything, E3 is just kind of a showcase and really for fans to come out, especially these days. It's crazy. I've been going to E3 on and off for 10 years now and it used to be very industry-based. Now I see people cosplaying at the event and it's becoming kind of like Comic-Con, but still you need to have credentials to get in, which I think is very funny. But still, everyone seems to get in no matter what. And that's fine, it's a really interesting place to be, but if you're not a raving fan of AAA video games, or if you're not a developer trying to show your work, there's not much of a reason for you to be there.
Did you have a feeling of what you were hoping a job at EA would take you to and did you get a sense, because you left, when exactly it wouldn't take you there?
I really didn't know what I wanted. I was fresh out of art school and I was just hungry for a job, you know?
Like, "Oh, I love working in 3D. I just hope I do something in 3D." And it wasn't even -- when I got there, I was like, "Oh, I'm kinda just doing grunt work." And you know, that's expected. That's something I expected. But I just never felt like I was learning anything new. "Here's the same things I'm doing everyday. Cleaning up this."
It's very much of a production cycle environment where you're doing the same thing over and over and over everyday and not really expanding your skills. And the same thing could be said for VFX and large motion film production, which I've had a bit of dealing with as well. It's like, you come in -- let's say if you're a compositor, that's all you're ever gonna be doing.
There's a finite life cycle for a person in that industry, I feel like, where you can only do it for so long and you're either gonna get burnt out -- and only so much are gonna rise to the top of that industry, so a lot of people do end up checking out eventually and doing their own thing afterwards. A lot of people I know have gone on to do very successful things but put their time into that sort of production lifestyle, kind of earn some money, and then realize there was no real future in it and then did their own thing.
So it's a nice industry if you want to work in it, but I don't think it's a long-sustaining industry.
It doesn't seem like a lot of people necessarily get to move up. I did want to ask you a little bit about that, but, like, for people who are making games on their own today what does success really look like or mean? What are they or you hoping will happen?
There are different aspects of what success is. It's -- I think at the end of the day you want to be known as a game developer. You want to have a certain style or maybe or mark or a voice that resonates with people. And I think a lot of it can be said about comic books or people who make zines or indie comic books or most art forms, where you wanna be known for the stuff you make and you want people to play it, really.
I think that's a lot of why people become game developers, is to see people play their games. That's something that you can't even describe, to stand in the same room and see people ecstatic and just go crazy for stuff that you spent hours, days, years of your life making and then all of a sudden you put it out there -- especially to be there, to see it in person -- and then all of a sudden, they're grabbing their friends, they're telling, "Yo, you gotta come check this out." You don't even have to say anything sometimes.
Then there's the goal of having large success, but I don't think that comes to everybody. That success could be monetary, which, I don't think everyone gets there. But I don't think everyone is really looking for that, either. Honestly.
If anything, it's sustainability, but not like, "Oh, I hope to retire by making this one game and that's it." If you're coming into it with that sort of attitude, you're really gonna be disappointed.
I mean, it's such a broad, amorphous blob of people. Making games may just be one small facet of who they are and maybe they have this whole other career that they never talk about.
I get a sense that some people feel ashamed or want to hide that they have a regular job outside of this stuff and they can't admit maybe they're doing this just for fun and it would be awesome just if someone sees their stuff.
There are AAA developers that make small games on the side. They don't have to make these games at all, right? These are people that are making the next Uncharted or something like that, but they still choose to sit around and make small little side games just because I think at the end of the day they really love it.
To go do this thing as a job and then come home and do it again, speaks a lot of volumes about the kind of people that are doing it, you know?
Yeah. But also, I get a sense that people who are working on such massive, massive projects don’t get to take ownership in the work that they're doing.
I don't want to paint it in such a simple, pessimistic tone.
But maybe. I mean, there are auto mechanics who fix other people's cars and then they go home and work on a hot rod in their garage.
But I've never known anyone like that.
[Laughs.] Maybe people that work on movies, right? I do know people in the movie industry, but, like, they work on sets and then they kinda do stuff on their own sometimes as well.
What do you find boring or really repetitive about the conversation around videogames online?
These days I'm trying to stay away from it more and more.
But it's like -- what is it? An echo chamber where one person says something and, especially online, you can construe what people say to mean anything. And then one person takes it one way and gets really offended and usually gets on, Twitter and compounds the problem -- these days I'm staying away from Twitter because I don't think it's helping anybody.
