So VICE Gaming published an “interview” with Adrian Chmielarz today.
I put interview in quotes because it’s not really an interview. It’s more like the fawning adoration of a high-school diary, interspersed with totally unchallenged statements from Chmielarz which the author then holds up as a shining example of his high quality.
Needless to say, it’s one of the worst interviews I’ve read in while. The fact that it passed editorial review is damning of VICE Gaming’s editorial direction. You do not publish terrible pieces to offer “different perspectives” unless those pieces offer something of value. Full stop. What the fuck happened?
So, to put myself in the same crosshairs I have already experienced twice before, it’s time to dissect this piece.
Polish designer Adrian Chmielarz is a man who has split gamer opinion right down the middle.
I guess? I would hazard a guess that most people don’t know who he is, except when he writes another shitty hit piece blasting a game critic. Most people outside of game criticism circles simply go “Who?”
On one hand, his playable output is widely revered.
Widely revered is both an unsupported observation, and arguably incorrect. Painkiller is just alright in hindsight, Bulletstorm is great but relatively obscure, and the rest of the games he’s worked on are straight up bad.
These are, of course, personal opinions. But describing your interview subject, a guy most people have never heard of and whose games are cult hits at best, as “widely revered” is disingenuous. You’re letting your personal affection for the guy slip through.
He’s gone to war against Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency blog for its claims that The Witcher 3 was racist and sexist
You mean he wrote a bad article attacking a feminist critic for daring to do feminist critique.
and taken shots at Polygon for what he sees as the site’s failure to actually love the medium it’s covering
You mean he wrote a bad article slamming a book excerpt.
He grew up in a communist dictatorship, and is currently addicted to Destiny.
One of these things is not like the other, and both of these things are totally irrelevant.
And he’s also, in my opinion, one of the best video game critics around.
I don’t know about you, but a guy who gets mad at women and minorities for daring to criticize games is not somebody I would label as “one of the best video game critics around.” Adrian Chmielarz is a misguided developer, at best. At worst, well.
Some actual best video game critics include: Danielle Reindeau, Rami Ismail, Kris Ligman, Jenn Frank, Tim Rogers, John Brindle, Lana Polansky, Austin Walker, Tauriq Moosa, and many others. These are people who dedicate their lives to writing thought-provoking, educational, important works of criticism that see games as something truly special.
To call Chmielarz “one of the best” is to reduce the hard work of so many people to nothing, all because…
By dint of being a games-maker, rather than a paid-up journalist, he’s able to be completely honest with what he sees, rather than sometimes sugarcoating the message so as not to piss off publishers.
…he’s not being paid to be a critic.
This is one of the stupidest fucking things I’ve ever read, especially considering it was written by a guy who was probably paid to do this interview. Literally any decent critic does not sugarcoat their message, especially now that the enthusiast press has mostly divested itself from the whims of publishers. The people at Polygon or Kotaku or Rock Paper Shotgun or wherever do not need to butter up publishers any more, because the medium has grown so big that publishers no longer have that kind of control.
It’s not the mid-90s any more, where publishers literally controlled magazines. There are still a few publications that are, perhaps, unrealistically effusive towards games — looking at you, Game Informer and IGN — but the big third-party names generally are not.
Furthermore, this is a pretty disgusting way to delegitimize games criticism as a profession. The notion that you are somehow suspect because you accepted money for labor is an insidious and frustrating view of the arts that refuses to go away.
Chmielarz is not somehow more ethical because he’s railing against women on his own free time. If anything, it makes him more despicable.
He also has no qualms about flirting with controversy. My guess is he does it deliberately, but I think that’s healthy.
Is it really so healthy to stir up mobs against critics? I don’t think so, but if you like a culture of fear, I guess you might consider it healthy.
If you’ll allow me to pull yet more milk from the leathery teats of modern cliché, Chmielarz might not be the critic we want right now, but he’s definitely the kind we need.
Seriously? This is getting creepy. So far I haven’t read a single word by Chmielarz. All I’ve read is you singing his praises for yelling at Anita Sarkeesian and Phil Owen. I thought this was an interview.
