I saw this story this morning and felt the need to speak up. Myself and the rest of what would become GUTS Dept. were also on GAME_JAM. We got a small-ish mention (As the “USC Team”) in the official account from Jared Rosen mostly because many of the things that led to GAME_JAM imploding were happening around us and not to us.
I can’t say 100% for sure what was in the mind of the other contestants. Here’s what I can vouch for: The show was the complete and polar opposite of what was pitched to us and what we were prepped for. Starting about two months before filming, we were sold on the idea that we’d go into this workspace and make a game over the course of, I think, 5 days. They’d cut that footage into some kind of documentary-style TV show. One producer specifically called it “Top Chef for games”.
This was enormously appealing to us. Many of us got our start in games because someone took the time to give us the 101 and introduce us around. The chance to repay that in some way, to show some kid that You Can Also Make Games, was huge.
What the show actually turned out to be was more like “Double Dare for games”. Towards the end of shooting one of the crew provided us with the shooting schedule for the remaining days- There was maybe 12 hours of game making. The rest was obstacle courses and strange challenges. Even if the show has continued, it would have been a bizarre farce.
So, what happened between what we were pitched and what we showed up to? That’s still a bit of a mystery. The easiest answer is that we were lied to. But the more complicated answer is that this was a big, huge production for Polaris & Maker. Big, huge productions mean big, huge money. Until Matti, who was hired to represent Pepsi’s best interests, showed up, I don’t think anyone on the Maker/Polaris end understood just how little control they had. I honestly think Aaron & Jason at Maker really thought they were making Top Chef and had the rug pulled out from underneath them.
Did Matti ruin GAME_JAM? Maybe. He’s a professonal antagonist and he gets paid a lot of money to antagonize. I imagine this works very well on a show like The Real World or Rock of Love. There’s a whole industry of Matti’s out there who have made a career of provoking people into crying on cue. People watch this. Hell, I watch it. There’s that old parable about the scorpion and the fox, ripped from Wikipedia here: “A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature.”. Matti is a scorpion and he stung. No one who hired him could possibly be surprised about that.
The issue is that we pitched a show without a scorpion and we ended up in the nest instead. Which confuses me to this day. If they had said, “Hey, we’re making a tawdry reality show about game development”, I think everyone involved would have passed. You almost couldn’t have chosen a worse group of developers to put up with reality TV show bullshit. I mean, the guy who made Soundself? The woman behind Depression Quest? The genius of The Stanley Parable? To say nothing of Adriel’s amazing work on Train Jam and Caleb’s gonzo procedural art. Does that sound lke The Real Housewives of Glitch City to you?
Instead, they lied to us about what the show was and how it’d be presented. If GamerGate is about ethics in media, then this walkout should be a proud moment. It was a group of developers taking a stand against being provoked and manipulated and edited into unreality. It was people taking a stand for what they believed in.
For my part, I’ve never been so shaken up. I don’t cry, I’m not a crier. But I left the lot at the end of day 2 and took the bus back to the east side of LA. I walked my dog and I just wept trying to tell the story to my girlfriend. Because for two days we lived in this world where people lied to us over and over. And when you know what the truth is, and everyone is telling you otherwise, you start to feel crazy. I guess TV sets are like that, they’re little fantasy bubbles where someone else is in control. I’m not cut out for it.
But if there’s one thing that haunts me, its that at the start of day 2, as execs and producers begged us to stay, one high ranking Maker exec told us that she’d worked with Matti and that he was a complete jerk back then etc etc. But all I could think was that she hired him again. That she hired a scorpion to come sting, because that’s what people watch. That’s what I watch. And that there’s this whole bizzare industry designed to squeeze people until they pop, to push them until they snap. I think about it everytime I watch TV now, about all of these people who put themselves into the wringer so I can have something to watch.
Point being: Maybe there was some grand, shadowy conspiracy to crash the show. The problem with wacky conspiracy theories is that you can’t disprove them. But as the team with the fewest connections to everyone else, what we saw was not collusion or conspiracy, but a lot of great developers who were ready to make great games, but got the shaft. I’m proud of Zoe and Robin and Davey and Adriel and Caleb and Russel and Tom and Jacob and Bryce and Lifu and the YouTube stars who took a stand and refused to be part of something that was so horribly awry and wrong.