Not helping what? I mean, I noticed you had deactivated your account. You're gone now.
People have started spoofing my account now.
That's how you know you've really made it.
But, no, I saw your account was down and it's like, "Oh, well, that totally makes sense." But, I mean, tell me what you mean when you say it isn't really helping.
There's no actual conversation being had. It's just people spouting whatever they think and most of the time you can be as terrible as you want because there's a level of anonymity. No one will know who you are so you can be as terrible as you want and then that just compounds the situation of people's feelings getting hurt and then people just upping the ante as well.
Like, "Oh, someone said something really terrible? That just means I can say something even more terrible and get away this it."
People form into these little clique collectives and that doesn't help either. You end up just alienating a lot of people and I think overall, like, there's just no dialog. At the end of the day, I see it as a place to sell something or to sprout something really terrible toward other people.
Maybe it's bad that I'm not on there, but for the time being I'm taking a break. It just became too toxic of a place and something I didn't want to deal with anymore.
The weird thing about talking about the Internet is it's so massive and it's made up of all these subsystems and cliques and I don't know how videogames got to be like this. It happened gradually, slowly, and then loudly. Have you kept an eye on it and ever noticed any particular upticks?
Are you talking about how terrible people are sometimes?
Lot of it goes back to that anonymity. Especially if you're playing games in game communities like Call of Duty, people are just really terrible. People are dropping the N-word, being extremely misogynistic against women. Stuff that you didn't even realize until you have to deal with it in person. I'm just like, "Wow, if I had to go through that, I would probably not play videogames."
But women still want to play videogames and they still put up with it. At the end of the day no one should have to put up with that terribleness. But there are wonderful communities. I've played a lot of TF2 and never seen or heard anything like that. I think a lot of cultures around different games are unique to their own. It is up to you if you want to join that culture or not and it's bad if you do like a game and the culture doesn't fit with you.
That's kind of sad.
Yeah. I mean, you were saying in your email that the gatekeepers for game devs need to diversify and that's sort of where things are trickling to be so narrow and segregated and having, like you said, "a frat-boy mentality."
What gatekeepers are you talking about? Are you talking about publishers?
Well, I mean, that's another aspect that I've had to deal with, especially within the last three years at Glitch [City, a co-working space for game developers in Los Angeles], where before, if you wanted to go meet anyone that makes games, right, you had to go to GDC or a convention. It was the only place you could interact with the larger gaming publishing community. But something very unique that happened at Glitch is we had the industry walking through our doors everyday. You name it, they probably walked through the doors at Glitch to go check it out, to just see it.
Within the last three and a half years, I was interacting with the higher echelons of the industry on a day-to-day basis. And a lot of it, I notice, were a lot of the same types people, "Man, these are just terrible business types that are out to make a profit and don't really care about who you are."
Like, beige men in beige suits?
Yeah. They're not beige suits, but they try to come off as, like, "Yeah, we're cool." But there's a real shallowness to it.
That's the only way I could say it. And if you don't look like them and talk like them and act like them, they don't want to know you. That is the gatekeepers, who are white males only who only want to associate with only other white males.
This would probably be a good opportunity to explain a bit about what Glitch is for people who don't know.
Sure. Glitch was -- is a videogame development community. I tend to think of it more as an artspace.
Yeah, it's a physical space.
Yes. It's a physical space that a few people from former Thatgamecompany, Giant Sparrow, and Sony Santa Monica, and also from the motion-graphics industry were getting together and talking about how they love videogames and making videogames and then one day they all just decided, "Let's get a place and start making games together."
And for a long time, it was just a few people in an office literally unheard of. Nobody really knew who we were. We were just doing what we loved. That was one of the purest sort of things that I've ever done, and at the same time I was coming off from a project and I was pretty well off and I was like, "Well, you know, this is something I've always wanted to do. Let's see how it goes."
I was very, very lucky to have been there since the very beginning. And, you know, even to this day I feel like I've grown so much as an artist from being there. Then eventually it kinda blew up, after a year of being around, people just realized what we were doing and it was very interesting work. The name just got out there and it's just been snowballing ever since.
Yeah. I mean, so, we'll get into all that and why you used the past tense a few minutes ago when talking about Glitch, but can you talk to me a bit about how these spaces are different on the inside from how they are presented or seem on the outside?
