The Person and the Persona

When I started making games, I had a choice to make: under what name was I going to release them?

Now, this was a while ago – more than ten years. (Agustín Cordes recently told me that I was one of the first of the indies and that I should really make more use of that in getting publicity for my work. I can even claim that I was one of the first people to push the term “indie”, by writing an awful column called Thinking Indie for an online magazine called Pixelate. I once almost bought Isn’t that hilarious? I’m not sure it’s very useful, though.) At the time what you were expected to do was come up with a fake company name: GoblinShit Productions, YoYoMamaGames, Hairy Bollocks Design, that kind of thing. You basically pretended to be like the big boys in the industry.

There was nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, especially not when there was an actual team involved. But I felt that despite the existence of a couple of famous designers (not nearly as many as nowadays), the idea that games were made by people was largely absent. To me, whose perspective was shaped very strongly by a love of strong, unique authors, that seemed wrong. Games, like any art form, were the product of vision and intent, not just pieces of random software plopped out by a faceless entity. Games were personal, even if they were all gameplay.

So I started releasing my games under my own name. “A game by Jonas Kyratzes.” I think some people found it quite arrogant, though I doubt they would have thought the same about a similar credit in a movie.

And so this online persona of mine developed. I’ve tried to keep it truthful to who I am, to my beliefs as well as to my flaws. But it is a persona. That doesn’t mean that it’s false, but it is only a part of me. I’ve chosen to sometimes share personal information, because I like to share my thoughts and my feelings, but this blog isn’t a diary or a direct look into my head. All of this is… processed. It’s me, but it’s a very intentional sort of me.

I decided a long time ago that it was better for me to state my positions strongly, to challenge others, to be hot or cold but not lukewarm. I chose to be this way because it makes life more interesting and because I think it’s a necessary contribution to an apathetic society, even if I’m sometimes wrong. I don’t require everyone else to be like me, though I do hope to inspire others to have some fire and enthusiasm.

Part of that is also being a bit of a contrarian and a devil’s advocate. And a trickster. If there is one thing that my internet persona can’t really represent, it is how much I laugh. My laughing fits are somewhat infamous, actually, and though I can be as serious as the wrath of Dog, half the time when I compose the replies that people read as angry, I’m laughing. I laughed my ass off about the whole Harold Bloom debate, and it continues to make me laugh.

My father likes to tell terrible jokes. When no-one laughs at them except himself, that just makes them funnier. I’ve got that too. The knowledge that some people will be pissed off by the Room of Boxes in The Sea Will Claim Everything fills me with glee. I can’t help it. That’s why I’m so fond of Coyote stories, too.

Sometimes I wish the persona could be divided from the person, though. The trickster is weighed down by his poverty. I share my struggles because I think it’s important to talk about economics and class and illusions of market meritocracy, because not every indie can afford to fly around the world attending cons or game jams on the beach. But sometimes I wish you couldn’t peek behind the mask and see my worried face. I’ve thought about releasing games under a pseudonym, or just closing down the comments option on this blog and not using social media to respond to comments – to turn myself into some crazy prophet shouting at the world about its flaws, probably wrong about stuff half the time but helping to push society towards something better. Or not just releasing games under a pseudonym, but assuming the vague face of a collective like Molleindustria (I believe Paolo Pedercini has gone through the opposite process, becoming more prominent as an individual).

I don’t think I’ll do it, because I’ve already walked too far in these shoes. This is how people know me, for better or worse. But I often wonder what it would be like.