Annapurna, Davy Wreden and White Indie Videogame Development Privilege

RND/ To consider how something about Davy Wreden faintly grates on your tits and maybe always has.

A scenario, in which the LA videogames publisher Annapurna Interactive had a showcase in 2021. Despite being entirely happy, smooth, slick and obviously well produced, its overall atmosphere of patchouli scented Glade Plugin whiteness and whimsy felt cloying.

This, despite the fact it featured several non-white developers (or even precisely because it featured them – after all, they’re not the ultimate owners of this particular means of videogame production, merely subroutines in its matrix of unchallenged ideological code.)

There was also a section within the presentation featuring (/unlikely sounding) gamedevs Davy and Karla Zimonja, founders of independent game studio Ivy Road. For an insight into W.I.G.P White Indie Gamedev Privilege, ooh boy for some reason it can’t be beat. Talk about anal misread as ‘nice’:

Presentation Breakdown:

2 seconds: We zoom into a black sphere accompanied by some sinister music. We have arrived in Vancover (ie. Blame Canada.) We’re informed that this is a ‘new partnership between Annapurna Interactive and Ivy Road. A cut-away style ‘zipp’ noise is then heard, and suddenly –

5 seconds: We find ourselves in the middle of a conversation between two neatly dressed pale skins in a staged location, made to look like some hipster coffee shop. Karla is asking Davy something about some bullshit game where you have to guess who the little cartoon people are. (Possibly ironic, if the viewer is also being asked to guess who these two stiffs in front of the camera are.) Perhaps this is meant to showcase the fact digital entrepreneurs are ‘*always* discussing videogames’ – that they’re obviously the Right (White) People For The Job.

Davy, oh-so desperate to be the warm little center of attention, performs a little passive-aggressive act, obvious not caring what the real answer is – but fully intent to be seen to be coming up with an answer first.

What exactly are we to make of this little impromptu back-and-forth? It comes over as a lighthearted, clever, snappy introduction to a private world where such lighthearted, clear and snappy off-the-cuff quips obvious occur all the time. “It’s just how we roll, dahlink.” Davy squirms and lays back in his chair, playing with his hair, manspreading. He obviously fucking loves himself and all is well with the indie gamedev universe.

11 seconds: Close up of some tea being poured into a natty white ceramic teapot. Very refined; we are obviously in refined company.

17 seconds: Cut to Davy and Karla sitting down. Again, the illusion of spontaneous organic informal introductions. Dave says “Well high there” – Karla crosses her arms and says “Hello” in a Scarlett O’Hara ‘oh-my’ way, suggesting that they both didn’t expect to see you here. OK whatever. I’m fucking here now; get on with the hard sell, or whatever it is.

20 seconds: Zarla removes the lid from a glass jar containing packets of tea. Somewhat oddly, she casually tosses the jar lid onto the table as if not caring.

23 seconds: Shot of a polite tea bagging while Davy explains his past achievements. For some reason the viewer is made to focus on the tea, and not on the actual people in the scene or what they’re (/really) saying.

26 seconds: Shot of tea being poured from a tea pot. A drop of tea spills from the bottom due to the tea being poured a little too quickly.

29 seconds: Dave points to the camera for some reason, stating strongly “And we.. started a studio”, to which Zarla somewhat bizarrely replies “It’s true.” They’re basically talking to each other, and not to the audience. Um, what’s going on here exactly? What have we stumbled onto?

34 seconds: Shot of Dave’s black yet chipped nails picking up a cup, fingers splayed as though suggesting a parody of pristine English Victorian era social formality. His nails and rope cord bracelet however suggests ‘rebellious indie realness.’

36 seconds: Cut to a shot of Zarla’s nails – long, flawless, manicured to perfection, probably by underpaid brown skin staff at a salon.

48 seconds: More tea being poured.

51 seconds: Dave refers to the musician playing live in the background, saying “Lets go to him” and pointing (again.) Shot of someone with headphones on playing a keyboard in the background, surrounded by high tech equipment.

01:02 Dave attempts to make a joke about how he was ‘only mentioning in passing’ the guy playing in the corner – not that this person should be formally introduced but instead simply continue playing, without formal acknowledgement.

