In an emotional 1400-word open letter to fans of The Chinese Room studio co-head, composer and director Jessica Curry lays out her reasons for leaving. An unnamed, degenerative disease plays a large part in it she says, but issues with both publishers and industry-wide sexist attitudes have also soured her attitude.
"This is a horribly hard post to write," Curry said. "The Chinese Room has been such an integral part of my life over the last few years; the games that we make and the people in our company are woven into the very fabric of my being. So what has led to the decision to move onto pastures new? Well, there are three factors that have led me to where I am now."
First, Curry writes candidly of her illness. "I have a degenerative disease that simply won’t do what it’s told," she said. "Anyone who knows me is aware of just how stubborn I am and how hard I try every single day. A couple of years ago my doctor said to me 'if you try to fight this disease it will win' and I nodded like a good girl but actually at the time I just didn’t get it.
"Having a progressive illness is not like cancer, or a stroke or a heart attack. People are left at a loss because they can’t proclaim, 'you’ll beat this thing' or 'you will get better' and they can’t tell you to just 'whoop its ass.' I am going to get worse — that’s a simple fact and no amount of medication, wheatgrass, mindfulness, positive thinking or acupuncture is going to change that."
Of the team's most recent project, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Curry says that she pushed herself "to the edge of a precipice."
"I thought if I kept running then I could always keep the disease just out of reach. I was so wrong. In June I got very ill. I was in Los Angeles working on the final mix of the game and I got so poorly that I genuinely thought I was going to be brought home in a coffin. It forced me to re-evaluate what the hell I was doing to myself, and more importantly the effect I was having on my husband and son. I can’t keep running and it’s time to admit that to myself and to everyone who loves me."
Curry then goes on to attack The Chinese Room's publisher, Sony Computer Entertainment, and her experience working with them leading up to the team's most recent game release.
"So much of the stress that I experienced was caused by what I see as the desperately toxic relationship that I was in," Curry said. "I can’t go into detail here for the reasons above but what I can say is that I look back at the way we were treated and it still makes me shake my head with disbelief. Big business and the creation of art have always been extremely uncomfortable bedfellows and making Rapture proved to be no exception for me.
"I don’t want to do this anymore — in fact I can’t do it. I want to surround myself with honest, open people whom I can trust. I’ve heard so many people say, 'well, this is just the way publishers are' and 'this is just what the games industry is like.' What I would say to that is while we all keep accepting this, while we are so afraid to challenge this behaviour then it won’t change and we all deserve nothing but the meager crumbs we are thrown."
Finally, Curry unburdened herself of the indignities she's undergone as a woman in the games industry.
"I thought I was strong enough to lead the charge, to prove through talent and hard work and positivity that women have a vital role to play."
"I thought I was strong enough to lead the charge," she said, "to prove through talent and hard work and positivity that women have a vital role to play."I’ve had journalists assuming I’m Dan's [personal assistant], I have been referenced as 'Dan Pinchbeck’s wife' in articles, publishers on first meeting have automatically assumed that my producer is my boss just because he’s a man, one magazine would only feature Dan as studio head and wouldn’t include me. When Dan has said 'Jess is the brains of the operation' people have knowingly chuckled and cooed that it’s nice of a husband to be so kind about his wife. I don’t have enough paper to write down all of the indignities that I’ve faced."
"This is not a rejection of [Pinchbeck] but of the society that still can’t cope with the fact that a woman might just be as talented as the man she shares her life with."
Going forward, Curry says she will remain as company director of The Chinese Room and will maintain an office there. She will continue to write music for their games because "it makes me so wonderfully, dizzily happy." She has an ongoing project with the U.K.'s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and is eager for new work outside of games.
"I may well find that my travels lead me back to the company sometime in the future," she said. "But in the meantime I want to spread my wings and see where the next adventures lie."
"People often ask me (with a tinge of annoyance at times) why I’m so cheerful, silly, full of mischief, always laughing. Well, one thing that you learn when you are degenerating (as we all are I suppose, some just more quickly than others) is to make the very best of every single day. To see the beauty, the ridiculousness, the wonder, the hope, the sadness, the sheer magnificence of the world around us. I exhort you to laugh, love and really live."
You can read the full letter here.
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