For some people in the video game industry, this is where the debate about games-as-art will be tried in the court of public opinion.
Until today, indie game developer David S. Gallant was a part-time customer service rep in a Canada Revenue Agency call centre. David did not enjoy his job, and wanted to make games instead. Desperately. So he committed to spending one day a week at the Untold Entertainment offices to learn whatever he could about the industry and our craft. After leaving Untold, David made a few games on his own, including I Get This Call Every Day, a game he used to express his frustrations about his job.
Today, after an incendiary Toronto Star article in which the reporter appears to have tipped off the office of the Canadian Minister of Revenue Gail Shea (David was always guarded about where he actually worked), David was fired from his job.
Never Again the Burning Times
The claim by TOJam co-founder Jim McGinley and others, who are seeing red, is that the Star article (and the Minister’s reaction) reveal a distinct bias against video games as an art form. Jim asserts that if David had expressed his frustrations through any other artistic medium – writing, painting, stand-up comedy, film, interpretive dance – he would not have provoked the same reaction.
As someone who has been fired from his job for being critical of his employer, i’m not so quick to call this an anti-games witch hunt. A few years ago, i remember being so aghast at the incapability and apathy of the students at the Hervé Velasquez School For the Digitally Inclined (my nickname for George Brown College), that i wrote a pair of articles called What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges (Parts 1 and 2) expressing my frustration. In those articles, i went much further than David did in his game, by actually naming my employer (among other schools), and by being a general dick about it. The Dean at GBC sniffed out my articles in a Google vanity search, and i was fired from my teaching position shortly thereafter.
i regret to inform you that your employment is hereby terminated immediately! (How’s THAT for a catchphrase?)
Sidenote: i regret nothing. When you’re so unhappy with a job that it oozes – achingly – into your art, getting fired is an absolutely blessing … a fact i truly hope David will come to realize in time.
The best consolation i received from anyone about being fired from George Brown was that in this new age of digital media, old institutions like schools (and governments, in David’s case) need to control the message. And thanks to blogs like this one, where i can freely criticize George Brown College, these institutions’ inability to control the message drives them completely bonkers, and they feel that their only recourse is to aggressively dig out the cancerous cells with a spoon. Bleeding be damned.
There. We’ve burned this relatively-unknown novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. That’s the last we’ll be hearing about THAT.
Of course, as we’ve seen so many times, these institutions don’t stop to consider the backlash their knee-jerk reactions cause. In my case, after my firing was widely publicized, i was able to single-handedly dismantle all heartless Ontario college diploma mills and replace them with tightly-focussed, effective programs that produced skilled and educated students (and uh … and then i woke up.)
In David’s case, the video game community is rallying to his cause with Twitter hashtags like #saveGallant (David is currently trending on Twitter in Canada), and organizations everywhere are encouraging people to buy and upvote his game. (PROTIP: By paying more than the $2 minimum donation suggestion, you can help float David for the next little while until he finds a new job. Give generously!)
So does the Star’s article betray a bias against video games? i’m not sure it does. Plain and simple, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you, even if that hand is also strangling you and periodically feeding you shit. Did i do something wrong for slagging off George Brown College? Yes. Am i thrilled that i’m no longer working there? You betcha. Did David do something wrong by criticizing his call centre job? Most likely. Will he one day be thrilled that he’s no longer working there?