I think the way they're presented is very much like a very -- one of my close friends and Glitch founder, Brendon Chung said, "Oh, people think that at Glitch we're a bunch of hippies that make videogames."
[Laughs.] That's a quote that I found really funny, but at the same time, I guess that's kinda true. So, basically, we're all kind of singular game developers that although we're working on different projects, we're able to help each other out. Because we have a lot of strengths, right? I have a lot of technical knowledge, Brendon just has a lot of incredible design knowledge, and other people come in with artistic backgrounds and we end up helping each other out and fill in the gaps sometimes where other people are lacking. Also, as a collective, help each other out in otherways. So theoretically, if one of our games comes out, we're able to help get the word out-- we all talk about it and that in turn gets the larger awareness of the game out there.
Yeah. So, I'm curious because this is something I'll never be able to know: What is it like to be a non-white in an alternative arts space?
You know, it's funny because when Glitch started it was a very diverse community. Seiji Tanaka was one of the former members who created a game called Journey from Thatgamecompany -- he asked me to come join Glitch City when it was first being founded, and it was a very different experience. Especially even coming from motion graphics at the time, which I was doing, because that was predominantly white males, only.
You get that in the tech industry. There was times where I'd be the first person of color in the entire office, ever.
And that was partly because I had to work my ass off. My portfolio showed it. I've had to work harder just to keep up, you know? But also, that made me a better person for it as well.
First coming into Glitch, that was one of the interesting facts is it was a more diverse community. But once we started getting a bit of notoriety and started getting bigger, then all of a sudden, the dynamics of the space changed. Where all of a sudden it was only white males who were being accepted into Glitch, there was a cutoff. Honestly, if it was today? If I was to try to get into Glitch, I probably wouldn't even get thru the door, which is really sad. And as time went on it caused a lot of issues.
How do people act stupid in games spaces, racially?
We talked a lot about this, especially between Seiji and a good friend of mine, Akira Thompson, who's also part of Glitch. We -- I equate it to, let's say you go to a restaurant, right? You go with your friends, right? And there's the waiter. You might get their name, but there's no actual association -- you're not collegial with the waiter. You're not gonna be -- it could happen. But you're not gonna become best friends. You're not gonna want to get the waiter's information 'cause they're there to do a job and help you out and basically, like, provide for you and get you out the door as well.
Right. To do a job.
But at the end of the day, no matter who you were, when you're a person of color, you only get treated like the waiter. No one wants to know who you are. No one cares about what you're doing. They rarely even talk to you. It's gotten to the point where there were people coming through the space for years and still had never wanted to say a word to you -- the first time, it's like, "Oh, it's a coincidence. Maybe they just didn't have anything to say to me."
The second time, you're like, "Maybe, that's weird."
Third time you're like, "Uh, that's really weird."
Three years? You're like, "Oh man, this is really wrong."
And at the same time it's like, "Oh, maybe it's just me."
And then all of a sudden you start asking it of the other people of color at Glitch and they're like, "Yeah, they just don't want to associate with us and it shows."
I talked to Seiji for this and he used the restaurant analogy as well. He said it's just like, you'd see pictures of people on Facebook and it's like, "Oh, here's all the white people from Glitch hanging out and they didn't invite me. That's weird."
Yeah weird, but it became the norm.
Is it stuff like that you're talking about?
It was openly talked about among the people of color at Glitch.
And I don't want to make it seem like I'm going after Glitch. But it is the games community or culture or whatever you want to call it manifesting itself in the physical world, and all this stuff is connected and not in a vacuum.
No, no, no. I mean, yeah, that's the external. You see that. There's a physical, actual proof of this now happening, right? You see on Twitter. Especially on Twitter. That was another reason where I was like, "I don't care for this anymore because no matter what I do, these people will never respect me or even care for anything I'm doing."
They just don't care about you. You're not even a human being to them.
Even after sharing an office with these people, they still don't want to associate with you. No matter how much you've done for them, no matter how many things you've helped them out, they're just there to use you and kind of throw you aside. The treatment showed they don’t even consider you a human being.
You still get that treatment inside the office, as well, and that was when it started getting toxic.
To have these people coming in everyday and just not even treating you like you exist in the space. You're just the pink elephant in the room that they have to side-step around and it's soul-crushing.
It was gross. I don't know how to explain it, but I would never wish that sort of treatment on anybody.
Do you think it's willful or unintentional?
[Sighs.] I don't know.
