The (Chaotic) Evil Empire

Eddy at ICC 2001For once, the picture on this blog post is actually relevant to what I’m talking about. The guy in the center is me ten years (and probably forty pounds) ago, playing my Brujah Anarch at the International Camarilla Conclave. More importantly, that’s me ten years ago playing in Vampire: The Masquerade, a part of the World of Darkness. Now, I’m the World of Darkness developer for the new WoD RPGs. One of the many things that means is that I’m helping to make more game material so that more people can make more memories like that for themselves.

But that LARP isn’t some isolated incident in the past, a wistful look back to the time when I used to game. Last night I played in a Sabbat-focused Masquerade LARP. Last weekend I made a character for a Dark Ages: Vampire game. The weekend before that I played in a different Masquerade LARP (this one centered around the Camarilla and the independent clans). I may be making the games, but I’m still a fan and still a player. I love Masquerade and Requiem (and all the other games) with different levels of passion and intensity, but I do love them.

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Mearls posted on the Internet about Dungeons & Dragons. Now, many people post about D&D on the Internet, but Mike is the Group Manager for the D&D Research and Development team, which is probably a title roughly analogous to my own. He posted his love of the various editions of D&D, and some of the sentiment he expressed mirrored a lot of my own thoughts about editions wars, so I didn’t think much of it except for giving Mike a mental fist bump before moving on.

Then Russell posted about the fan reaction to this:

There are, however, those who doubt Mike’s sincerity. He’s just making nice for the Pathfinder players, they say, in order to lure them insidiously into his brand-new gingerbread house D&D products. The ones that look like candy, but are soaked in cyanide. And WoWcraft.

There’s more, and I suggest you read it, but Russell’s zeroed in on a point that’s bugged me for a while: folks like us don’t get to be in charge of projects like this without having a shit-ton of passion for these games specifically, or for games in general. We’re not corporate drones designed to kill everything that’s awesome in gaming. Quite the opposite: in every interview for a game design position I’ve given or received, at some point there’s the question of “what games do you play?”

And it’s not just Mike and Russell and me. I play D&D with my boss once in a while. The president of CCP North America has an ongoing game. Our CEO once chatted with me about the best way to go about becoming the Prince of Reykjavik. Every time a new video game launches, the office will be full of people talking about it the next day. Some of the guys in the kitchen staff have a Requiem tabletop game. Even people we’ve hired from outside the game industry who don’t game seem to become gamers before too long.

So it’s hard for me to look at something that someone like Mike Mearls wrote and find any malicious design behind such a passionate love letter. It’s hard for me to attribute negative corporate decisions to faceless “suits,” because there aren’t many in most of the game companies I know. Granted, there are more and more businessmen in the video game industry as it continues to make (and spend) a staggering amount of money, but more often than not someone who works for a game company probably owns a set of polyhedral dice or a video game console and uses them.

Game companies might be more chaotic than we should be at times, but we’re probably not as evil as some folks think we are.

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