We are a community of outsiders who continue to forge a culture that makes most of its denizens feel like they will never be insiders, veteran game designer Brenda Romero said of the games industry in her GDC Europe talk "I, Outsider."
At its core, Romero's talk was a eulogy to a time in the mid-1980s when gamer culture represented fraternity of pariahs — place that outsiders could finally call home. Describing her early years, she spoke of her days as a teenager having lost her social circle of friends, only to eventually begin to feel among her own kind when she began working professionally in the industry at the age of 15.
'But no sooner had we found a home that the games industry divided itself up again...'
"But no sooner had we found a home that the games industry divided itself up again," she says, citing the fallouts between games journalists and academics, indie developers and publishers, indie developers and other indie developers, and so on. The result, she says, is a strange war where the games community bellow for the "death of the games industry."
"We are an industry formed of outsiders but this has ended in tearing developers apart," she continues, referencing Fez developer Phil Fish's decision to leave the industry as a whole after being at the centre of this storm of drama.
"I remember when [Fish] talked with a passion about making games, bordering on neuroses. The fact that anyone would leave games because they take so much shit is just sad."
As a result, she says, we're now seeing a culture of "Game Developer Black Holes."
"Developers end up becoming black holes, they stay to themselves or with people like them and they don't do a lot of interviews.
The developer black holes versus the insiders
By her definition, a Game Dev Black Hole is an extremely successful developer, a keeper of knowledge that should be shared, who keeps to themselves or hangs out with other black holes to avoid "Internet bullshit."
Romero has, in her own words, left mainstream games development to work on experimental games projects. But it's following her decision to work outside the mainstream that she says she, for the first time in a long time, "felt like I didn't belong, like I was no longer core. For the first time since '81, I felt like an outsider."
Paradoxically, she has found that while those on the outside feel as though they are looking in, experienced game developers appear to crave the kind of creative freedom that outsiders seem to have.
However, the binary that's been created which creates a division between the "insiders" and the "outsiders" is all fiction, she continues.
Those who feel as if they are on the outside of the games industry are in reality showing the games industry what boundaries can be pushed from the inside, she says, concluding that we all still exist under the same cultural umbrella regardless of whether we feel like we don't belong.
"There was a time," she says, "when we were all just happy to be 'home.'"