I feel like it starts as unintentional and then becomes subconsciously willful.
The first time, you want to say that it's that, right?
Yeah. You can't unintentionally do something for three years.
Exactly! Right? And these are people that you're like, "Oh, that's Blah Blah Blah from That Major Publication. That's That Person that owns That Giant Company." These are very connected people that are like, "I don't need to associate with you because you do not look like the kind of person that is supposed to be in the videogame industry."
And at the end of the day, then, you realize that no matter what you do in that space, you're treated like you are worthless.
No matter how many things you have done with the space. I created a lot of the events that were instrumental in getting Glitch's name out there to the public. I see all these people at the events that I helped throw, and they just don't want to know you. I'm like, "This ain't right. This is not right at all."
At the end of the day, it got to me, you know?
I want to ask you a little bit about this Pastebin stuff. I don't know how deep you want to or are willing to drill down in this, but I want to ask you a bit about what happened and a little bit about, like, Polygon did a story on it but they didn't really do a story on it. Do you want to explain or would you rather not get into it?
As far as the actual incident, or, like, what happened after?
Anything you feel comfortable with.
And, for the transcript's sake, this is more for context than anything else.
This was just a long line of things that broke -- it was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was such an egregious thing that I couldn't let it sit by and happen.
So, leading up to it -- I spearheaded an event called Sonic is My Boyfriend, and it was a party to enjoy everything that is Sonic because a few of us at Glitch where fans of Sonic and I thought it'd be a really interesting event. That's what I really enjoyed doing at Glitch. I was able to create these really interesting events that are outside of what a regular gaming event would be. There was other events I helped created like Glitch Knitty, which was a knitting group for game developers. An event that helped bring a lot of women to the space.
But also Sonic was My Boyfriend is like a Valentine's Day event for everything that was Sonic and it really somehow fit the theme.
We'd sit around a lot at Glitch and talk a lot about different Sonic subcultures on DeviantArt and so forth. We ended up creating a few fan games for the event itself and then we had a lot of comic-book artists that came and did fan art during the event. It was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life. If you're a game fan and love videogames, it was really interesting.
After, a group of us decided to keep working more on these fan games. During that time I had launched a game that I was making called There Came an Echo and had some free time on my hands. I started working with one of the group members, Jacob Knipfing on a side project. He created a prototype based on some suggestions that I made of a bedroom simulator of Sonic and his friends in really weird, suggestive situations, rolling around, all in good fun. The core of a lot of my work is just making people laugh.
I had a childhood friend that joined the porn industry. I've known her for a very long time, and I always wanted to create a videogame that kind of reflected my experiences of knowing her and her experiences in that industry, and what better than Sonic to convey that, thinking "Well, it'd be funny to marry these two."
So eventually I came up with this interesting mechanic of, "What if you were a person with a camcorder recording movies in a first-person game?" This is something I started working full time on and after some time Jacob started helping out with the project. During this time I went on my honeymoon and I worked on the whole time my wife and I were traveling. My wife is very, very understanding of all the things I do. Most of the honeymoon where filled with instances of sitting in hotels and I would pull my laptop out and be like, "I'm gonna code some more on this project." [Laughs.]
At one point I even showed it at a YouTube videogaming event and people loved it.
And eventually the game Sonic Movie Maker-- it was decided to be part of this group, this collection called the Sonic Dreams Collection, that the Arcane Kids was gonna put out and Jacob was part of, and I've worked with the Arcane Kids before and I was really iffy about it because of all the projects that I've worked on with them, I never received any credit or even any sort of acknowledgement of the stuff that I contributed. It really has hurt me a lot of times.
This lack of association was something I kept having to rationalize for myself, "Oh, it was just a coincidence." I explained every situation that was like, "Oh, you know, it was maybe just something on my part or on their part."
And then eventually with the game -- it got to the point where it was going to be added to the larger project. So once the project was combined together and it's like, "Oh, okay, let me keep working on this." And at that point, it just became radio silence. "Can I get added to the project?" There was no response.
It was just a lot of wishy-washiness and then at this point, I'm am thinking to myself, "Damn, is this happening again? Is this really happening like every other project that I've worked with them where I'm gonna get no credit?"
And at the same time, they're adding more and more to the project that I created -- they would show me the progress now and then, and I would respond with "That's great, but are you gonna include me back in? Can I contribute back into this project?" But nothing ever happened.
