The trouble with Daniel Vavra's take on history

Can you separate a game about politics and history from someone who supports GamerGate?

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The trouble with Daniel Vavra's take on history

Daniel Vávra is the creative director of Warhorse Studios, which recently released Kingdom Come: Deliverance. He has 34,000 followers on Twitter. Based on the responses to his tweets, many of his followers share his affiliations, his views on ‘free speech’, and his tendency to vocally disagree with initiatives promoting social justice or diversity.

In early 2017, I organised a survey into the importance of diverse representation in video games as part of my academic research, and was harassed for doing so. Now, twelve months on, the person who was responsible for signal boosting my study to a large number of my harassers via his Twitter account is the creative director on a game that sold approximately one million copies in the ten days after its release.

This time last year, I received so many notifications from harassers that I had to stop using social media. I received some genuine questions about the study, but many of those were lost among death threats and name-calling. I was told to kill myself. I was told my family should die. I was told that I was a fake academic because I would not engage in ‘academic debate’ on social media in regards to a quantitative and qualitative study that I was yet to code. People threatened to contact my employers to (falsely) report me for academic misconduct due to my surveying methods, research topic, or refusal to debate the validity of these choices via social media. I turned to blocking software to try to return my Twitter to a useable state, and was harassed for that too.

Sure, this isn’t all Daniel’s fault, but he knows the crowd that he has attracted on Twitter. I have a hard time believing that he wasn’t completely aware of the abuse I would receive as he retweeted a survey about diversity and games to followers who found him when he was loudly shouting his support for GamerGate. He certainly wasn’t retweeting me to support my cause.

Here we are, four years from the start of GamerGate, and some people are saying it’s all over. But even if the hashtag isn’t getting the workout it once did, many of its (indistinct) principles seem to remain. So what are the people harassed by those opposing diversity supposed to do in this not-quite-post-GamerGate world, when supporters of the movement are releasing games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance or the upcoming The Last Night? Do we respond like Vice Waypoint, and refuse to give these games coverage?

Do we try to find a way to objectively separate art from artist?

‘Ethics in games journalism’ was the catchcry of the GamerGate movement, and the complaints that games journalists often knew games developers personally, yet still covered their games, suggests that there is no separation of art and artist. According to these ‘champions’ of ethics, I need to consider the artists who created the games I write about, to determine whether these games were made by friends, acquaintances, or strangers, and thus figure out whether I am biased for them, or against them, or whatever. Objectivity is apparently impossible.

And when I think about how I feel in response to Kingdom Come: Deliverance, I sort of believe that. I find it hard to be objective about a game that makes me feel a little queasy; knowing somebody with so much power and sway over a group of vocal internet harassers has sold so many games, and is only strengthening his support, worries me. Some people buying this game are unaware of the affiliations of its creative director, supporting it with their money and words; meanwhile, I know there are proponents of diversity who will suffer from this increased following. 

Recently, a different post was circulating on Twitter. It was an interesting look at some game design theory; nothing groundbreaking. People on my feed who actively fought GamerGate were retweeting it, not noticing that it was originally shared by Eron Gjoni, widely considered the man who started it all. Sure, he has since said that he regrets the harassment that came from his writing, but that doesn’t mean the harassment didn’t happen. Are the people retweeting his thoughts forgetting what he was a part of? Have they forgiven him? Or are they simply separating art from artist, writing from writer, tweet from tweeter?

I don’t know what the answers are.

All I know is that the separation of art and artist is much harder when the harassment they inspired arrived in your own Twitter notifications, and the death threats were in your own work email inbox.

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