On January 14, 2021, VR developer Fox Buchele announced on Twitter that he was fired by Owlchemy Labs in 2020, and “I’m sharing this now because I’m done with this industry. And I don’t see myself coming back.” He described being a VR developer as “hard, thankless work – made worse by toxic, business-first development cycles, authoritarian ‘trickle down’ management and design, and a general lack of respect for the grunts in the trenches.” And that “I can’t in good conscience continue to support an industry so broken and exploitative while pretending everything is normal.”
I didn't leave @OwlchemyLabs. They fired me. Depending on who you ask, the reason varies from 'I don't know, your HR file was blank when I looked' to 'maybe they found out you reported Devin and Andrew to Google HR?'.
— Fox (@FoxBuchele) January 15, 2021
I reached out to Buchele to do an exit interview of sorts to explore his side of the story for what happened during his time at Owlchemy Labs, but also his perspectives on toxic work environments for VR developers within the game industry at large, what he sees as a stagnation of innovation and creativity due to authoritarian creative practices and a lack of diversity and inclusion, but also the larger context of the abuses of Big Tech.
This interview is an oral history of Buchele’s experiences and perspective. In the long run I’d love to capture other perspectives as well to get the full picture and other sides of the story, but the types of things that Buchele talks about are aspects of the games industry that others have been talking about as well.
Also, because Owlchemy Labs was purchased by Google on May 10, 2017, then this was also an opportunity for me to ask Buchele about that acquisition, and what types of insights that it could provide into Google’s overall XR strategy. Google has had a lot of XR projects come and go including Daydream, Google Cardboard, Google Expeditions, Google Poly, and Project Tango. Buchele points to the lack of willingness for Google to produce their own VR hardware combined with an already fragmented ecosystem within Android did not create a compelling platform for VR developers to buy into Google’s ecosystem. As a result, Google has yet to build up any serious traction within the broader VR industry, and they’ve been focusing their efforts on AR and AR Core within Android.
Fox’s time at Owlchemy Labs also mirrored the time in which Donald J. Trump was the President of the United States, and so he also talked about the dynamics of shutting down polarizing political discussions in the workplace during that time period. He talks about how he consciously and unconsciously shut down the more political parts of his social media presence in part because he didn’t want to have his private thoughts reflect poorly on the upbeat, positive, fun, and lighthearted brand of Owlchemy Labs.
He characterizes the working environment as one of “toxic positivity” that started with the stifling of polarizing political discourse, but ended in the resistance to having deeper critical deliberations about creative decisions. He claims that as time went on, then there was also a hierarchical creative decision-making process where only a couple of the leaders were involved making critical decisions in the absence of listening to creative feedback of the development team.
There’s certainly a number of things that Buchele discusses that is unique to his experiences at Owlchemy Labs, but also likely a lot of experiences that other developers in the VR industry and games industry at large have experienced as well. There’s a lot of taboos that Buchele is breaking in order to speak out about some of his experiences, and so I’m grateful that he was willing to elaborate on his Twitter. Sharing his story is in the spirit of being able to reflect upon some of the cultural aspects of VR industry that contributed to his experiences, and what we can do in terms of resisting Big Tech’s consolidation of power, the stifling of creativity through diversity and inclusion, and being willing to speak out about toxic elements of culture and how those can be changed.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Here’s a Twitter thread where I reflect upon the deeper cultural and technological dynamics of political polarization and filter bubbles
I spent the last 8.5 hours in this thread trying to make sense of the violent insurrection in the US from a tech policy, political, cultural, & market dynamic.