When he writes, he does so in one of two general directions: there are his pieces on the socio-political talking points surrounding contemporary gaming culture, and then more straight-forward design essays. But it’s the latter that can cut closer to the bone of the video games industry. “I guess it’s surprising to some, but it’s the game design [side] that’s often about the provocation,” he tells me, “and it’s the socio-politics that’s about the facts.”
You literally contradict this in the next paragraph.
Of course, it’s the pieces on politics, such as his Feminist Frequency article, that provoke more “napalm”. But why is that, exactly? “The reason is simple,” Chmielarz explains. “I believe that humans are inherently, irreparably biased creatures who remain biased even when they are aware of their own bias. Myself included, of course.”
First off, you contradicted the thesis of this paragraph in the paragraph immediately before it. Good job.
Second, Chmielarz’s response here reads like a smug self-satisfied high-schooler who thinks he’s outsmarted his literature teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher has their head buried in their hands, wondering how it is that this kid can be so fucking stupid. It’s a fluff sentence that means nothing, both with and without context. A meaningless adage used to make a bigot seem smart. By acknowledging that everyone, even you, is biased, you position yourself both above bias and above those you consider biased. It’s the easiest thing to call out as an interviewer, and you don’t. Why not?
Personally, I like his piece about Polygon, linked above, in which he criticises author Phil Owens’ issue with The Last of Us requiring four scissor blades to make one single shiv. (That, and with the fact that the piece is written by Owens and can be seen to advertise a book by Owens, titled WTF Is Wrong with Video Games.)
Let me stop you there, and maybe help out your reading comprehension with a nice screenshot.
It is a book excerpt. It is a portion of the book republished on Polygon. How is this so hard to understand? Have you literally never seen how publishing works in the real world? Did you get mad all the times the New York Times did the exact same thing?
This is information literally anybody who took two seconds to read the full intro would understand.
Owens calls the crafting in The Last of Us a “bit of blatant absurdity”, which is like an underhand, soft serve to Chmielarz, who subsequently applies Owens’ wonky logic to other mediums: “…and don’t get me started on the books. Why are most of them artificially divided into sections (so-called ‘chapters’)? Why are they presented in a code we need to decipher… so-called punctuation?”
First off, for the love of god stop with the Chmielarz fellatio.
Second, that particular excerpt makes zero sense, both in your piece and in Chmielarz’s. Chmielarz, in fact, doesn’t seem to understand Owen’s finer point, which is that games often have poorly-designed systems which serve little point to the mechanical or narrative as a whole. It’s a pretty important point to make, and while Owen makes it with his typical crass bravado, maybe you should try actually reading his work and thinking critically about it before judging it.
Whether you agree with his politics or with his shooting of fish in a barrel, to me this is the kind of critical voice, and bullshit filter, that every industry needs.
Why are you constantly editorializing Chmielarz as a genius? You’ve only excerpted a single thing from one of his supposedly great articles, and it made no fucking sense. So far, the only reason I have to think Chmielarz is somehow good, within the context of this piece, is because you’ve repeated it like four times.
There’s an old writing adage that I hate to evoke here, but I’m doing it anyway: show, don’t tell. So far you’ve done nothing but tell me that Chmielarz is great, and precious little to show me why, except to say that he “went to war with Anita Sarkeesian”.
I don’t just hate this piece because it’s a puff piece about one of the most toxic people in games, I hate it because you refuse to actually do your basic journalistic or authorial duty. If you actually showed or explained some of your points about Chmielarz being secretly the best, I’d be at least okay with this piece from an editorial standpoint. As is, it’s a fucking disaster, both topically and structurally.
I’m certain that there is more great games writing out there than ever before; it just gets lost in the flood of pieces that exist primarily to represent #content.
Really? Do you not read Rock Paper Shotgun? Unwinnable? Paste? Killscreen? ZAM? Giant Bomb? Literally any major gaming publication besides Game Informer and IGN?
We’re in a games criticism renaissance right now, fueled by the desires of critics who refuse to bow to the whims of either publishers or the public, and you are telling me that it doesn’t matter because IGN put out some fluff piece?
“There’s barely any actual journalism,” is Chmielarz’s opinion. “It’s mostly PR replays, clickbait and wrapping Reddit posts in a nicely coloured ribbon.”
The fact that Chmielarz believes this, and you published it completely unchallenged, is an indication that both of you have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.
