Alex St. John, founder of the game publishing company WildTangent Inc., recently wrote a horrifying article decrying what he calls a “culture of victimology” among game developers. St. John illustrates this victim culture through a series of non-specific personal anecdotes and smug superiority. He claims to know “hundreds of stupid self-made millionaires” who got rich after making “some of the worst games you can imagine.” Examples of such successes are never provided, but that’s okay because they wouldn’t defend his point even if they do exist.
St. John argues that the game developers he knows are “smarter, more experienced, and more talented” than the aforementioned “stupid millionaires” but are held back by misguided notions of “work-life-balance”, being paid fairly, and wanting to avoid “burn out.” According to St. John, if you want those things you should not be working in the game industry. “Games are art” he says. “not a job.”
I feel like I probably don’t have to point out how ridiculous a position this is but I’ll do it anyway for the sake of completeness. Art is still an industry. It is sold for profit just like any other commodity. To imply that artists should expect to be treated like crap purely because it’s creative and requires passion is utterly asinine and flies in the face of real-world examples. Valve is an exceptionally popular game studio known for successes such as Half-Life, Portal, and Team Fortress, and their employees don’t have managers and set their own hours.
This is my biggest annoyance with St. John and people like him. He doesn’t have any reason to believe what he does other than to protect his own ego. He succeeded in the industry so everyone else should be able to as well! This mentality assumes that the industry norms are correct merely by the fact that they are what he understands and is familiar with.
As the article progresses, St. John becomes even more self-righteous and manages to produce small moments of unintentional self-parody. With no hint of irony or self-awareness St. John explains that when he tells developers his feelings about their complaints about working conditions “they never respond to this feedback with any sort of enlightenment or gratitude for my generous attempt at setting them free — usually, I just get rage.” It also includes such gems as “I can’t begin to imagine how sheltered the lives of modern technology employees must be to think that any amount of hours they spend pushing a mouse around for a paycheck is really demanding strenuous work.”
St. John is apparently unable to understand how 80 hour workweeks (which he claims are totally fine and to be expected) spent staring at a computer screen and isolated from the rest of the world might be undesirable to most people. In a brief moment where the lizard wearing the skin of a human that is Alex St. John is nearly exposed, he delivers the line “Apparently people can even ‘burn out’ working too hard to make … video games….”
Yes St. John (if that’s even your real name), burnout is real, and it’s not indicative of a “culture of victimhood” for developers to advocate for their own mental health. Game studios by and large are run by executives and managers not the artists. Since these companies can only make money through the efforts of the artists they employ, it’s really not too much to ask that these companies not work their employees to the brink of mental breakdowns.