It ended up being a bit of my forecast for 2021 spelling out the underlying dialectics I'm expecting to play out. 👇 https://t.co/daRLZeSXkr
— Kent Bye (Voices of VR) (@kentbye) January 10, 2021
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So on Thursday, January 14th, Fox Buchli posted a Twitter thread where he used to work at Alchemy Labs. He's a VR developer there. He got fired sometime in 2020, and he posted why he was leaving the VR industry. And I saw this, and I was like, wow, okay, there's somebody who's leaving the industry, but he's got some interesting perspectives. I want to hear what he has to say. So I figured it'd be a good opportunity to get some insight from him about his time at Alchemy, but also this relationship between Google and Alchemy, because Google acquired Alchemy Labs back on May 10th of 2017. So it's always been this kind of weird acquisition of Google buying this cutting-edge, innovative game development shop who's doing all these interactive, six-degree-of-freedom VR experiences, and yet Google's future with VR has been a lot of false starts where there's been a lot of things that have started but have now been shuttered. And so the future of Google and XR is a big open question for me. I just wanted to get a little bit more insight. And Fox actually talks to me about some of his ideas for what happened with Daydream and everything else that I think actually explains a lot of stuff that going forward can explain some future options that Google has as they start to unfold all this. And there is some allegations of the culture within Alchemy itself was not one where there's a lot of deliberations creatively. It was kind of a top-down hierarchical organization. And in a lot of ways, this is perhaps reflecting the larger games industry. It's not unique to virtual reality, but someone from the inside who's been on the front lines of working within games and just some of the reality of what that has been like for him. Some experiences that a lot of people within the game industry has had. But maybe you're not so much willing to be able to talk about it on the record. So I figure this just be a good opportunity to capture this oral history in the story. I guess the caveats would be that with any of these different interviews, it's a singular perspective. And we'll have to wait until people from all the different perspectives will want to come forward and share other sides of what went down. So try to suspend judgment until we find more information. But this is just a part of capturing the histories is to capture these conversations as they arise. And then as people feel like they have an opportunity to talk more candidly about what this or that happened, then we can have more opportunities to be able to get many different perspectives. So that's at least how I'm taking this. And I think there's a lot of things that Fox is talking about that is tapping into a larger thread, not only from the larger VR industry, but also just big tech in general, as well as the deeper political context that everybody here in the United States has been living through for the last four years. And just with this past week with the Biden administration coming into power, there's a lot of people in the US, including myself, who have a little bit of a sigh of relief that we're not going to, at any moment, slip into some sort of overthrowing of our democracy. So it's been a little tense here in the United States. And this is also just a good opportunity to just talk about these in general terms. So It's a long interview. It's about an hour and 46 minutes. We cover a lot of different ground. So buckle in your seat belts and get ready to dive into lots of different juicy topics that we don't necessarily always get a chance to talk about here on the podcast. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with the Fox happened on Sunday, January 17th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:20.755] Fox Buchele: So my name is Fox Buchli and I got into the VR industry originally as a developer just doing strict coding. I came from a web development background where I did a whole bunch of back-end and then front-end development and kind of got to what I felt like was the max level I could reach there and I could like prestige into management or something but I figured it would be better to try and find something that I appreciated a bit more. And it was around the time that the Oculus DK1 came out. So I took a lot of my money that I had saved up doing web development and bought a DK1. And I had the privilege of basically having like a nice little nest egg and no debts to speak of. So I was able to take almost a full year and teach myself game development and Unity and how 3D models worked and how 3D assets worked and how they could combine with each other to create these fantastical scenes that we could all go through. So that's kind of how I got started in the industry. I was very into the idea of game jams at first, because they were like a really easy way for people who had little to no experience to jump in with other people and without a bunch of commitment of like, we need to start a company, start an LLC, they could just sit together for a couple of days and hammer something out and learn from it and learn from each other and, you know, experience is the best teacher. So I got very, very good at rapidly developing it. And I kind of got my name a bit from being able to go to these game jams and just rapidly kick something out that most of them ended up being pretty fun. And that originally drew the eye of a company called Idean that I worked for in Austin. They were getting into like learning how VR development worked. And so they hired me on to do some client work for them. as a like a full-time employee and I learned a whole bunch about design and the way people think and how to do certain things to, I'm not going to say like manipulate, but help guide people in the direction that you want them to go so that they're not banging their head against something they feel like they should be able to do, which we now know as affordances. They taught me a lot about affordances and design affordances and the ways to structure things that were easy for people to understand. And in the process of that, I got a whole bunch more experience in development. And it was one of the VR jams where I made a game with two of my friends that I played D&D with called Snakes on an Extradimensional Plane that originally drew the attention of Alex and Sai. And they approached me and said they really liked the game and that they wanted to start a conversation about me joining Alchemy. Now I was originally pretty hesitant about it because my job at Idean was very much like I am kind of the one person department and I didn't have to be necessarily so involved in like the management side of stuff or like sprint meetings and all of the other overhead of having to run a company. I was able to basically speak directly to the client, talk to a couple of designers to get some ideas and then knock everything out myself. And the idea of jumping into something where I was going to be collaboratively working with a bunch of other people and working towards trying to create something that can get us the most money while spending the least amount of money to do it, I was hesitant. But Alex gave me a really good pitch of, there are lots of games companies that we all, it's kind of the secret secret, or the not secret secret in game development, that working for game companies is pretty terrible. Like the treatment is terrible, both from the customer side, fans are terrible if you don't do exactly what they want. But he assured me that they were doing things differently, that they wanted to make a company where everyone could feel like they were friends and feel like they were collaborating with each other. And that one of the things he said was, we are all creating the game together. We're not telling you what to make. We're all figuring out how to make the best game we can. And it was a really strong pitch. So I said, OK, I'll give it a shot. Like, I really think that this could be fun. And you guys are working on that cool Rick and Morty game. I'd love to take a look at that, too. So that was how I got started at Alchemy. And I was there for, I think, about three years, maybe a little bit more. Yeah. So that was my start.