At times they would be talking about the project and realize I'd be in the room and they'd be like, "Oh, I guess we should show Archie what we're doing to his game now." [Laughs.] And the entire time I was feeling, "This is really weird. I don't understand why I'm kind of getting cut out of the project that I basically created." It doesn't make any sense.
Fast-forward, one day the game is out there, something I had to find out from other people and there's barely even a mention of me on it. There was so much out of the game that I created from the initial seeds, creating the core gameplay as well as coding some proprietary ways of recording video from a game engine camera. And one day I wake up to everyone on Twitter playing it, such as the people that created Minecraft are being like, "Wow, this movie maker game is one of the best that I've ever played!"
And not one mention of me where to be found.
Like, no one even knows who made this.
And to some extent will always never know. And then, at that point, I'm kinda furious. I'm really mad.
I contacted them and the basic response was, "It was never your project to begin with."
And, you know, I was like, "Wow, really?"
And at that point I sent out that email, and at that point they started reneging their stance --
It was never originally on Pastebin. I sent out an email to the collective and then I publicly posted it on Facebook and Tumblr. Eventually it was removed and put into a Pastebin and then whatever they decided to choose and say afterwards.
But that was only after -- the response of them, even including me, even considering including me was once I made this public outcry saying why I was so angry about this, right?
But even before, the people of color at Glitch were having meetings about how to deal with the racism within the community and the space itself. This wasn't just out of the blue.
Maybe I could have come about it a little better, but in the end of the day, no matter what you do, if you don't speak up they're never gonna respect you. They're never gonna give you credit without you having to scream at the top of your lungs. That's really sad, honestly. You know?
One person did, and it was some publication in the UK.
I got back to them, I told them my story and they printed a small blurb about it. Largely the games media doesn’t care about you if you are white and male.
And first I tried not to pay attention to the coverage of the game. But it got to the point where, "Oh, my YouTube playlists are now suggestions for the Let’s Play [videos] of Sonic Movie Maker ." So I'm like, "Fuck. I gotta go look at this now."
And it's like, "Oh, [streamer] Markiplier is playing my game. Oh, [streamer] Pewdiepie is playing Sonic Movie Maker and just said it's one of the most interesting games he ever played." And in the end of the day, I'm never gonna get credit for this thing.
And even now there's a Wikipedia where there's no mention of me in it.
Five -- six months of my life gone. In addition it took time out of my honeymoon to make this game. And it's something that was just stolen away from me and, I'll never be able to take credit for it.
But then, it also speaks back to Glitch, as well, where my fear is the people of color have no voice in the community. And at the end of the day, the contributions that the people of color have made at Glitch are gonna be forgotten and looked over because there is no support.
You were saying the reality is the voices of people of color at Glitch have been silenced due to lack of support and association of people of color within the industry.
It goes back to the point, there is no association. The gatekeepers come in and they don't want to talk to you. They don't care what you're making. They don't care about whatever project you're working on. They just treat you like you're part of the wallpaper. Eventually you start to ask yourself, "Do I just not have what it takes to make it in this industry?"
Also this is a sentiment I hear a lot of people of color in games say they have to deal with.
But then, for someone white at Glitch to take what a person of color has made and claim it for themselves and to see it blow up like that? At that point you have to start questioning, is it me that really has no skills or is it the fact that I can't find a voice for getting my work out there? That's the thing. The larger portion of the games media are predominantly white males and white males tend to want to only want to talk to other white males.
I come from New England. I know what this looks like. I've dealt with this my whole life.
It's somehow only gotten worse as I've grown older, or maybe I'm just having to deal with the higher aspects of these industries. I worked in VFX and I worked in other industries as far as development's concerned, and I've never experienced a glass ceiling that's thicker and less wanting to associate with you than in games.
You made a distinction before about the racism within the community and the space itself. Is there a difference between how racism manifested itself at Glitch versus, say, how it does on the Internet or how it does at game-industry events?
One of the first instances of racism at Glitch was the first time Glitch had a group event to showcase the games being worked on at the space. Mysteriously, every person of color was excluded from showing their work at the event. This was not the first time or the last time this happened, in addition this was what motivated me to run so many of the Glitch events. I knew if a person of color did not have a hand in planning, every person of color would be left out.
In regards to the larger industry there are a lot of game developer events that are not accessible to people of color. More often than not, these are events and private parties that gives a chance for publishers and press to meet developers and see their work. These are events most of the white members of Glitch would always have a standing invite to but every person of color of Glitch was repeatedly barred from.