That is, his very presence should not interrupt them – or the the fact of his mere existence (as a worker. For it’s WE who are in charge, you dig?) As if concerned at the possibility of being seen to express unfair treatment to underlings, Zarla (faux?) condescendingly asks “Should we give him a treat?” but Davy waves this suggestion away. “No no no.. we’ll leave him alone.” The musician looks back, as though slightly miffed at this treatment. He goes back to playing. This scene is plain fucking odd, and a little demeaning, despite the fact it’s meant to be a joke. (Yet at whose, true expense?) A discordant note has creeped in; indeed the whole presentation is arguably dissonant, jarring, contradictory, and grating.)

01:03 More fucking tea drinking. They clink tea cups as if in celebration of something. (Their innate brilliance of their own pristine white lives?) Suddenly Dave winces because the tea is hot. “Who heated this tea?” he asks. Zarla laughs. The audience starts to wonder what spectacle of bizarre internal mental self-modelling is occurring here. Who are these random people so desperately trying to impress (other than themselves, that is)?

01:12 Dave states that they’ve both super excited about.. whatever. His arms however are crossed, and both him and Zarla do not look at the camera.

01:54 The whole weird skit rapidly degrades into a parody of a response to the parody of Real Hardcore (/PC) Gamer style questions concerning their innate legitimacy and skill to make a game.

01:59 Dave is seen placing a whole tea bag (complete inside its paper packet) inside the tea pot. They both proceed to cram more packets inside while talking. Dave proceeds to messily fill the tea pot, spilling water down the sides and over the table.

02:06 Zarla casually tears apart a whole tea bag apart and sprinkles in roughly over the tea pot and the table. The fuck is that about? Why the sudden hostility?

02:09 Dave says “Thank you very much of joining this discussion of the studio values of Ivy Road and the things that we care about.” The presentation ends with more ominous music, as if foreshadowing.

Let’s talk about those Studio Values. The whole thing feels like two white, impolite, astoundingly privileged Upper West Side Karens who don’t like the tea or the service, complain loudly and disturb the other customers, who repeatedly draw attention to how credibly important and clever they are, wilfully creating a load of shit for some poor underpaid schmuck to clean up – and who then probably skip out on paying.

In short, a right pair of little shits who need a good oblique slap across the back of their mommy polished foreheads.

Are these perhaps the actual ideological standards and attitudes of Ivy Road on display? Rockin’ Indie Rebels, totally unafraid to paint their nails, sip organic fair trade tea from designer tea sets, make little ‘yokes’ amongst themselves, bitch in public and make a mess someone else will clean up for them? Exactly what kind of fucking game will two self back slapping Art Holes like these precious pair of stiffs end up producing? It’s sure to be a doozy.

The realer question: who exactly these people imagine they are, ie. what’s their own bizarre internal plastic model of themselves they find so effortlessly easy to display in public? Weird vibes all round.

Imagine being that much of a Po-Zeur and not just spontaneously imploding into an infinite black hole of your Self-as-parody. Anyone taking bets their ‘game’ will be yet another critically acclaimed Indie Darling bore fest slice of trite, fey beige bullshit, no-doubt dealing with important and emotional modern subjects which rip the shroud off a decaying society (all while liberally smothered in piano muzak sweet enough to cause diabetes)? Talk about a closed, airless bubble that needs rapidly bursting.

What starts off apparently ‘spontaneous’, lighthearted’ and ‘irreverent’ rapidly ends up what it was from the outset; second hand Cringe with a large dose of bitter sarcasm for no observably good reason.

The whole presentation straight out refuses to look the audience straight in the eye. Willingly self-strangled by the poison ivy of Whiteness, Education and Class, it merely states “We’re simply too important and clever to bother thinking down to your level – to share any details about ourselves or our company you’d actually understand.” Well that’s *one* way to introduce yourselves.

– Now that all that recent depressing heavy news about (alleged smug sexist prick) ‘Steve Gaynor’ and the toxic workplace culture at Fullbright has crawled out of the Indie Industry woodwork, is it any wonder painfully pretentious presentations like this one by Ivy Road exist?

Well elite indie gaming 1%, bollocks to you too.

Let’s talk about Black Games instead; no more pasty faced perfumed Indie Darling dogshit. Isn’t anyone else tired to their back teeth of ‘Wholesome’ games that say nothing, challenge nothing or nobody, have absolutely Jack Sheet to say about anything remotely real or substantial or revolutionary – that aren’t just some endlessly self-congratulatory circle jerk of frictionless pastel whiteness – offensively unoffensive, aggressively passive in their overeager approach, style, and bullshit pixelated lo-fi ‘aesthetic’. Lets get some Public Enemy mode gamedevving up in this motherfucker. White nerds too often bore me to fucking tears; let other voices speak for a change.