[00:07:17.522] Kent Bye: OK, and so I was just looking up and seeing that Alchemy was bought by Google May 10th, 2017. So were you there before the Google acquisition then?
[00:07:28.939] Fox Buchele: I was I was there for a couple of months. It really was maybe like two or three months before the Google acquisition that I got hired and got in and and got used to how everything worked at Alchemy. I spent a couple of months like learning how all the processes worked and the way that things worked. And then suddenly there were a bunch of secret meetings. We didn't know what was going on. And they announced the Google acquisition. And I was basically like the last employee to get into Alchemy before Google acquired them.
[00:07:54.195] Kent Bye: Okay. So what was that like working? Cause it's, it's always been sort of a weird acquisition for Google. I mean, I guess they had Tilt Brush and they've had Google earth VR, they did YouTube, but you know, at the time they were starting to really ramp up different stuff like daydream and a lot of their projects that they were kicking up. a number of them have been shuttered, whether that's the Google Polly or shuttering of the Daydream, shutting down the Google Cardboard. So over time, it seems like Google's approach to VR has been waning rather than waxing or growing. So I'm just curious what that was like to be a part of what's essentially this independent game development company, but under the overarching umbrella of a big major tech corporation like Google.
[00:08:40.075] Fox Buchele: Hmm. Well, I mean, we were all very surprised. I don't really think anyone expected that. We had kind of a bit of a betting pool of like, what's going to be the purpose of this big meeting that they're calling for us? And no one was expecting that we were going to get acquired by Google. So the process of it was done in backrooms and boardrooms and stuff in all of the secret meetings and then just told to us like, oh, this is what's going to happen. You all are going to get a really nice bonus. We're going to raise everyone's salaries. You're part of the Google family now, and we try to treat our employees really well. So we want to make your salaries more comparable to what software developers would be earning if they weren't working in games. So that was all very nice on the surface, but there was a portion of the company some friends of mine and some friends of mine like at the company and me that I don't want to obviously name names because I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but that were really skeptical about it. And I believe that they were also given kind of the same line of we're an independent company who tries to make games collaboratively and we are all working towards the best thing. And the big question everyone had was, OK, well, do we still do that or are we going to be starting to get orders down from Google and we just kind of have to shut up and do that? So there was a lot of skepticism amongst my friends that I talked to at Alchemy about what this was going to mean for us going forward. And we were told like there were some Google employees that came down and in the process of getting us kind of like onboarded and healthcare switched over and talking to legal teams and things like that. The thing that kept trying to impress upon us from at least from the Google side is we don't want to change anything. I said, you guys are magic. You make great games. We don't know how you do it, but we want to stay as hands off as we possibly can. and let you do your thing. So we're going to have very little to no oversight. You're not going to be required to get super involved in the Google network. Like you guys will remain basically separate, but they tried to pitch it to us basically as you're going to remain separate and being able to do the exact same things we're doing, but now with the resources of Google behind you and being able to be paid like a Google employee, which will hopefully make it much easier for you to continue doing the awesome stuff that you do.
[00:10:41.210] Kent Bye: Do you have a sense now that you're no longer with Alchemy? Why did Google buy Alchemy? Like, what were they thinking in terms of how this fit into their overall plan? Because as we look at their plans for XR back in 2017, they obviously had a lot more ambitions as to how they would be involved, but it's a bit of a mystery as to me, as to like, what has been happening with Google and both AR and VR. I mean, it seems like they've been more focused on AR, but what do you think they were looking for in terms of acquiring Alchemy and what they really wanted to get out of that acquisition?