- Posting about controversial subjects is not clickbait. That is a particular style of headline writing used to draw attention to an otherwise tepid piece.
- Modern game sites do not do “PR replays”. The most they do is publish trailers, which most people are interested in.
- While some sites do repackage Reddit posts (notably Kotaku), it’s within the context of reporting on gaming as a community.
These are all things you can find for yourself by spending the smallest amount of time researching the publishing habits of major game publications. Do you not fact check? If so, maybe you shouldn’t be writing interviews.
“A big problem for me is the fact that most gaming websites don’t really have any personalisation,” he continues. In this modern world of synaptic overload from the always-on news cycle, and the algorithmic time-traps of social media and Netflix, the need to offer something that really connects with readers somehow is crucial.
The running theme of this piece is that the author refuses to critically examine or engage with Chmielarz’s statements on any level except worship. Literally none of these statements have been challenged or contextualized or examined critically, which is what a good interviewer does, even for an interviewee they like. All the author has done is give Chmielarz a podium while vigorously sucking him off behind it.
“You go to a site and most of it is something you have zero interest in, like ‘Halo 5 adds Harry Potter Quidditch Mode’. I am sure there are people out there who were shaken to the core by the news, so the existence of it is not an issue. The fact that I wasted a few brain cycles and seconds reading a headline that does nothing for me is an issue. Not that I know how to solve it.”
Chmielarz’s complaint here is that sometimes sites run content he does is not personally interested in. It’s literally the most childish complaint you can muster against a news site. Once again, completely unchallenged.
Naturally, massive video games will always have interested and engaged players, eagerly consuming all updates, however trivial. But it’s also easy to see things from Chmielarz’s perspective — click your way to a traditional, specialist video games site, and its news feed will usually be stuffed with, basically, Stuff That Doesn’t Matter. At least not to anyone outside of the game in question’s audience. We are assaulted by the cynical monetisation and infantilising mechanics of mainstream games on a daily basis.
I thought this was an interview, not an editorial masking as an interview where you get The Boy Of Your Dreams Adrian Chmielarz to back you up.
You’ve done nothing to support your statements. The only piece you’ve mentioned so far in this fucking travesty of an interview is Owen’s, and you didn’t even understand what he was trying to say.
Do you mind linking some articles you personally find repulsive because they are “Stuff That Doesn’t Matter”? A screenshot list of articles would do. C’mon, please explain to me what exactly you find repulsive about editorial that seeks to include lots of different people in the same tent?
Your whole point is that you don’t like it. Why? Are you ever going to explain yourself?
And while the games industry might be more transparent than ever, it doesn’t always stop to fact-check.
You don’t fact-check Chmielarz in this piece, so maybe don’t throw stones in glass houses.
“Facts don’t mean a lot when you already have a strong view of belief,” says Chmielarz.
The irony of this coming from Chmielarz is fucking staggering, and that you don’t challenge him on it (yet again) is telling. This is what you actually believe, isn’t it?
A case in point is the reactions to E3 2015’s assortment of female leads, when several commentators in the games press declared it the most diverse showing in years. Go deeper and a slightly different story unfolds, Chmielarz arguing, with research on his side, that there were just as many female leads on show a year earlier.
This piece is Chmielarz smugging for approximately infinity billion words before saying the actual truth: that while there were just as many women protagonists in E3 2014, they were more prominently valued at E3 2015.
This is the Chmielarz problem. Sometimes he actually says a thing or two worth actual value. But he buries it behind miles of self-aggrandizing bullshit so as to appear superior. Sounds like the behavior of an egomaniac, not “our best critic.”
But the problem with ‘facts’ is that, “on the contrary, they can ignite a very strong reaction that’s supposed to kill the dissonance those facts created”. So, pinch of salt at the ready.
The strong reaction is because Chmielarz wantonly twists “facts” to fit a particular agenda, even if they paint a different picture. For a great primer on how he does this, I recommend reading this very excellent article on Simpson’s Paradox.
And stopping to question what can be seen as bias-confirming narratives often gets Chmielarz in trouble, especially in this world of Reddit/Twitter-endorsed pitchforkings. “You don’t need that extra press, and thus I think the only people talking [honestly] are people who don’t have it in them not to. People who cannot shut up, even if shutting up is the most logical thing to do. Like, you know, Harlan Ellison.” Ellison wrote: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” That’s something we could all do well to remember.
