Sixteen months ago, I left the games industry. It was a grand gesture, as you'd expect from someone who'd spent seven years acting like his opinions were worth money. I deposited a 2500-word screed on a vestigial blog, emptied a carrier bag full of cheap mics onto my desk, and left the industry, forever. Never to have another public opinion.
I now run a lovely pub in Nottingham, thanks for asking, as part of my ongoing mission to ruin both of my hobbies by making my livelihood utterly depend on them. Remember when the BioWare doctor left the games industry to go and make beer? Well it's like that, only now I'm the guy who wishes he could brew beer, instead of the guy who wishes he could make games.
Ankle deep in one industry, with my elbows still wet from the other - it's inevitable that I'd notice parallels. And being the kind of person who thinks his opinions are worth money, I thought I'd share them.
THE THING WITH ADDICTION
One of the most reliably annoying words in video game writing is "addictive", or its demented, honking cousin, "addicting". For a start, there are so many other ways of saying it. Why not try irresistible, compulsive, eminently another-go-able, or twicey nicey more more more? But "addictive" also conjures a really low-rent version of uncontrollable urges. I much prefer to imagine the indulgent gamer. His hand hovering over a box of chocolates, saying, "Well, I really shouldn't - but you're so kind to offer!"
Then he slams his head into the box and rears up with a howl of joy, a face like he's made a fundamental mistake about what motorboating is.
No-one really discusses the addictive nature of alcohol. It's just background noise. Video games can learn from alcohol, here, in my simple two-step plan.
First, video games need to start causing actual social harm, instead of being a benign/beneficial form of entertainment. Phase Two - they need to cause so much harm, constantly, daily, unapologetically, that people eventually stop being arsed about it. It worked for road traffic accidents, it looks like it's working for mass shootings. It can work for games.
ON BEING NICE
Here is a chart of how I feel about watching Indie Devs being pleasant to each other and their customers on Twitter, depending on the prevalent chemicals in my brain.
The pub I run is one of the few family-run freehouses in Nottingham. We're not part of a chain. There's no god-awful PubCo involved. My dad's in the cellar as I type this.
This makes me a Nice Indie Dev Twitter Feed, IRL. At last, I get to see people doubt my motives as my innate loveliness becomes linked to my ability to turn a profit. I've had one customer say "you can turn it off now, you've had my money". I laughed, because it was a joke from an angle I wasn't expecting, but it really made me think about how I present myself.
So here's how I deal with it, and I recommend all Indie Devs do the same: have a series of minor public breakdowns, in which an innocent person gets the payload of the weeks of repressed negativity! It really rounds you out as a person. Makes you more believable. And everyone loves Twitter meltdowns. It's what Storify was made for.
Pump clips featuring women with prominent tits are on the decline. In the same way that Skegness postcards with a man staring at disbelief at a pair of huge tits have been on the decline since the 80s. And it's been 11 years since this advert for Sudeki, which rightly implies that a warrior queen attacking you from the front would be a great opportunity to check out her tits.
This is evidence of the universal assault on the right of men to constantly see tits, and I for one am lobbying hard for the installation of a network of tit-shaped drones hovering eighteen feet in the air. In solidarity with my straight brothers, I will not be happy until the air is thick with tits, and men are running around with butterfly nets, grunting gently into their bottom lips.
I am a good ally.
Like most people, I suffer from Imposter Syndrome: the fear that at any moment, someone's going to squint at me and say, "Wait a minute... do you think Ion Storm is the name of a GAME?"
But I've learned that bluffing in video games is easy. Just absorb the opinions of everyone around you, then repeat the ones that made someone else nod, with the words in a different order. A few years ago, I heard a journalist on a press trip express the opinion that the first BioShock game "tailed off a bit after that big twist". I immediately spotted a fellow bluffer. I swilled the brandy in my glass and muttered, "I see what you're doing, darling, but you need to steal a slightly more sophisticated opinion than that if you want me to paraphrase it slightly in one of my future articles."
Same goes for beers. "It's quite coconutty in the aftertaste" is my new "the platforming is a bit woolly". "Another hoppy IPA!?" is this industry's "Oh, they've put in a horde mode." It's easy. You just need to remember who you got your opinions from, so you don't repeat them back.
Other parallels: "craft" is synonymous in its meaninglessness with "indie", and BrewDog's weird crowdfunding programme, Equity for Punks, doesn't have a direct analogue, but just imagine Peter Molyneux trying to Kickstart a new career as a buy-to-let landlord.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR REAL VIDEO GAMES
When I see the phrase PC Master Race bandied around by someone professing to be a member, I can't help but imagine the long-dead 80s stereotype of a beer-ticking CAMRA member. (Dead because we use apps, now.) I think of Viz's anachronistic comic strip, The Real Ale Twats. A gang of over-animated inchoate adults, whose age is as irrelevant as their sexuality. A group of people whose refined taste should make their superiority self-evident, and yet every outsider implicitly understands that it just doesn't.
Then there are the people who say Her Story, Gone Home and so on aren't "games". We've got that with Craft Beer - eye-rolling at the fizzy upstart, tutting at the genre-stretching novelty of a Chocolate Aniseed IPA, and wincing as the high price of craft beer collides hard with the preconception of craft brewers as privileged hipsters. Conservatism is ugly, whatever the size of the C. Let's just all get drunk on whatever we enjoy and make out in the toilets.
In terms of video games, this means: stop hating games that you were never supposed to like. It's like telling your mum you don't fancy her.
OH, THOSE GOD-DAMNED AWARDS
Who doesn't want an award? I want an award, and I lack the moral fibre to condemn any award ceremony that is generous enough to include me in its nominations. I won a number of Games Media Awards over the course of my career, and those awards went right down my trousers. That's right, you mucky wee money-spinner, you. Make me complicit.The Witcher game that never was Made in Poland but not by CD Projekt Red.
I've yet to win an award in the pub trade, which is a constant source of fury. I read with disgust an article in a local trade paper, detailing a neighbouring pub's recent award. "The attention to detail of all aspects of the business was evident in the licensees' award application," it read. And instead of doing my own application for an award, I pushed my nose up into my face, pretended to be that pub's landlord, and said, "OOH PLEASE SIR CAN I HAVE AN AWARD PLEASE I'VE DONE MY APPLICATION ALL NICE AND PUT A KISS ON IT."
This ability to mock and despise the very same traits that define me is one of the reasons humanity will never be at peace. I am all that is wrong.
In conclusion, and to save you the bother, what a pointless article. Industries are made out of people, and people are pretty much people whatever crap they're selling, buying, and hating. It's just that my new industry is a bit older and a bit more drunk. To a problem-drinking 41-year-old, it feels like home.