[00:11:16.502] Fox Buchele: So I can't, obviously, I can't really speak much to Google's strategy. They kept us very much in the dark on what their strategy was. There were lots of conversations between Devin and Andrew. They took lots of meetings with Google where they were clearly discussing strategy of sorts, but none of that was ever communicated to us. Part of kind of what happened after the Google acquisition was the communication lines, which used to be a lot more two way of you could tell Devin and Alex anything or like ask them to come check something out. And they were almost always available. They could come over and talk frankly with you about like what was going on with the company and like the direction of the game and things like that. It became a lot more black box where we knew that they were gone for days, hours at a time. We didn't know when they were going to come back. They stopped coming around to kind of check on what we were doing and started speaking a lot more through the producers. So it's difficult to say what Google's strategy was or like what the purpose of them acquiring Alchemy was. But we were told in one of the meetings with a higher up at Google that Yeah, I want to be careful here because I don't want to again name names or say anything that might get me in trouble, but I'm pretty sure that this is okay to say that there were some people that were at Google or associated with Google that weren't really sold on VR until they tried job simulator and. that people at Google who very much were interested in VR were trying to get their fellow employees into it or try to get their spouses or their friends into it. And they would put a headset on them and have them try out some game. And they would play it for a little bit and be like, yeah, this is all right, I guess. Or it makes me a little bit sick. Maybe VR is not really for me. But whenever they showed them Job Simulator, everyone loved it. They mentioned that that was, I think, a core reason behind it was there was a game that you could put a headset on basically anybody and run this game for them. And they would have a great time. They'd forget how long they were in VR. They'd be laughing and enjoying themselves. And they'd take the headset off and go, yeah, I get it. I get why VR is cool right now. Like, I get VR now. And these were people who had months or days previous had said, VR is just not for me. I don't really like it. And they specifically said that they wanted to acquire the company that could create the game that could convert anyone, basically. That's not like a direct quote, but that's kind of like the summary of it is Alchemy made Job Simulator and Job Simulator was the game that at the time you could put it on anybody, no matter who they were, no matter what their experience was in games, no matter how comfortable they were with technology. And within minutes they were playing around, they were enjoying themselves, they were having fun, and that that was exceedingly valuable. But any company that can make a game that anyone can play and will enjoy is, I think, a bit of a special company.
[00:13:53.683] Kent Bye: Yeah, so my sense of Google is that overall, Google and Apple both got the mobile revolution, both with iOS and Android. And the people who missed out on that, folks like Microsoft and Facebook, they were like, we don't want to miss the next major tech platform. And so you have Facebook with Oculus, as well as Microsoft with the HoloLens, they're doubling down with their investments within all these immersive technologies. But yet the incumbents of both Apple and Google are complacent to a certain degree. I mean, I think that Apple is actually working on stuff that is maybe going to continue to push forward the immersive technologies, especially when it comes to augmented reality, who knows what they're doing with VR. But that Google got really complacent, like even the Google Cardboard, they wanted to have Google Cardboard that was operating at scale, But yet the thing that was operating at scale with the 360 videos and the Google Cardboard was everything that was antithetical to everything that Job Simulator was doing, which is like the full six degree of freedom motion track controllers, and also this whole experiential design aspect. And so the idea that Google could just sort of outsource what it takes to be able to be good experiential designers without really embedding it into how they think about things usually, which is massive scales, with numbers that are able to do data-driven analysis, there seems to be a culture at Google that is very into this kind of reductive materialistic approach that just even looking at their recent conflicts that they've had with researchers who have been trying to bring up some of these deeper concerns around ethics and artificial intelligence and the limits of machine learning and these language models that kind of go against their business interests, but yet they're finding ways of pushing some of these people out. There seems to be something about the immersive technologies of both augmented reality and virtual realities that to some degree that they understand, but to other degrees that they have never understood and maybe still don't fully understand because they haven't been able to find like a market for anything that they've done. And Google is famous for kicking up all these different things and starting up all these projects and killing them off once it doesn't have enough traction. And so it feels like VR is in this weird thing that it has the potential to be like this next computing platform, but yet they don't have the conceptual models to really understand it to the point where their business culture doesn't have that type of innovation that's happening endemically within their own company and they thought maybe they could just like outsource it to alchemy and they'd be able to figure it out. But yet it doesn't seem to be a strategy that's necessarily worked for them. That's for me on the outside. That's sort of my takeaways.
