An interview with Daniel Vavra: GamerGate and the gaming industry

09/12/2014 - 13:00 | By: Andrew Otton

I'd first like to personally thank Daniel Vavra for allowing TechRaptor this interview. For those of you that do not know, Daniel Vavra is a game designer and writer that has been in the industry for about fifteen years. Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven was the first big project he led back in 2002, where he was both director and writer. He returned to help with the writing on the sequel as well, Mafia II.

Most probably know him now for the successful Kickstarter campaign attached to his newest project, Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Kingdom Come: Deliverance has since gained a lot of attention, with many people following the development vlogs quite closely. It is the first game for Warhorse Studios, a development company based in the Czech Republic that Vavra helped found.

As of now, Vavra seems to play the role of the voice for Warhorse Studios, as he is featured in most of the videos attached to Kingdom Come: Deliverance.  He continues to plug away on the game as they hope for a Q4 2015 release date.

For those hoping this would be about Kingdom Come: Deliverance, I am sorry to disappoint. Recently, Daniel has been vocal about GamerGate and the attached issues on Twitter, and we here at TechRaptor were looking to see what his views were in a more in-depth manner.


Some small edits were made for clarity at Vavra's request.

One final thing: the ideas expressed here are not necessarily shared by myself or TechRaptor but are the interviewee’s own.

What is the biggest difference in the gaming industry when comparing now to when you worked on Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven (2002)? Better or worse?

The industry is much better now. We can be independent. We can self-publish our games, even on consoles. We can speak directly to our fans through social networks. There are new ways to fund development. All that is awesome and ideal for growth of the scene and more original games. There are also many more communication channels – social media, Youtubers, bloggers. Back in the day, the Internet was very small, paper mags held all the power, and the journalists asked boring questions like "how many weapons/cars/levels are you going to have?" I was trying to write a sophisticated mature story, and most of them wanted to know if it’s going to be possible to drive over people. Now, when I am trying to make mature realistic historic game, some people ask why we don’t have female knights.
You’ve worked both as part of a larger company, 2K Games, and now independently at Warhorse Studios. Do you see a difference in the way the gaming industry treats independent developers and those working for larger studios?
When you work for a big Publisher you do what you are told. There is very little chance that you will ever be able to work on your own stuff. And it’s perfectly OK. You are getting money in exchange for your loyalty and nobody is holding you there. You can leave if you don’t like it. I did it, took a lot of risks and hoped that finally I would be able to do what I always wanted. But suddenly a lot of people who think they know what’s good for me and the world started to tell me and many other developers what we should do, only that they don’t give anything in exchange.

I grew up during communism, when comics books were prohibited as capitalist decadent propaganda, western movies were censored, any book that could be in conflict with socialist ideology was prohibited and you went to jail for saying what you think. So I am allergic to any kind of censorship in the name of any ideology. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I would like to give all the ideologues a piece of advice – If you want something to be made, do it yourself. Everyone will be happy.

Are women well represented in the gaming industry? Not as characters in a game, but as developers, designers, etc.
I worked with many women in the past. Two were my bosses. We have several women in our team as well and I hope that they are happy and treated like anyone else. We have a very flat structure, so anyone can ask me or Martin in case they have any problems. We even have two married couples working at Warhorse, and in the past I saw several other marriages of co-workers at other companies. The only thing that I’m interested in when we hire someone is their talent. Nothing else. I can’t speak for other companies, but I really doubt that it’s different in the US or anywhere else.

The funny thing is, that when you ask actual female developers like Amy Hennig (of Uncharted fame), they will tell you they never had any problems. But the people who are constantly talking about this issue are journalists and bloggers who have never actually even worked at a gaming company.

And the funniest thing is, that when you look at how many women are actually working at those magazines criticizing gaming industry for sexism, you will realize that it’s the same as in gaming companies, 10-20% at most. Polygon has 21 editors and only 5 of them are women. And when you look at their audience it’s 80% men. What a sexist magazine!

Is misogyny a problem in the gaming industry? 
Define industry. There are hundreds of million people playing games, so it’s very likely, that some of them are going to be stupid assholes. But saying that the industry is misogynist, because some idiot wrote something on Twitter is absurd, and I strongly believe that it’s used as a distraction so they don’t have to talk about the real problem here. When you are accused of something, accuse your opponent of something much worse. When somebody writes hysterical, aggressive, manipulative articles calling people ‘basement neckbeard troll scum’, he should know what’s gonna come.

I was attacked on the Internet many, many times, because I often tend to say stuff people don’t like, but I never ever had a need to whine about it in a magazine and play a victim. When stuff gets serious and somebody really is doing some ugly shit, the best thing you can do is call the police and not tweet about it.