A lot of developers use that as a way to get their work out there: "Nostalgia is a hell of a drug." It happens all the time. Just recently a colleague released an official Cartoon Network IP-based VR game, but the initial path that lead to that project was an Oculus game based on [the Saturday Night Live sketch] Night at the Roxbury. It is a story you see a lot in the games industry, but then again this is really never an opportunity that is given to people of color.
Also just because you make a Sonic game doesn’t mean it will be a hit. Trust me, there are a lot of them out there and I have played many of them.
I feel like going to places like GDC or other gaming conventions are really useless if you're a person of color. Granted these developer events is where you go show your games to the media and hope to garner some sort of attention. But, especially places like GDC, I think it's -- if you're a person of color, don't waste the money.
There are these secret meetings and groups. Indie biz parties where you'll never be able to get in, no matter what you've done, no matter how many games you've made, no matter how many Glitch Cities you've created, you'll never be able to get inside those places even to show your work. You are just not wanted based on the color of your skin.
Because you're just not on their radar. You'll never be on their radar, no matter what you've done, no matter how many things you've done. And that's what it takes sometimes to release a game. You can hope to put it out there and serendipitously it might go viral but, you know, if that's your game plan, then maybe you should really reconsider. You have to be a salesmen, get your game noticed so when it gets release you hope the press will cover it.
There is a sort of salesmanship that you need to go through. You make a game, and part of it is getting out there, talking to press, showing it to people, and just getting the word out there about what you're making. If no one knows what you're making, no one's gonna care.
When you're exclusively segregated and excluded from these situations, there is no real opportunity for you to make a game. Like, you can make games, but you will never have commercial success.
You need to talk to the gatekeepers. How do you talk to an Apple rep or a Steam rep? Honestly, I don't know. But I know anyone white at Glitch City could have that opportunity. I will never have it.
Do you have white friends who tell you about why they think they get those opportunities, or do they tell you about those meetings at all?
A lot of times I hear about meetings that devs go to at these industry events. Sometimes friends might ask why I was not going, and I could only shrug and say, "Maybe next time." But at Glitch it was always an uneasy secret that had to be kept from the people of color in the office. We would be all sitting in the office and mysteriously every white person had to quickly leave for the night at the same time. Later you find out via some social media that they all had been at some industry mixer or private event to show their work. This segregation is something we had to endure so many, many times. And all these times are opportunities lost, a chance to maybe meet contacts, find a publisher for your work.
What were your interactions like, then, with the industry people coming into Glitch? Did you ever ask for those sorts of meetings?
I don't want to name anybody but these people are walking through your doors everyday and it's -- [Sighs.] You kind of get that "you are not important to me" kind of treatment.
Maybe it's just, I'm not one of those people. But it's very much the same kind of person that's, like, in the gatekeepers. The people that you need to associate with to get wider attention for your games – are always these guys that are white that only want to talk to other white people.
And I think this is something that's in a lot of industries, and especially something that women are going through as well. It's like, if you don't look like them, talk like them, and walk like them, you're not gonna be there.
But I think that stems to another issue where we're getting the same things being created in games. There's not much innovation happening, especially in the indie community now because of it.
The case for more diversity is the different voices and perspectives that will come from it. We want games to grow as an art form, but right now the same narrative is being told over and over and true change will only come from outsider perspectives.
Mmhmm. I feel like that's a really unpopular thing to voice, but at the same time, because the barriers of entry to create are so low, you will of course have a lot of people making uninteresting stuff or just learning what they want to make.
I mean, that's the thing with indie games. You have to show them something that's kind of unique, but if you want to make it a commercial product, you have to wrap it around the same things that the AAA stuff or the larger developers are doing. But you kind of have to set yourself apart just in a tiny way. But you can't do it in a major way.
Or you still won't have commercial success, right?
And it's set against the standards of, like, what has been popular in that narrow range historically.
Indie Game: The Movie was a double-edged sword for this industry. On one hand it helped expand games to a wider audience. And on the other hand, that movie has set the archetype of what a game developer should be and what indie developers should be making. You should be a white guy making remakes of NES games that you played as a child.
If you stray outside of any of those situations, like, it's very hard for an indie-game developer to find a voice in the industry. Let's say you make a roguelike Metroidvania or a side-scroller -- they're just flooding the market. And pixel art. And I get it. It's feeding on nostalgia, but at the same time, like, how many of these can we have?