There is a deep and abiding irony in you taking Chmielarz at face value not just on educated opinions, of which he has very few, but also on internet mobs.
Yet not all who disagree are trolls, and Chmielarz’s writing has a knack of rubbing his fellow professionals up the wrong way too, such as Tadhg Kelly, TechCrunch columnist and industry writer. Bear in mind that if someone of either Chmielarz’s or Kelly’s cachet wrote a public rebuttal of one of my articles, my career would probably wrap up quicker than a Zen Bound pro sparked on Adderall.
Your analogy is terrible, and maybe you should do your duty as a journalist and examine why exactly Chmielarz regularly pisses people in the industry off, instead of uncritically saying “well, he’s just a controversial guy!”
He will often come to a big game months after release, when the hype has cooled and the next 30 “must-haves” are released into the wild.
Literally every major game critic in the field does this. Some talk about games many years after release. Pay attention to the field you nominally participate in.
Will questioning our own biases and dissecting cynical design improve the games we play? Or are we all just gnashing teeth while the majority mash buttons? One thing is for damn sure: the games industry is a more interesting place with Chmielarz around.
I skipped over criticizing most of the end of this piece because it got boring (I read it, I just don’t think it’s worth commenting on), but this here is worth dissecting.
You are ignoring a large, vibrant community of critics to uncritically lionize a guy who regularly sics hate mobs on people who write about games from a historical or literary perspective. The games industry is already interesting enough without people like Chmielarz polluting the water, so the fact that you think he is somehow valuable compared to all the critical voices you outright discard in this very piece is particularly offensive.
This piece could’ve been interesting. I’m actually super interested in Chmielarz’s background, his statements placed within a broader historical or social context, and his beliefs. But that would require you do your job as an interviewer, which is to read between the lines to better understand your subject. Humanizing Chmielarz would’ve made for an extremely lovely piece that I would’ve enjoyed quite a lot.
As is, this piece is a fucking disaster, little more than fluff. It’s the same sort of disaster, albeit not of the same scope, that brought us the SBnation piece about Daniel Holtzclaw.
Danny Wadeson, unfortunately for us, couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
VICE Gaming released its edit to the piece critiqued above, and it’s somehow actually worse. But before I get into it, I’d like to talk about the response to the first portion of this piece.
This Medium article blew up. I did not expect it to get this big (just goes to show you what I know), and a lot of people read it, shared it around, and generally liked it. That’s good! What’s not good is that people took it as an impetus to go after VICE Gaming’s editor-in-chief Mike Diver on a personal level.
Diver is a good dude. I feel that publishing this piece was a failure of editorial judgement on his part, but for the most part VICE Gaming puts out high-quality work, and Diver does not support (implicitly or explicitly) shitty people.
I’ve made this exact same editorial mistake before; I once published, as an editor, an article eerily similar to this one, albeit about an awful EVE personality. This is a mistake literally every single editor, good or bad, has made at least once. So before you go roasting Diver over the fires because he didn’t perfectly conform to an ideological purity standard, keep in mind that you could be on the proverbial spit next time.
My problem was never with Diver as a person, or VICE Gaming as a whole. It’s with this article, and the editorial decision to publish. It was a bad call to put this piece out there. Don’t turn what should be an emphasis on a bad article and a bad call into a witch hunt.
With that out of the way, we can address the edits to Danny Wadeson’s Chmielarz interview.
These changes are universally to “balance” the piece in terms of language, but in doing so ends up providing a whitewashing for GamerGate as well. No content was removed or altered; the only changes made were to add weasel language to a majority of the sentences I criticized earlier in this Medium piece.
So I’ll be more direct. This piece should not be published. At the very least, it shouldn’t be on VICE Gaming, a publication I generally respect for its quality. It needs a complete overhaul, maybe even a brand new interview.
The problems with this piece are because of the writer. Wadeson approached this interview as a way to canonize his favorite game developer. It was rotten to begin with, and no number of edits will change the fact that this piece is a glorified textual blowjob, a brown-nosing of the highest order. This is not how you conduct an interview of anybody, much less a man as controversial as Chmielarz.
