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Q+A with Tynan Sylvester

Aaron Souppouris, @AaronIsSocial
11.23.16
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Today, I published an article about the sci-fi colony simulator RimWorld. Before writing it, I spoke with the game's creator, Tynan Sylvester. The article itself contains many quotes from our exchange, but in the interest of clarity, I'm publishing the full Q+A here. The interview was conducted via email, and has been reformatted and, in the case of one question, reordered for clarity.

Aaron Souppouris: [What do you say to the statement that] RimWorld, through its code, contains your views on gender, sexual orientation, and disability, in regards to colonists' relationships?

Tynan Sylvester: It really doesn't. It contains my half-finished attempt to make an engaging game system based on a quick non-judgmental survey of research data. These mechanics have bugs, oversights, deliberate simplifications, mis-tunings, and changes made in pursuit of balance and fun gameplay. To try to work backwards from this to derive my personal real-life moral beliefs would not be reasonable, and those who have tried so far have been radically off the mark.

(I'll just give another example to illustrate this: In The Sims, every character can freely engage in romantic relationships with any gender. If this mirrored the creators' worldview, that would mean that they believe being gay is actually a choice, that one can choose to stop being gay, and that "gay conversion therapy" could work. I don't think they believe this, but the absurdity of it highlights how easy it is to derive crazy beliefs by over-interpreting someone's game design. This goes double for a game design that isn't even finalized yet.)

Souppouris: [What do you say to the statement that] you have personally expressed support for a game that satirizes BlackLivesMatter and GamerGate, and at least partially support alt-right movements?

Sylvester: No, I don't support "GamerGate" or the "alt-right"; I oppose wholeheartedly many aspects of these.

Regarding the BLM game, I never expressed support for its content; I expressed the belief that mega-corporations like Google should not shut down unpopular speech. This is because I believe strongly in the general concept of free speech, in the sense of "I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." There are many cases where I agree with the right to speak but disagree with the words being spoken, and I've always tried to make this clear.

Souppouris: The free speech point is interesting -- the UK (where I live) obviously has freedom of expression laws, but they come with a list of asterisks longer than I could recount here. Essentially you have the right to an opinion, but you do not have the right to threaten, abuse, be racist, be grossly offensive, incite hatred, and so on. It's perhaps down to a difference of culture, but I don't believe that free speech is an immutable right.

Sylvester: Regarding speech, that's fine, I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

I'm aware that there's various sides to this discussion. I will just say that Trump's election is a perfect example of why I'm proud to consistently support free speech. Speech controls sound great when you imagine they'll be controlled by people you agree with - but when you realize they'll also someday be wielded by people on the other side, they sound very, very bad. J.K. Rowling made a nice speech on this not long ago (watch 3:25 - 5:05 for the most relevant part).

Souppouris: [What do you say to the statement that] the way RimWorld is coded limits players' ability to experience a full-breadth of human relationships through their colonists?

Sylvester: No, it doesn't. There are a full range of gay and straight lovers, marriages, breakups, divorces, cheating and reconciliation, family loyalty and rivalry, and so on, and there are no limits as to which character can take which actions. Many LBGT people have personally thanked me for including these aspects in the game, because RimWorld is one of the only games that does. Of course there are some things we don't have the time or technology to simulate. But if you're looking for the breadth of human relationships I struggle to think of a game that provides more (and we are always improving!)

Souppouris: [Regarding] the issues [Claudia Lo, writer for Rock, Paper, Shotgun] raised, in what areas are you looking to improve the game's code in the future?

Sylvester: This system, has been in development since it was created seven months ago. I've been applying the same process as for every other part of the game: Talk to players, see what they like and dislike, and based on that try to work out changes to make that express the game's core purpose of story generation in as engaging a way as possible. For the romance system I've recently fixed some bugs and tweaked some numbers to try to improve the experience. Some of this was done before the article, some was after. The process is ongoing.

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