[Laughs.] We're finding out.
We did it in the '80s and we did it in the '90s and we're still doing it? There's some interesting stuff coming out, but at the same time, there's no real place for people to push the bar.
I think the bar only gets pushed when you have unique voices coming in. People like Anna Anthropy, she's a transgender woman and some of her games are truly some of the most unique things that I've ever played. But they don't fit in the large sphere of what a videogame should be. The games that Anna Anthropy makes, I could never make. That's just an experience that I'll never have. But that has translated into such amazing works of art and that can only come from unique backgrounds and unique experiences.
And, people of color are not gonna have those same experiences. I think what your life experiences are contributes a lot as far as what you make as art is concerned.
I get the sense very few people are even actually making the games they really want to.
Oh, you mean, because they're trying to get noticed?
I think it's easier, right? We talked about this a lot as well when I was at Glitch: When you're making your first game, you're always gonna make the game that you loved as a kid and usually those games, you could just look it up and see how to make it. It's not until you make your second game that you're gonna make something unique. It's even very rare -- usually the people that wanna make their first game are like, "I'm gonna make an RPG!" and doesn't really think about how you need a huge team to make an RPG. That's a giant, momentous project. It's just like, "Oh, that's what I know I love and I've been playing since I was a kid. I wanna make an RPG." Or, "I wanna make a sidescroller."
And there's tons of material out there to learn to make that, but to make something new and unique you need to have a vocabulary on how to make games and how to program or how to do art to create something that no one has seen before. It takes time. I think those people that came to that sort of level are really not getting the attention that they deserve. That's really what the future, as far as videogames is concerned, is gonna go towards. We're gonna start seeing really interesting -- I don't want to say mechanics, but really interesting perspectives on what a videogame is from those people. Not the people who are like, "I'm gonna make my first retro NES game!"
You were talking about unique voices is something that's rarely discussed in games but, even, like the voice actors who portray people of color in games is a very small pool.
Yeah. I mean, you know, it's a small industry. Everyone knows each other.
Is it? I thought it was bigger than Hollywood.
[Laughs.] Well, AAA in revenue is a larger industry than Hollywood. But the amount of people who do voice actors, which is a tiny percentage. There's a lot of things in games that comprise a game, but at the same time, the voice actor community is a very small group. It's very homogenized and it's like, "Oh man, we have these diverse characters but all of a sudden they're just only voiced by white people."
That seems almost disingenuous to me. [Laughs.] That's again, you gotta select from the pool of talent you have -- I would like to see that group diversify more, but that's a little outside the realm of what I can change, as well. So, they have to look within themselves and realize what might be happening.
That seems almost disingenuous to me. Overall for an industry that is making more money than Hollywood, the diversity numbers are abysmal. Moreover, Hollywood is not any better to start with.
It crosses over to the larger tech community, as well. A lot of these issues, what I'm detailing, is stuff that's happening all over the tech industry.
Across the board. There's less than one percent of blacks, working in computer science. In the STEM fields, it's something like 5 to 6 percent, comprised both Latino and blacks. Those numbers are just horrid. I meet incredibly talented people of color and they're just feel excluded. They're like, "Oh man, there's no way I'll be able to get in. There is no one like me in that industry."
One thing I see that's really an eye-opener is when I went to GDC last year and went to the Blacks in Games Meetup. It is partly ran by my friend Charles Babb.
Oh, he gave a talk at Glitch this year during E3, right?
Yeah. Charles is very much huge on getting blacks into gaming.
He gave the talk about action figures.
Yeah, yeah. It was awesome. [Laughs.]
He's a good guy. A super-good guy. I'm so glad I know him.
To go to that meetup at GDC, I just realized how bad it is. We were in a room with 300 people and everyone was incredibly talented. I was like, "Wow, there's a shitload of talent here. People making interesting stuff." But when they kicked off the meeting, one of the person that ran asked, "Who was here 12 years ago when we had our first group?"
Two people raised their hand.
And then he asked, "Who was here the year after that?"
Still, two people raised their hand.
And then he kept going down through the 12 years of who's been here and he was like, 'Who was here last year?"
And only, five people raised their hand.
And then he was like, "How many people are here for the first time?"
And it was everyone else.