For this dissection of the edit, I’ll be focusing on the language added to the piece that was supposed to soften it. For a critique of the original piece’s main points, read above.
Bulletstorm is the classic did well with the critics,didn’t sell loads kind of game; a lot of fun in practice but ultimately a commercial failure.
While true (and a shame, in the grand scheme of things), adding this random one-sentence blurb does not somehow fix the fanboyism of the rest of the paragraph. In fact, it feels completely disconnected; the previous sentence talks about the games he made at People Can Fly, and the following talks about his work at The Astronauts. Jamming a sentence calling Bulletstorm a cult hit in the middle simply doesn’t fit the flow of the paragraph.
He’s taken shots at Polygon for what he sees as its failure to actually love the medium it’s covering, singling out an excerpt published on the site from Phil Owen’s book, WTF Is Wrong With Video Games?: “One conclusion is that I wish the book were re-titled WTF Is Wrong with Video Game Journalism: How Gaming Critics Refuse to Grow Up.”
Once again, that piece is a book excerpt. It was not written by Polygon staff at all. So Chmielarz taking pot shots at Polygon for “not loving the medium” (a slippery assertion I’ll address in a minute) is not just disingenuous, it’s factually incorrect. Phil Owen does not work for Polygon. Complaining about Polygon because of a book excerpt from Owen is patent absurdity.
As for the “you don’t love the medium like I do” argument, that’s a spurious and insulting way to try to discredit critics. But here’s the catch: if they didn’t love this medium, why would they work in it? Why would you work in a field where you regularly receive abuse for the mildest of opinions unless you had a deep and abiding passion for it?
By repeating this assertions unchallenged, Wadeson (and by extension VICE Gaming) is implicitly endorsing this view. No amount of “balance” language will fix that; the only acceptable course is to challenge it, or leave it out.
Apropos of nothing, he also grew up in a communist dictatorship, and is currently addicted to Destiny.
Adding “apropos of nothing” does not make the mention of his childhood in communist Poland more relevant to the piece.
The frustrating thing is I actually do want to hear about his life in communist Poland and how that influences his views and work, filtered through the lens of an interviewer asking deeper questions. That’s a super interesting angle for an interview, and would help to humanize Chmielarz. It’s the sort of perspective I value a lot. But it’s literally mentioned once, and then never again. It is structurally irrelevant to the piece.
He’s loved by many, then, but also loathed by others, not least of all for what can be seen as a “pro” stance on the Gamergate fiasco that engulfed gaming culture in late 2014.
Actually, I’d argue he’s loathed by people because he has a tendency to go swinging at people because he doesn’t understand their statements, and then smugly says the thing the person was saying in the first place. He repackages the arguments of those he argues against to appear superior to them, despite ending up stating the same thing they do. He’s a deeply unpleasant person.
By taking what he considers a neutral stance on the discussion over whether or not the games media requires better regulation, more frequent disclosure over why certain games are given coverage over others, or more favourably, he’s been bracketed as one of the bad guys.
This is not what Gamergate is about. You managed to turn an article whitewashing Chmielarz into an article whitewashing all of Gamergate. Good job?
This, despite his assertion in February 2015 that what he saw as the main thrust of the Gamergate movement, the call for journalists, editors and publishers to be transparent where necessary, had been successful, and that was that.
Nothing major changed between August 2014 and February 2015, other than roughly a dozen people going through hell because an internet vigilante mob doesn’t understand the nuances of editorial ethics.
“We have seen most websites adapting new ethics policies like the need for disclosure,” he told TechRaptor. “I’m not entirely sure there’s anything left to do here for #Gamergate other than being the watch dog.”
Did you really link to Techraptor, a site which has so many issues with ethical violations there are too many to list in this article? For just one example, look at this anti-semitic header they used for an article calling an anti-harassment initiative a “con job”.
He clearly feels that Gamergate, beneath the awful toxicity and harassment of individuals within (and beyond) the games industry that became the headlines-generating core concern of press coverage, had a purpose. That it did some good.
Cool. Corroborate that feeling, please. Because you clearly share it.
