Blacklisted By GamaSutra: An interview With Slade Villena

Fresh fuel was added to the fire of the videogames controversy known as “GamerGate” last week after it emerged that the processing giant Intel had pulled an advertising campaign from GamaSutra, a leading website for game industry professionals. This followed a series of inflammatory tweets and articles from the site’s Editor-at-Large, which prompted gamers to boycott the site’s advertisers in large numbers.
I had the opportunity to talk with Slade Villena, an indie game developer, and formerly a formerly prolific author on GamaSutra. His blog was deleted from the site in 2012, and he is now one of the prominent voices calling for a continued campaign of public pressure. I asked him where he believed the site had gone wrong, and about his views on the wider controversy engulfing videogames.

APGNation: To begin, what’s your background? How did you get involved with gaming journalism, and GamaSutra more specifically?

Slade Villena: I’m “colorful” I guess. I’m ex-military, honourably discharged from the US Marines, rode college on a GI Bill, and graduated university life with a focus on game engine programming. I have been programming since 1992, professionally since 2009.

To Them I Didn’t Exist

I am *not* a games journalist. I like to write about game development, programming, gaming culture, thought experiments, business concerns, and articles that would be considered “radicalized” by moderate readers. And that’s fine; my writing has “chaotic neutral” alignment, “zero fucks given”, et cetera.

Gamasutra was just one site on the web when I encountered it. I specifically liked the rich history of blogs that elaborated on game development techniques (particularly programming and graphics). I didn’t like the politically charged topics, nor the “artistic masturbation” articles. I did notice a dominating force that was generally “idea guy meandering” or “studio insider politics” in most of the blog-posts and official editorials. I figured I could contribute a little bit of chaos into Gamasutra, with my writing style.

APGNation: You say GamaSutra “shadowbanned” your blog. Can you explain what ‘shadowbanning’ means, for people who aren’t aware? 

SV: The term “shadowban” originally formed on Reddit; a user is shadowbanned could technically still post to the site, but no one would even see the posts or interactions.

I extended that definition to what was essentially a shadowban of my entire game dev blog from Gamasutra. It contained 3 years of my writing, both as a game dev student and as a game dev professional.

One day in mid Summer 2012 (sorry, I can’t pinpoint the exact day, I just remember it being Summer time), I could no longer see my blog being broadcast from Gamasutra. I could log in, but I couldn’t see any of my writing. I was unable to post comments. I inquired numerous times to Gamasutra staff, particularly Leigh Alexander and Christian Nutt. No reply. 3 years of my contributions to Gamasutra, and I was basically deleted from the site. To them I didn’t exist. I was just another ghost.

APGNation: You had a fairly controversial background. Traditionally, GamaSutra doesn’t seem to be afraid of taking a hit for having controversial people working for them. What do you feel it was about your writing that irked them enough to ban you? 

SV: I wrote about nearly any kind of topic in game development on Gamasutra. My articles were often featured, averaging 1 feature selection every 2 weeks. My guess is, someone liked my article enough to get it featured OR there was an automated system in Gamasutra itself that made feature selection possible. In either case, my writing got people’s attention. I drove traffic to the site, for free, since Gamasutra bloggers don’t get paid. It’s simply a platform for my voice. This was my last article. I believe both my writing and my comments in other articles were considered particularly controversial, and I have to admit, borderline aggressive. It’s just my tone; I’m inquisitive and I don’t hold back. I’ve had a wide range of reactions to my articles and comments; both loved and hated. My writing topics covered everything that I wanted to broadcast as a “fringe voice”.

They see gaming as ‘virgin territory’ to invade, to push financial rackets and pet political agendas

Gamasutra has a reputation for meandering party lines, echoing studio politics and boring industry memes. I wanted to break that chorus. Leigh Alexander calls herself a “megaphone”. I guess that’s a thing right? Well, my style of writing is a neutron bomb. In 2012, I wrote an AMA on Reddit, about Zynga and corporate culture in the social gaming world. Google “Zynga Reddit Mercenary” to see the results. The TLDR version; I write an AMA, the entire game journalism world turns it into a flamewar. My last article turned translate.google.com into a voice actress for game development. It was also internationalized, since translate.google.com can do numerous voices in other languages. 4 weeks after this article, I was shadowbanned. No warning, no word, like I was some ghost. 3 years of my writing, POOF. I’m not sure if its pressure from colluding voices, insiders in Gamasutra, or just Leigh Alexander being Leigh Alexander. The point is, I was practically erased.

APGNation: In this article from 2010, you get into a war of words in the comments section with Nicholas Lovell over the definition of gamer. Was this the sign of things to come? What drives the thinking of people like Lovell?

SV: It was a symptom. Numerous parties have been trying to invade Gaming Culture for the past 2 decades. This is an 80+ billion dollar industry. These people aren’t too savvy with the pulse of gaming culture itself; they only see it as a means for financial gain, or as a means of political gain.