That only shows that there's a lot of people of color that have showed up to these meetings but never had an opportunity in the industry for them to come back.
I was like, "Wow, that's a real big problem. There's a larger issue why of why there's few people ever returning to these meetings."
I get the sense that it's a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds where there's not really the expectation that you're gonna be able to have a career in games. I get the perception, too, that a lot of the industry is built on the backs of people who won't be able to build a career and that's by design and what makes the industry work.
Churn and burn and hire and fire.
I do see that as far as AAA is concerned, but I think --
It's the same as writing, it's the same as any creative industry.
But there's more than just AAA now as far as games is concerned. It's a larger market than we could ever consider -- when we think about games, we usually bring the preconceived notion of what we play as games. There's a mobile market. There are other markets that are happening that are still not being penetrated by any sort of people of color.
And it's sad when companies like Intel all of a sudden, they released their numbers and there's no diversity in the higher echelon of that industry and instead of fixing it they end up putting out a lot of money and being like, "We're gonna support education for minorities now."
The only way to change that is a cultural change, not by throwing money at it. Maybe you should talk to someone of color?
It's not that hard.
I mean, I shouldn't laugh, but it is funny.
It is funny. In a melancholy way
But it's also true.
It's not like -- oh, because, here: That presupposes that education is doing its job.
And I don't know that it is.
You could be the most educated person. Like, W.E.B. Du Bois, right? He was super-educated, first black person of color out of Harvard, he still got a lot of shit thrown at him for him to write The Souls of Black Folks and create the NAACP. Just because he was educated all of a sudden his woes was not over.
[Laughs.] 'Cause he got a scholarship.
[Laughs.] That’s great, I got a scholarship at Intel but I'll still never be able to work there other than being a janitor.
That doesn't make any sense, but that's how the world works sometimes. [Laughs.]
Do you think the culture around games and tech can actually change?
I think that tech and games -- it's been around for a while, but it's still pretty young. At the end of the day, if we wanna make change, we have to go out of our way to do it. And it's sad because it never should be fallen-upon people of color to solve racism because we're not the ones doing it.
But at the end of the day, no one else is gonna do it for us.
That's a thing I hear all the time, like, "It's not my problem to solve racism." But at the end of the day, no one's gonna do that for you. Like, you have to go do it. You have to go stand up and speak and go out of your way to understand what's happening and maybe do some things that push yourself outside of the comfort zone. But at the end of the day you're gonna be all the richer for it. Not many people look upon themselves and be like, "Well, who are the people that I'm always hanging out with? Who are the people that I only associate with?" And if you all of a sudden realize it's the same kind of people all the time, will you make a change?
If you're at a convention -- I've been to these conventions and sometimes I'm the only not-white person in a room of, like, 300 people. It can be daunting. It can be an incredibly daunting experience.
Sometimes it doesn't go the other way. Not many people take that initial step to even come say hi to you. Maybe that's all that it takes.
It's a first step, really.
Just treat someone as human beings, you know? Because they're there. They love fuckin' videogames. They love it just as much as you do. That's why they're there. If that's not a common thing that people can get down with, I don't know what is.
No, I'm with you. Obviously.
What do you think videogames have accomplished?
[Sighs.] I think they're a new form of art medium. Every sort of art medium up to this point has been passive. Games are truly different because it is interactive-- I'm an artist at the end of the day. I only make videogames or do anything as an extension of the art that I wanna make. And I view videogames as art and with this interactive medium you bring the experience. You can have it up and running, but without a physical person being there, the videogame is nothing.
Where, art will always be there. It will always exist. Every other form of art will always exist, will always be static. But without an actual person contributing to it, it's not changing it or anything. You go to a museum, you look at a painting or a book -- like, writing is an art, right? But you're not adding to the writing. You're not making it better by reading it. It's still gonna be the same every time you experience it.
Videogames, the actual human interaction is what causes it to transcend and become an experience that's beyond what the person creating it intended for. And I think that is really something that videogames have brought about that nothing else has brought about before.
And that's truly one of the most unique things that at least drives me to see how people interact with it and to see the effects of what you've made and their interactions have created. Like, them playing in a unique way might end up creating something so unique that you couldn't have even expected it. It's like the contributions of the person creates something truly unique that's amazing.
Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth
Medal of Honor (Pacific Assault)
Call of Duty
Team Fortress (2)
There Came an Echo
Sonic Dreams Collection
Sonic the Hedgehog