And of course you’re welcome to disagree with him on that, but when he writes, “I never expected public figures, people calling themselves journalists, to attack a veteran game developer without ever exchanging a word with him or asking about his motives,” you have to ask yourself if the liberal, progressive media, the kind that VICE Gaming considers itself a part of, wanting the best for video games and all those who sail in her, couldn’t do with being a little more balanced, too, and analysing the wider scenario.
Did I just read somebody complaining about the liberal progressive media in an interview about a guy who makes videogames? Am I in some fucking twilight zone, where VICE Gaming decided to improve a bad piece by turning it into a Breitbart article? I threw up in my mouth.
Of course there’s also a healthy dose of hypocrisy. Chmielarz does the same exact thing he complains about all the time; he writes some big-ass Medium piece slamming a public figure for doing something he didn’t like, without bothering to get a statement.
Perhaps he feels he can do it because he’s not a journalist. But there’s two problems with that. The first is that you enact the change you want to see in the world; if Chmielarz was really so committed to being an ethical bastion, he’d get statements before publishing one of his shitty hit pieces instead of firing them away. The second is that you don’t have to get statements from public figures before commenting on actions they take in public; this is known in journalistic circles as “notability.” The only time it’s an ethical concern is if the person being commented on is not a significantly public figure.
Out of all the edits added to the piece, this one is easily the most repugnant. It uncritically repeats, and even supports, Chmielarz’s uneducated opinion on journalistic ethics.
Whether you consider Chmielarz an acclaimed games developer or anti-feminist supporter of shit-flinging on social media, or maybe both, to me he’s actually one of the best video game critics around.
This sentence, while making sense, is structurally fucked. Why bother to mention his controversy if you’re just going to immediately dismiss it? This isn’t balancing out your piece, it’s just padding out wordcount. You could remove two thirds of this sentence, literally everything before “to me”, and it would result in the same exact thought.
Weasel words are the bane of any critic or journalist. This article is full of them.
(I’m certainly not saying that games journalists, or those covering any other form of media, are regularly encouraged to be sympathetic towards particular titles when there’s advertising money on the line; but you’d have to be incredibly naive to think that this situation never arises.)
It is fucking mind-boggling that such a smelly turd of a parenthetical made it into this article. The only reason to bring this up is to cast doubt upon game journalism as a profession, and further inflame the fires of paranoia among people already predisposed to be harassing garbage humans. You absolutely are saying that you think it happens, but by adding some weasel words, you have plausible deniability.
You’re right, it doesn’t happen absolutely never. But it’s exceedingly rare in the mainstream media, to the point that it completely dominates news cycles when people find out. Saying that people who have worked in this industry for decades are “naive” because they don’t ascribe to your view is insulting to a degree beyond which I thought it possible to be insulted by this landfill of a piece.
Good job, you slimy fuck.
Chmielarz also has no qualms about flirting with controversy, using #gamergate on Twitter and criticising popular figures like Sarkeesian knowing full well how it could see him cold-shouldered by the media he needs to support his studio’s work.
I like how you position the media as the bad guy here. Real telling.
Poor Chmielarz! Can’t a guy write misogynistic screeds on bioessentialism without the media getting mad at him?! What a forlorn state of affairs we live in that the guy who thinks women are biologically inclined to play hidden object games might get some criticism for his noxious views! Woe! Woe indeed!
(Draw your own conclusions on their “prominence”, as there’s no doubt that bigger characters took the stage in 2015, but the raw numbers are comparable.)
Hey, great job referencing this Medium piece, while failing to read the article on Simpson’s paradox. Here, I’ll link it again for you.
Their perspectives are two sides of the same coin, one we’re still tossing today, waiting to see how it lands and what that means for making gaming a more accepting, inclusive space for everyone.
Great weasel sentence that adds literally nothing at all to the piece. Real top notch job at not saying a goddamn thing.
I didn’t think, after the article was pulled, that we would get an edit this bad. I disliked the original piece, but I absolutely hate this one. All it does is whitewash Gamergate, adds in a bunch of weasel words to offer the author some plausible deniability, and once again takes Chmielarz at face value on everything.
As Phil Hornshaw put it on twitter:
This article is nothing but glorified cheerleading, not just for Chmielarz, but for the noxious positions he holds. It is not a profile or an interview, but a glowing recommendation. It has no duty to the truth, and never did.