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Chris Kluwe on GamerGate, eSports, and the Future of Online Gaming

Morgan Ramsay Posted:
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Ramsay: Why do you think game journalism has received so much attention?

Kluwe: For a solid 15 or 20 years, publishers have sold the narrative that, to enjoy video games, you had to be a hardcore gamer. Think back to the commercials for Call of Duty that sold you on this idea that you had to be jacked up, solely concerned about video games, and super fanatic about them. If you believe you're defined by the products you consume, when those products start changing, you're going to feel as though your identity is under attack.

That's what we saw with GamerGate. Some people felt that because game developers were starting to take into account points of view that don't represent them, they were somehow being pushed out—that there would no longer would be room for Call of Duty, Bayonetta, and games like that. But that's not the case. The marketplace has plenty of room, and will always have plenty of room, for games like that, but now there's also plenty of room for games that aren't that and the people who want those games.

To me, GamerGate has a fundamental problem where they've bought the narrative that was sold to them, that they were the most important people in gaming. That wasn't never the case. I mean, you're a gamer if you play games; it doesn't matter what kinds of games you play.

Ramsay: In the video game community right now, what could we be discussing instead?

Kluwe: We could be discussing the lack of new IP from the very successful publishers. It reminds me of Hollywood, where almost all the movies you see are rehashes of old ideas or sequels.  There's a place for franchises, but there's also a place for those franchises to do something different, like Spec Ops: The Line. How much of a difference would that make if in Call of Duty, you had to pay the cost of shooting someone, or feel like you're in a war-torn environment? Video games can be very potent storytelling media, but there's this pushback to using them to tell stories; instead, people just want to use them for entertainment. I think that they can be both.

Chris’ debate with Mercedes Carrera

Ramsay: What can be done to encourage the development of new and original IP?

Kluwe: One thing that could be done is prioritize the fact that games have so many different stories to tell, from a marketing standpoint. If the consumer doesn't know what options are out there, they're not going to know that, "Hey, I can get a game like Depression Quest," or, "I can get a really cool game made by someone on Twine I never would have found." Social media tends to fill that gap a little bit. If a game goes viral, people will want to play it. Streamers help that spread as well.

But I think if the bigger publishers set aside some of their budgets to try and do new stuff with the expectation that "yeah, sometimes we'll fail, but if we're creating a better audience for our games, that will be better for us in the long run. We'll have a broader audience, more people playing our games, and there will be more women who aren't afraid to say they're playing games."

There's a perception that gaming is 90% guys. Why is that the case? It's because games are primarily marketed to men. If we could change the atmosphere, I think that would go a long way toward better stories, more diversity in games, and helping people realize there is more diversity in games.

Ramsay: Where do you think that change should occur?

Kluwe: If a developer doesn't want to make a certain game, they shouldn't be forced to make that game; it should be something they want to make. At the same time, if publishers and distributors don't provide incentives for developers to make these other games, or let developers know they can make these other games, nobody's going to do it; everyone's going to stick with what's safe.

A screen from the aforementioned Depression Quest

Ramsay: Do you think that digital distributors could play a role in solving that discovery problem?

Kluwe: Yeah, they could spotlight games that aren't necessarily huge sellers, but which tell interesting stories or which have interesting mechanics. That would help more people become aware of these things. It's a lot like how a lot of really famous art weren't appreciated in their time because people looked at it and said, "That's not going to be commercially successful. That's not what the masses want." It's not until later on that people went back, looked at that art, and said, "No, this was a very important message. This was something that needed to be said."

If we want video games to be considered an grown-up medium, in which art can be created, we have to recognize that there will be games that aren't commercially successful but still have an important message to say. It just boils down to "what do people want their games to be?" Do they want them to be just entertainment? Or do they want them to be something more?

Ramsay: Last year, you retired from football after being, apparently, blacklisted from the NFL.

Kluwe: I'm pretty sure I was blacklisted. When people aren't calling, it's safe to assume they don't want you in the League anymore. With most punters, if you make it past five years, you're generally going to play 14 years. I had a very good 8-year career. I was planning on another six, but I didn't get there.

Ramsay: What are you doing now? You're writing sci-fi now, aren't you?

Kluwe: I am. I wrote a book called Prime with Andy Reiner; it's our first science fiction book. Prime is the first book in a trilogy. It's a very personal story. You have a pair of people on a single moon where, in terms of a camera lens, it's a very focused shot on the events happening in a very contained sphere.

We're halfway through the second book right now, and we're going to have that one out, ideally, before the end of the year. The second book allows us to pull that lens back, so now you can see, "Okay, here are more people, here's how the society functions, here are the things we've set up in the first book, and now they're starting to resolve in the second book because now you know more about that universe and now you understand how those things make sense."

Kluwe appearing on the Colbert Report

In the third book, we'll pull back even farther, pointing out, "Okay, here's how civilizations interact with each other. Here's a much broader scale and scope of things that are happening." I enjoy books where you have to figure out what's going on, where you're put into a universe and the laws of the universe make sense once you figure them out, but where you're not held by the hand and shown exactly what those laws are. You have to figure them out by inference and context, and when you do, that's a rewarding and immersive experience.

Ramsay: In post-game interviews, NFL players are quick to say, "Our team was incredible. If we continue to play like that, we'll be tough to beat." And that's all they'll say, but you've been very vocal throughout your football career and after. Why are you so different?

Kluwe: Every year, teams will do an hour-long seminar, generally during training camp, where they'll bring in a media or public relations professional. They'll talk to the team about interacting with the media. They told us things like "if you don't want to say anything, you don't have to say anything," and "if you don't know what to say, just say you would prefer to move on to another question." They want to give the guys the tools they need to avoid putting themselves in tricky situations.

The NFL would rather guys not say anything at all than say something controversial. Controversy might mean some people won't buy tickets, which affects the NFL's bottom line. I think that's unfortunate. There are plenty of things that need to be said that are controversial. The mindset that money is more important than speaking out on basic human rights, dignity, or societal problems, I think, is a huge societal problem in and of itself. Unfortunately, that's the world we live in.

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MorganRamsay

Morgan Ramsay

Morgan Ramsay, bestselling author of Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play and Online Game Pioneers at Work, has interviewed more than 50 leaders in entertainment, technology, and sports, such as EA founder Trip Hawkins, Gaikai CEO David Perry, and NFL punter Chris Kluwe. Follow him on Twitter (@MorganRamsay) or visit his website at theramsayinterviews.com.