INTERVIEW: Rami Ismail Discusses Meditations (Part Two)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

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OR: You wrote on your blog in February 2015 that:

“Of course, part of the problem with talking about failure and problems is modern culture, so hell bent on recognizing our relative successes as the one unambiguous truth. An apology is a sign of weakness met with nothing but vitriol, a sincere complaint a reason to attack and bad sales figures are a deep personal embarrassment. We’d rather talk about our successes.”

And you concluded with:

“We need to acknowledge our failures so that we can learn.”

How did all of this [occurring] make you feel? What was going through your mind when all of this started happening?

RI: The first response – I think this is a human thing- but your first response is to always defend yourself, right? And thankfully, I’ve not had to apologize for things that I’ve messed up in my career very often. But its happened before, and you get to recognize that feeling.

And there’s always two things that I try to keep in mind when something happens that requires me to apologize or would make it good for me to apologize. First is this metaphor of the robots.

Have you ever heard of that one?

OR: [I have not.] Could you elaborate please?

RI: So there is this metaphor – there is this YouTube channel called vlogbrothers, and August 2018, they posted this video about a giant robot suit.

And the idea is that on social media, everybody wears the robot suit. And the more visible you are, the bigger the robot suit becomes [and] the most powerful it becomes. One of the tricks about the robot suit is that you can’t see your own robot suit, you can only see other people’s robot suit. So you just think you’re a normal human, and the other person thinks you’re a normal person, but in reality, you’re wearing these armors – the more visible you are, the bigger [the armor] get[s]. If somebody punches at me, and they have very low visibility, then they have a very tiny robot suit. And it might feel and look to me like I just got straight up punched, but the reality is that it is a tiny robot suit and I’m in this Megazord, Power Rangers super robot, and it doesn’t really do much.

If I punch, I bring that same Megazord Super Power Ranger robot to it, and I can flatten a robot, just by the grace of having one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand followers, but also [by] my position in this industry, my visibility in this industry, my network. I’m a person that might be scary to a lot of people. And that’s not something I want, but how do you criticize somebody that, from your point of view, might have the ability to seriously damage your career? I don’t think I could do that, but I know a lot of people think I could do that. And I know I wouldn’t do that, but at the same time, not a lot of people know me on a personal level. So how would they know? So that was the first thing, I had to take a step back and look at things- ‘Okay, I’m getting attacked over something that I thought was good. So, first, let’s keep track of the robot suit.’

The second thing was that a lot of the people involved were basically punching up. It meant that this was important because people were taking risks. I immediately went ‘Okay, something went wrong. Because if things went right, I wouldn’t be getting backlash.’ And I think most people assume I have good intentions? And I hope that I’ve garnered that trust over the years. So if I assume that people assume that I have good intentions, and if I assume that people are only saying this because it’s important, then ‘What went wrong? Where did this problem arise?’

So I started arguing with a number of people, trying to explain my point of view. The primary hope for that is that I would get a better understanding of other people’s point of view. And the backlash can be very overwhelming, and it remains very overwhelming, even after having been in a number of backlashes. It’s always scary.

But I had one advantage, and the advantage was very simple. I had three-hundred-and-fifty people that I wanted to do right by, and I had no doubt that the majority of the backlash I was getting was from people that wanted the exact same thing as me- which was to make sure everything was fair, that everything was equal, that everything was inclusive. And the people angry at me, the people criticizing me, I would look at their Twitter profile and instead of finding overall opinions that I strongly disagreed with, I would find a lot of opinions that I was just like ‘Oh, you and I- we think the same. So I’ve clearly messed up.’ Because, somebody like me, watching this go down, would have probably the same concerns. I just haven’t, because it was me.

So I took a step back, and I argued for a bit. Most of the criticism I got was purely about the crediting. And I actually, one-hundred percent, realiz[ed] that it was my lack of setting expectations that created this situation. And as soon as that was established, I started working on fixing it. Because, if you mess up, you make it right. And even in this case, even if I had believed that I didn’t mess up, three-hundred-and-fifty people are depending on me getting it right.

Three-hundred-and-fifty people depend on me getting it right, not just because its fair to the three-hundred-and-fifty people, but also because, again, one of the ideas for Meditations project as a whole was that you and your experience would not be colored by external influences. And the last thing I wanted was for people to play Meditations thinking the same thing that a lot of people were thinking Red Dead Redemption [2], which was ‘Well, this was created under unfair circumstances.’ So I wanted to make sure that both for the project and for the people and for the community that I got this right. And even though I didn’t get it right, I wanted to make sure that people understood that I was aware [and] that I acknowledged that, that I [also] acknowledged the power imbalance in a lot of that discussion, and that I will get it fixed instead of lashing out.

