Game Developer Interviews About Gamergate: Caelyn Sandel

Please tell us a little about yourself and about the game (or games) you worked on. 

I'm Caelyn Sandel, an indie game developer, novelist, and activist. I started working in the games industry about five years ago, doing dance QA for Harmonix Music Systems, but was laid off a year and change ago and decided to go indie. Though I also take contracts with indie publishers like The Yearbook Office and Choice of Games LLC, I use crowdfunding to release a majority of my games free of charge to the public via my website.

I make small games funded through Patreon and have run a few game jams: most notably, I ran Ruin Jam, which was announced not long before Gamergate got its name and notoriety. Ruin Jam, inspired by a friend's tumblr post, was a direct response to the inevitable harassment of every outspoken female dev or games writer I knew. More on that in later questions.

Upcoming stuff: You'll soon see a game I co-authored, 'Does Canned Rice Dream of a Napkin Heap', when Zoe Quinn's Antholojam goes up! I'm also going to be organizing a royalty-free asset 'jam' that will provide art and music to devs who can't afford to pay licensing fees.


How has Gamergate personally affected you?

Gamergate has made me a little scared and a lot angry. I've started locking things down, getting my name off of Spokeo, moving to two-factor authentication on everything. It's making a lot of marginalized indies paranoid, because it's disproportionately our online colleagues who are being hit. My best friend worked on Revolution 60 with Brianna Wu. This all hits very close to home.

Gamergate has made me a little scared and a lot angry.

That said, the effect on my life has been mostly indirect, since I'm too small-time to rate direct attention and I don't poke the bear as often as some do. I got a 'takedown' from a minor GG celebrity for an essay I wrote about Gamergate and the Golden Mean Fallacy.

Ruin Jam got a little more attention: it was mentioned in the original #burgersandfries IRC channel, and I got a few tumblr anons threatening to make a rape simulator of the mascot. Ultimately, though, there was no concentrated trolling effort for the jam and they haven't pried too much into my personal affairs. I've been lucky.


Do you think that there are issues in games journalism that need to be addressed?

Yeah, but they're mostly related to hiring and employment practices, and the biggest problems do not lie with small online publications and e-zines. It's really hard to make a living writing about games right now, and those who have 'made it' tend to help their own and not others.

The issues with games journalism have been covered really well by Maddy Myers, who is still fighting the good fight. Those who have left games writing like Mattie Brice, Jenn Frank, and Samantha Allen have also shown amazing insight about this stuff. They have already put it way better than I could.

Are 'politicized' articles a systemic problem that needs to be fixed? Hell no, get outta my face.


Has Gamergate affected your ability to make games?

Mercifully, no. I just started out as an indie early this year, and my productivity wasn't slowed at all when Gamergate hit. If anything, I feel galvanized. I will continue to create the kind of non-games that Gamergate hates. I will keep getting more popular and better at it, and they cannot stop me.

There was a bit of a scare when it seemed like people were going to abandon Patreon because 8chan was using it, and that would have been a serious blow to my ability to create as freely as I do now. I'm glad that didn't happen. I would have kept on, somehow, but probably at the cost of a lot of time and focus.


What impact do you think Gamergate has had on the industry?

Well, it's brought some good people together and it's brought a lot of sunlight to issues that larger outlets weren't willing to acknowledge before. The attention that the mainstream media has given Gamergate is pretty solidly focused on the issue of misogyny in the industry and how it's a problem. It's kind of creepy how mainstream media is willing to talk about this, but most games sites somehow still aren't.

That said, those are mainly changes in the rhetoric surrounding video games, not the video games themselves. The AAA industry doesn't seem to have changed at all, and at this point I sort of just feel like GG can have it until it collapses.

I'm more focused on support structures for indies. I'm seeing better networks popping up, people dedicating themselves to building and maintaining tools that will help us survive. I like that, and that's why I'm looking forward to hosting an asset jam. I want to do my part to help everyone create.


What do you think the industry can do to deal with this issue? 

The AAA industry needs to start taking risks, but it also needs to reduce scale. I know there's big appeal to epic, massive games, but it seems like they aren't turning a profit any more and I think the industry is bleeding itself dry.

When it comes to indies: more networking, more support, more of the stuff that Gamergate calls 'corruption'. We have to be here for each other. We have to team up, get the word out, get money, make things. I'm trying to focus on this more these days.


Why do you think the industry has yet to take a firm stance on Gamergate? 

I feel as though major game publishers have a very static and frankly quite stale understanding of the video gaming public. To publishers, people don't exist — only demographics. It seems like the rampant misogyny market is still what large studios consider to be their best target audience. Nintendo has branched out more than any, but it's the mobile games companies that are really making headway in finding new audiences. Sadly, many of them are extremely predatory.


Do you think that speaking about this issue will paint a target on you?

Maybe. I certainly haven't been quiet about Gamergate, but I haven't made as much noise as a lot of people I know and am friends with. The trolling I've received has been negligible in comparison to what my friends have gone through, and tuning it out has been pretty easy.

Every time they pick a new target, though, I think about the fact that I'm a picture-perfect but less successful version of many of their favorite targets, and I think: Am I next? Will a day come where I have to call my parents to explain why someone called a squadron of police down on their house?

When is it my turn, and what will I do when it is?


Is there anything else you’d like to say? 

I think about the fact that I'm a picture-perfect but less successful version of many of their favorite targets, and I think: Am I next?


The most important thing that anyone can do is to boost the voices of those being affected by this debacle. Back them, fund them, promote their work, signal-boost their pleas, make people know that they exist. Remember that this isn't the most important thing about us. We're a network of independent creators and we rely on each other.

A lot of people want to get back at Gamergate, to strike it down somehow. It's not going to happen, and if it does it'll be because people like Zoe and Brianna go to court about it, not because you went back and forth with a channer for an hour on twitter. You can't 'defeat' Gamergate, you can't bring down 8chan, you can't make /baphomet/ cease to exist.

The best revenge is living well but so many of us are struggling just to live. We need to have each other's backs.