Infiltrating the industry and the culture have been mostly kept in the shadows of game dev conferences, tweets, office banter, and I would dare say, career reviews and promotions in game dev. It mostly revolves around financial motivations to change the definition of “gamer” or smear its market. Doubleplus for authoritarian academia/radical politicos who see the influence of gaming as a form of social engineering.

From my perspective in the past 5 years, these financial sector dropouts and rad-political factions have converged on everything “Social”. Social Media (contra Free Speech), Social Engineering (contra Governance / Free Market), Social Justice (contra Independent Thought). They see gaming as “virgin territory” to invade, to push financial rackets and pet political agendas.

APGNation: Intel recently pulled a major ad campaign from GamaSutra in the wake of the #GamerGate controversy. After publishing the ‘gamers are dead’ article, do you think there was any way they could have avoided this? 

SV: Yes. NOT releasing the smear articles against their own audience. Gamasutra needs to realize the Game devs ARE Gamers. Full stop. Releasing that article, penned under the authority and position of Leigh Alexander, sent a message to Game devs AND Gamers. “We no longer respect you.” They nuked their own site. Period. 

APGNation: Intel has issued a statement explaining their position on GamerGate, saying their decision was not about taking sides. Why do you think they felt a need to release the statement? 

SV: Because everyone who is Anti-GamerGate is now smearing Intel, with “supporting a muh soggy knees hate campaign”, over a business decision. Intel had to show a rational voice on their part. They didn’t need to support GG at all. As a business entity, being smeared with the usual attack rhetoric forced them into an unnecessary apology. There was no need to release a statement at all, this is just Intel being gracious to gamers, and bowing out respectfully.

APGNation: What steps do you think GamaSutra could take to repair their reputation and win back the trust of the gaming community? 

SV: Whoever is handling the blogs section should be a proper moderator, not someone who simply does favours for friends. They should also fire/remove Leigh Alexander & Christian Nutt from handling anything in the site. There are far more calm and moderate people who can handle the job. They should also get rid of “Expert Blogger” titles. It’s a total sham, and it shows the cliquish nature of their circles. On a cultural level; Gamasutra needs to stop pandering to industry insiders. Without addressing that problem, Gamasutra is doomed.

APGNation: Moving on from journalism – what games are you working on at the moment? 

SV: FleetCOMM, a 2D space shooter, focusing on dynamic squadron manoeuvres. It started as a Kickstarter project in 2012; I’ve had a massive engine failure in 2013, which forced me to take the engine software in a new direction. I’m still developing the game. (you can find my gamedev videos here – note that these are NOT final product materials, just builds from my own workspace).

They keep using the same weapons, the same megaphones, and no one is buying it anymore

FleetCOMM is a single player combat game and my push to evolve combat tactics and controls. It’s a stepping stone towards introducing new forms of combat, and control interfaces to allow complex manoeuvres that aren’t possible in current interface designs. Once I’ve launched FleetCOMM, I will be making an online PVP version, using the games combat style. I believe it’s something that can evolve RTS or even MOBA online combat. To know more about my projects and experiments, follow @RogueStarGamez on twitter. I will also be launching a Kickstarter when FleetCOMM is ready for the PC; I will be trying to fund FleetCOMMs PS4 developer kit and porting operations.

APGNation: What would be your ideal project to work on, if you had unlimited resources?

SV: Faster-than-light research, an attempt to reach Alpha-Centauri within my lifetime, so I beat Richard Garriott in his own game… Or, Building an alternate reality gaming system, buying Oculus Rift back from Facebook, and bringing balance to the force…

APGNation: What is your opinion on #GamerGate? Should it remain active as a permanent source of vigilance? 

SV: It started as roaming band of pissed off nomadic gamers online; exiled from forums, censored across the web, smeared as societal rejects. Now it’s a community. It’s a gang. It’ll last forever. Heck, I can guarantee, I will be the last man putting up #GamerGate tweets, till the day I die. As a source of vigilance; that has *always* been part of networked gaming culture, and also online culture. That’s not something new, just human nature.

APGNation: Critics of #GamerGate say the movement is about misogyny – the hatred of women. Why do you think they believe that?

SV: Because it’s weaponized political speech; misogyny is an extremely hot button topic in the developed world, it incites an automatic reaction with common folk. Inciting and politicizing #GamerGate with misogyny is an effective disinformation tool; as it goes with false rape accusations against individuals, accusations of “homosexuality” “pedophilia” against clergy & school teachers. The language is a weapon. It is losing its effectiveness. They are losing because I have weaponized my language, and many other indie game devs like me, who have been silenced, isolated and vilified by industry cliques. They are losing because they keep using the same weapons, the same megaphones, and no one is buying it anymore.

Thanks again to Slade Villena for taking the time to speak with me. It was great to get the chance to talk about #GamerGate with someone like Villena with unique insight into GamaSutra. Don’t forget to keep coming back for more News, Reviews, Interviews, and everything gaming related! Express yourself in the comments below!

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