And there is also another very important thing. A large sum of gamers are teenage boys, who kinda naturally tend to do stupid things and are often quick on conclusions and insults. So no, the industry is not misogynist. Stupid people are misogynist.

We know that GamerGate came out of the idea that “gamers are dead.” Obviously, it has gone beyond that now. What do you think the end goal of the GamerGate movement is and do you agree with them?
I don’t think that there is one goal. It’s just a lot of people which are not happy with the state of gaming journalism. So I am going to talk about my personal motives. It took me two years to start a company. We almost went bankrupt several times. I think that what we are doing is really something no one has done before, and we are really trying to do it as well as we can –  a realistic, historically accurate depiction of medieval Europe with a mature story.

And then we are called racist because there are no people of color in our medieval Bohemia world, because there are biblical illuminations in our country with Queen of Sheba (who happened to live in Africa 2000 years before our game). And on top of that we were called sexist, because we had a stretch goal to add playable female character into our game. As if it was costless to write and implement a whole new questline into the game. All this when the game is in an early stage of development, and they don’t have a clue about the actual story. Do you think that anyone would want to be involved in such absurd discussions during a campaign on which his existence as a studio depends?

This happened to many developers. Assassin's Creed had 5 different articles about its lack of a female character on the front page of an industry website in one day. Five! Next to each other. And we can continue: the Far Cry 4 cover "scandal," Stanley Parabble was accused of racism, Wildstar was accused of sexism, God of War, Hotline Miami, Bioshock, Divinity Original Sin, Witcher… Nobody ever dares to argue or protect his art, because it would mean instant accusation of misogyny/racism/homophobia/sexism… And then you realize that the people who are accusing others everyday have terrible conflicts of interests and very weird ethics. The pot calling the kettle black.

Do you think that the accusations of corruption are as deep as many would have us believe?
I don’t know and I don’t care. The biggest problem we have is, that there is a group of people that think they know what’s right and what’s wrong and that they have a mission to make the world a better place and protect the oppressed by any means. They don’t even care what the “oppressed” people think. They censor any feedback they don’t like. They try to censor Twitter. They think that they are better than the rest. It’s funny that they are absolutely unable to have any discussion or provide solid arguments. Have you ever seen any of them in direct confrontation with their opponents? I guess you didn’t, because they only know how to bark at others from behind the fence and then how to play victims when somebody barks back.

And they will never be happy. If you don’t have a gay character in your game, you are homophobic, if you do have gay character in your game, you are homophobic, because they don’t like the character. If women in your game look good, you are sexist, if they look bad, you are sexist, if you can fight with them, you are misogynistic, if you can’t fight with them, you are using them as objects, if you don’t have any women, because there is no correct way how to have them, you are misogynistic.

It’s a witch hunt and it’s affecting my artistic freedom.

You have been very vocal on Twitter the past week about GamerGate and in one tweet you mentioned the fear many developers have of being blacklisted. You also mentioned you put your reputation on the line by speaking out. Do you think that fear of blacklisting is justified? 
When you look at the moral standards of some of those people. When you see them calling respected people with different opinions “Faded crackheads, shitlords and misogynistic basement neckbeards”. When you see that one of the biggest gaming sites (Polygon) has a blacklist of people they don’t like to hear from, what would you expect? Many people also don’t go deep into the issue and they make an opinion just based on the hysteric reaction to anonymous threats, while the whole thing is about something absolutely different.

Yes I do think that some of the journalist will not like me and our game. I believe that some people may start thinking that I support people who hate women even though I absolutely do not. I may lose some friends. But I think that fighting for freedom of speech and artistic freedom is very important. And I think that some of journalists just crossed the line and somebody should say that.

Leigh Alexander, who writes for several mainstream magazines, has a PR agency at the same time while she is an editor at Gamasutra and threatens people that “She is a megaphone that could destroy them” and says that Adam Baldwin is a “washed up crackhead”. WTF is that? How could she still have a job? And that same person is teaching us about ethics and writing articles about childish misogynistic basement trolls? Give me a break!

Will the GamerGate issue have any real effect on your approach to your upcoming game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance? That could be changing a character, a story, or part of the world.
No. We had a strong playable female character before all this started. We have gay characters in the game, and we have different minorities in the game, because all I want is to have a mature, strong story. A story that I wanted to tell for years, and I am not going to change it because of outside pressure.

Again, I want to thank Daniel Vavra for this wonderful interview and wish him the best as he works on his newest game.

Note: the ideas expressed here are not necessarily shared by myself or TechRaptor but are the interviewee’s own.

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Andrew Otton
Editor in Chief

Editor in Chief at TechRaptor. Has long believed Dynasty Warriors 4 to be the pinnacle of gaming.