Are Your Strong Software Opinions Adding to GameDev Community Gatekeeping?
I started writing this back in April and I was a little afraid to post it, but I still feel this is an issue worth talking about and I am going to post it now.
It's really hard for me to write an article criticizing something that both my friends and myself are totally guilty of, but I feel like it needs to be addressed. Walk into any tech related event or meetup and I guarantee you will hear someone's opinion about how some OS/language/software is superior or inferior to something else.
I want to take a second to define gatekeeping I really like this definition I found on Urban Dictionary
"When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity."
source: Urban Dictionary - Gatekeeping
I feel strongly that the Impact is often greater than the intent when it comes to gatekeeping.
Coming into the the game development community and meeting people who have been making games longer than I have means I have had the opportunity to meet some of the most creative, hard working, and inspiring people - It also means I have been around a fair amount of software and engine debates and casual remarks. I feel like in any community a bit of the existing culture rubs off on new members and I have also found myself slipping into picking teams and making my own casual and not-so-casual remarks. I have tools I like and tools I don't but here is why I am going to try to keep my sweeping statements and absolute opinions to myself: I thought about how new people might interpret them.
Join me in taking a couple of minutes to think of how these conversations and debates might come off to someone new.
Imagine this scenario
A new person comes to a meeting where people will be working on and talking about game creation; their laptop runs operating system X and they have just started working on their first game with game engine Y. During the meeting they overhear somebody trashing one of these things because of a strong opinion.
Let’s think about some possible outcomes:
The new person...
- hears the opinions and does not care because they are somehow confident in their chosen tool even though they are new at making games.
- hears this and also has strong opinion about tools and chimes in creating further unnecessary antagonism.
- starts to second-guess the project that they’re working on or question whether or not what they are doing is valid.
- stops what they’re doing completely until they can “do it the right way” ( this sounds extreme but I have heard multiple stories of this happening)
Do you think this is creates a welcoming environment for new people or contributes to further gatekeeping of an already presumed (and somewhat rightfully so) extremely difficult hobby/career path?
More questions to ask ourselves
What if the new person can only afford tool X or has invested a ton of time into learning it?
When someone who isn't a game developer plays a game do you think they care if it was made with Unity, or Game Maker, RPG maker, flash or a completely custom engine?
One argument against this I can think of is a good-natured desire to help a new person with suggestions of a tool that might fit their needs, be easier for them, or better suited for the task at hand. This is fine, I am not suggesting we avoid talking about what we enjoy using, but there are good and bad ways to offer these suggestions. Unsolicited advice can really make people feel small.
"I had a similar problem and I solved it using …" comes off much better than "You should/shouldn't use…" or the dreaded "Why are you doing it that way?!"
Another counterpoint is that "If everyone uses X, it's a monoculture!" I feel like I am very guilty of this kind of thinking but there are also a lot of positives to a community using the same tech. If a group uses the same game engine for example; knowledge sharing and even code sharing can really help overcome monotony allowing everyone to get to the creative part. I found this especially helpful when dealing with parts of games that aren't "the core game" such as app store requirements.
In the game development community which I am a part of and specifically the local scene I help to organize and foster we already have a lot of stigmas to get over.
While this issue is surely less important than creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people of all regardless of identity, background, or ability, I feel like it still can contribute to a similar dynamic of people being made to feel like there are "outsiders" and "insiders" within the group.
I want to work toward a community where we can all be happy that people are making cool art - using whatever tool makes them happy. I want to work toward a community that cares less about whether or not the tool they used to create it was the "right one" because maybe it was the exactly the "right one" for them.
We have agreed that we want to work toward diversity in the people who feel they can make games, let's also be accepting of a diversity in the tools and tech they use.
- Alex Bezuska
Alex is a game artist and developer at independent games studio Two Scoop Games. He is passionate about making art and technology work together for a purpose through games and interactive art.
Alex also serves on the board of 501(c)3 non-profit Louisville Makes Games! where he does his best to help further an inclusive and encouraging local game creation community in Louisville, Kentucky through meetups, events, and kids classes.
He is also an avid lover of ice cream.