So there was a lot of thoughts going on in my head. And part of them- it’s just trying to honor the position that a lot of people had given me in this industry. And part of it is just trying to be a good human. And I think it’s both of those fully. Not like fifty percent this and fifty percent that, [but] a hundred percent the one and a hundred percent the other.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

January 9th’s Meditations game was by Kirsten Naidoo. The player has to click on the petal(s) that are off to the side, and match it to where it would fit on the large flowers. As each round of flowers are completed, more flowers blossom on the overall plant, until the plant is fully grown.  

OR: You wrote on Twitter on January 3rd and spoke just now a lot about how to handle backlash. You said that it “you’ll also likely find yourself in a panicked state, making decisions that might be less than helpful” and that “your biggest enemy is not the crowd, it’s making rushed decisions in response.” You then gave advice on how to handle receiving backlash by saying to “Stay considerate, search for calmth & understanding, and try and overcome your fight-and-flight” and that “[m]anaging your emotional well-being is critical here.

It may sound silly, but were you able to take your own advice?

RI: Yeah, I was.

And this is something that came with a lot of practice, I think, over the years. I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with high pressure environments, and not even from game development, honestly. I think it comes from public speaking. I do a lot of public speaking, and its often in front of a lot of people. One of the weird things about my life that I haven’t realized – in 2015, Arjan Terpstra, a Dutch writer, worked with me and JW to write a book about Vlambeer. He wrote the full history of the company up until that point. And one of the things I never realized, but that he perfectly poked at, was the notion that for both me and JW, we’ve been in the public eye since we were eighteen and twenty [years-old].

And we’ve made every mistake to get where we are today. We’ve made every single one of those mistakes in public. We’ve made them on Twitter. We’ve made them at talks. We’ve made them on the internet. We’ve made them in our games. Every mistake we’ve made has always been a public mistake. It’s never been a secret, it’s never been hidden, it’s never been something we can just quietly resolve. It’s always out there. And it kind of shapes how I think about a lot of things. Everything I do is in this very often public context. From work to my personal life. Most of my life is in the public context. Like, my flight schedule is public. There’s very little – my phone number is on my website. Most of the stuff I do is public.

And I think it sort of like, taught me that the public is not an enemy, but it is also not an ally. It is the public, society. Like, you’re staring at society. You’re just making your mistake[s] in public. And if people that have problems with that – they’re going to take it out on you. But, also, if people don’t like you, they’re going to take it out on you. And if people have political gain through something you do, they’re going to support you. If [not], they are going to attack you. You kind of get used to the dance of things.

And I think in backlash, one of the most critical things that helped calm me down is realizing that the people that were attacking me wanted the same thing as me. Which is that they want things to be fair. They want things to be right. And they want people to be treated with [the] respect and care that they deserve. That was very helpful in sort of calming me. It was also obviously stressful in its own way, because it meant that people that I normally agree with were now opposing me. And you can take that as a personal attack, or you can take that as a sign that you messed up.

And I took it as a sign that I messed up. And you can very quickly pivot to ‘How do I fix it? How do I make it right?’ Because I want to.

Again, three-hundred-and-fifty people depend on me getting this right. Three-hundred-and-fifty people placed their trust in me to get this right. So I should get it right. End of story. This is something that I feel frequently. It’s not just those three-hundred-and-fifty people, it’s the one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand developers on Twitter. It’s also everybody who voted for me in the Ambassador Award before. It’s also all the developers around the world that look to me for advice or that look to me for assistance or look to me as a role model.

It stays impossible to wrap my mind around, right?

Because, to me, I’m just the same flawed Rami that I was when I was ten or twelve or fourteen or sixteen. At some point, you have to come terms with the fact that that’s not who you are anymore. And I don’t know what that makes me, and I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong, and I don’t know whether it’s healthy or unhealthy for the community at large. But at some point, I’ve had to accept that I guide discussion and a lot of people look to me to do things right. So if I want this industry to be as good as possible, if I want this medium to be as good as possible, I should set the right example.

So I try. I try as hard as I can.

Meditations | Logo

OR Note: Since this interview was initially published, I edited it to add in outbound links to @jdude104’s social media and to her pastebin documentation for Meditations.

The Meditations game images used herein were taken by me, but you can check out the individual Meditations developers at the links included beneath each image set. You can also check out a partial list of all the developers in the project here. The Meditations logo is owned by Rami Ismail.

You can download the Meditations launcher for Windows and OSX platforms for free on Meditations’ official website.

Please look forward to Part Three of my interview with Rami Ismail, which will be published on Friday, January 18.

What do you think of today’s Meditation? Are you participating in the social media discussions around the daily indie games?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

Likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And video games. Cannot forget those video games. Anime too. Should not forget that either.

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