Some Thoughts on Mountain

David OReilly
Dec 31, 2014 · 6 min read

Hello all, if you’re reading this, and I guess you are, I hope you’ve had a wonderful 2014. Thank you sincerely if you’ve supported me in any way this year — I am very grateful. I think it’s some kind of backwards miracle I get to make things I like every day, and this year in particular I have felt supported by more people than I’ve ever actually met in real irl. I am admittedly terrible at expressing this, I don’t respond to a lot of messages and I’m awkward at public events — but that’s not a reflection of lack of gratitude as much as my own OCD time mgmt (abbrv. 4 managemgmt) and just being uncomfortable when not at work. I’m not really given to any kind of announcements, I’ve become fairly quiet over the last couple of years, but I had some thoughts relating to Mountain which I feel wouldn’t be harmful to share. Please feel free to close your browser immediately and read something else — I’ll probably delete this as soon as I come to my senses and get embarrassed realizing how irrelevant it all is.

I made a rule to not really explain anything about my intentions with Mountain, I don’t mind talking about it now only because I feel most of you have already had time with it. A couple of years ago I had a similar conundrum — Cartoon Network monumentally fucked up the broadcast of my Adventure Time episode — as well as leaked it early, and I had to resist becoming some kind of apologist for it, because to people who did enjoy it I was inadvertently saying ‘you didn’t enjoy this correctly’, which would have been an unfair and fairly stupid thing to do. In any case — it was difficult to keep my trap shut over Mountain’s release and the response it created. When you read misconceptions and half-truths about something you care about it’s hard to not want to reach out and correct the narrative.

Both Mountain and myself were heavily attacked by some popular people when it was released. I was aware of this (I’m actually far too sensitive to it) but I avoided responding to it for reasons I hope will make sense. The main criticism was that Mountain was “not a game”, and perhaps some kind of joke or prank. This wasn’t an argument I had expected or prepared for at all. I don’t really keep up with the gaming press — but the last thing I remember reading into was a widespread desire for games to be considered Art. The fact that I so directly went about making an art-game I thought was a good thing. Between Damien and I there was never a discussion that Mountain was not a game, much less a controversial game. It was an idea that required an interactive environment, it was created using a game engine and the pipeline was almost identical to any other independent game. It was developed for gaming systems through game distribution platforms and was released with a game publisher. Some pseudo-intellects may spin some clever sounding crap about the semantics of the word game, win conditions, fail states etc. — but I really, truly and sincerely don’t give a shit. Mountain is a game, I get to call it that, and anyone who says otherwise can go and eat a sand sculpture of my balls. Incidentally — it’s also not an anti-game, or so-called ‘deep game’. I don’t care for specialist categories of art — they’re historically the creation of commentators wishing secondary credit for the emergence of something new. Further — I don’t know how anyone would consider Mountain a joke or prank. It took too many months working all-hours and twice brought my bank account to zero. I’ll gladly accept that people may find Mountain a failure as art or as a game, but it’s insulting to myself, Damien, and the care we took in making it to ever consider it a joke.

Another aspect of the narrative — if not in articles then on forums and comment sections, is that the game is pretentious. Oh how I loathe that word. I take the accusation seriously and I’ll try to engage it for a second. Mountain was in no way an intellectual idea or something which intimated a deeper meaning of any kind. One horrible aspect of 20th century culture is it that it has tricked a lot of people into believing there is always something to get in art — there is always some cleverly hidden answer behind every vague or abstract expression… however, Mountain’s ideas are obvious on every level — some connect over time, but none are complex or logically demanding. Nature is a phenomenon I find beauty in without any guidance or explanation, and I wanted to translate that into a game. If you explain why a flower is beautiful you’re going to sound very dumb — both because it’s so ridiculously obvious and you inevitably reduce anyone else’s enjoyment of it — the same goes for any aspect of nature. Some might find a kind of reverse-irony in this total obviousness, if so they probably need to spend less time on Twitter. If someone is digging for pretentiousness in something overtly straight-forward, they are by-definition being pretentious themselves.

There are some other details which I found ignorant — if only because they are uninformed, which was that ‘[I’m] an animator mostly known for my work on Her’. At least 30 articles ran with variations on that line. This detail is irrelevant to the game itself — but it was just untrue, and thank you to those who pointed this out. For one, I’m not really an animator — I care massively about animation, and I’m involved in many stages of it, but the last time I animated a character was about 6 years ago. As for Her — there were never more than a few hundred people who knew I worked on that film when Mountain came out, I received very little press for it and you had to wait about an hour after the thing ended to see my name in the credits. I had spent the better part of a decade making independent animation before that, creating some conceptual and aesthetic innovations which are now popular both in animation and games. There’s a good amount of information on my site and others which was overlooked in favor of parroting other articles and opinions. I take zero pleasure in saying any of this stuff, and I don’t wish to condemn any writer, but I can’t help wishing some had taken time to research before releasing words into the world’s (internet’s) echo chamber (echo chamber).

Finally, and the reason I wanted to write all this — is that the vast majority of people who have actually played Mountain enjoyed it for the reasons that were hoped for — and that was a truly beautiful, encouraging and inspiring thing. A number of people also wrote very beautiful and considered pieces about it. It was crazy to watch the Steam reviews slowly sway from hatred to positivity over the last six months, and watch the amazing community on there figure out so many of the game’s easter eggs. It recently was given a few end-of-the-year nods which was kind and unexpected. All of it was all an incredible learning experience for me, and in the end I’m left with nothing but faith in games-land. I felt like I showed up to a party late without being on the list but got in anyway.

Thank you for everything again, and for tolerating this rant/letter/something, and I wish you a brilliant 2015.

David

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