Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Position of Privilege

Should people who work for games be crazy about them?

I cannot claim to be any sort of expert in terms of what it's actually like to work on a game, let alone a game like Dragon Age or its sequel; a lot of people would likely covet such a position if they had an opportunity to actually get it, and of course it would almost seem to be a prerequisite that if you want to become a lead writer for a project of that kind of magnitude that you'd have to be a gamer yourself, right?

Well, no. But I think that the fact that Jennifer Hepler isn't a gamer is part of what has sparked such an outrage from parts of the gaming community.

The interview that contains the comments that I posted yesterday -- the ones about how Hepler isn't really much of a gamer and would enjoy an option to fast forward through combat in order to enjoy the story -- actually took place in 2006 according to this Forbes article. The missing pieces of the interview include some explanation for these seemingly inflammatory comments. The Forbes article explains:

"The excised part of the interview made it clear that she had in fact meant the elements in games requiring manual dexterity, because she struggled to complete them and because, with a baby on the way, her spare time would shortly be reduced to almost nothing, making her wish for a button that would allow her to fast-forward through action sequences that she might otherwise have to replay repeatedly."

Hepler appears to be more of a pen and paper gamer, and thus her comments about wanting to get into a story more than gameplay make some amount of sense, but at the same time I can understand (although not condone) the negative reaction to her comments, whether out of context as they were or even in context.

There's a substantial amount of envy given towards those that are in positions inside of the industry. Gamers revere creators like Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, David Jaffe, and Tim Schafer as legends, sometimes even gods (certainly an exaggeration, but I wouldn't wholly doubt that some honestly do). Likewise, people that want to be on the other side of the gaming equation hold no small candle to those that are, so to hear that someone on the inside appears to have a somewhat blase attitude regarding the very medium they're conducting work for it's bound to rub some people the wrong way.

For me it would be like if someone like Dan Hsu suddenly declared that video game journalism was his second choice and that he really wanted to be a sports reporter and was only doing game journalism as a hold over. I would be, at the very least, quite confused, and probably none too pleased either. I know that it shouldn't make a difference, but that's why I know that when someone even seems to come off as flippant regarding their position that it's going to piss people off.

All of this though has been dodging a rather important question: assuming that Hepler doesn't care much about the gaming portion of games and isn't much of a gamer, does that somehow invalidate her for a position writing for a big name company for big name games?

The short answer to the question is no. The long answer is no, but for more complicated reasons.

I'm not going to say that the comments are damning either in or out of context, but what I can say is that if she's a decent writer (I know opinions differ from case to case but they do with absolutely everything so there's no clear metric there) that knows how to craft a good story and flesh out a game with something that actually makes people want to slow down and pay attention to the cutscenes and dialogue and what have you that she's right for the position. Certainly having an active interest in gaming isn't going to hurt when it comes down to it, but it's not what I'd qualify as an absolute necessity unless you have a job which deals with all of the ins-and-outs of gaming on a constant basis.

Just because someone isn't necessarily a huge fan of what they make a living off of; if they are then it's certainly a bonus in that regard. However, just because someone doesn't necessarily like say, writing advertising for popular products, doesn't mean that they'll be bad at it. Perhaps they're even the best, even though they'd rather be writing novels or screenplays. That's not to say they don't take pride and care about the work, just that it's not their ultimate goal.

I can't speak for Hepler, but I would go so far as to say that I believe that she enjoys writing for games, that it is something that she loves doing, even if she isn't the biggest fan of the actual gaming aspect from time to time. So to say that she somehow doesn't care, or is "the cancer killing x" isn't just demeaning, it's also just wrong.


  1. This reminds me of when it came out that Eiji Aonuma was not a Zelda fan before working on Ocarina Of Time and the rest of the Zelda series since then.

  2. Shigeru Miyamoto has, at one point, gone on record stating that he doesn't play video games.


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