[00:16:26.820] Fox Buchele: Yeah, well, so so that was actually something that was that was interesting, because that was a bit of what I was kind of expecting whenever Google had acquired alchemy was, oh, they're gonna, you know, start asking us, like, how are we doing what we're doing? Or what are we doing what we're doing? And those conversations may have happened with Devin and Andrew, I have no idea, like, again, we have no idea what any of that stuff was, because they just would not talk to us about what their conversations were, or what any of that was. But We were kind of expecting, some of us at least, were kind of expecting that people from Google were going to contact us and ask us more about how to teach them to do those sorts of things, like exactly what you're talking about. But they never reached out to any of us. As far as I was aware, they never really reached out or asked us to provide any sort of information. It was a little odd. Like you were saying, it seemed like they were trying to make a big push into VR with Daydream and with Cardboard. yet they never asked the designers and developers like how or why we're doing the things that we're doing. There might have been some level of we're just going to kind of observe the finished product and see if we can work backwards from there, like kind of almost reverse engineering the design of it. or use like Job Simulator as like a template of how to do things. But there was never any sort of conversations with anyone at Alchemy as far as I was aware to try and do any sort of knowledge sharing either way. Like there was occasionally some sort of thing where we would contact like the Daydream team or the Daydream team would contact us about some like new tech and saying like, okay, so what sort of stuff would be useful for you guys on this tech or are these specs OK to run X, Y, Z on or are asking us for occasional things like that, but very little, if any, designer or knowledge sharing in the design of alchemies games like was ever shared with Google as far as I'm aware.
[00:18:06.872] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as I study the evolution of technologies, I see that like Simon Wardley has a model where he says like there's four phases. There's like the initial prototype of the idea. And then there's the custom bespoke applications, like the enterprise applications that get built that have to be kind of handcrafted each time. And then at some point you get to the mass consumer scale of these technologies where it's at like a whole other level. And then you get to like a mass ubiquity. And my sense is that like Google kind of wanted to skip over to like the mass consumer scale before doing like the hard work of finding and exploring where some of these different applications would happen say in the enterprise market. In some ways like the games are those custom bespoke handcrafted experiences But yet it was almost like they wanted to kind of just do the Google Cardboard and operate at the mass consumer scale without really fully understanding the affordances and endemically growing organic communities. And much more of the approach of Facebook and Oculus, which has been really focusing on those games and really fostering an ecosystem of those games. that there wasn't really a fostering of an ecosystem. Like whenever I go to Google IO, it'd be a bunch of developers who are like these open web developers and their approach of like, hey, if you want to make money, here's like an overarching platform of an ad. And if you want to be a YouTube star, you can just sort of figure that on your own, but we're not going to really hold your hand much here. And so I think they kind of got used to operating at that scale, but yet virtual reality is like this completely different paradigm shift that would require them to take a completely different approach for how they would do everything else. And my sense is that it was such a huge shift that they never really figured out how to fit this new immersive technology stuff into their existing systems, aside from what they're doing with augmented reality, but that there was like this open exploration to see what would be the thing to be able to take things to scale without being willing to invest in a lot of these micro niche communities in different contexts, let's say the enterprise market to be able to really flesh that out.
[00:20:08.531] Fox Buchele: Yeah, I would say that that's relatively fair. A lot of the trouble, I think, with these sorts of platforms that could possibly be a reason of that, of why Google did what they did, though, again, I don't know, is that what we're seeing with Facebook, their desire to want to kind of dominate the market, it causes them to need to control everything about their ecosystem like headsets that wants to basically be the dominant person in the industry is by nature required to control every single aspect of it. So with Facebook and with the quest like they rolled out the thing where you need to log into your quest account. with your Facebook account. That needs to be tied to a world identity that if you violate it in the terms of service, they can prevent you from using your headset. And the amount of control that it required in order to have Google Glass that With the Daydream, I was actually a really big fan of the Daydream. And with the Daydream, their approach was a lot more like Android, of we're going to try and develop this thing and release it, and then other manufacturers can make headsets that will conform with this Android operating system. We'll create the operating system and you guys create the devices and we'll help you like integrate our operating system with your devices. But the problem then comes with the same issue with doing Android development now is if any sort of like VR system is done like Android, where it can be splintered across all of these different devices and can't be unified behind a single architecture like the Quest and the Quest 2 is, That's very, very unattractive to developers. Android development is notoriously difficult for that because you need to be able to have your app run both on the newest high-end devices with all of the latest bells and whistles running the very latest operating system, and it needs to work at day one, but it also needs to work on a potato that was released four years ago that's still receiving software updates. And so that causes a lot of difficulty with development for Android. And I felt like personally, I felt like from a developer standpoint, as Google was starting to run the daydream stuff and saying, like, we have this daydream operating system and people can create their own headsets for it. Like we found that we saw the Lenovo headset that was based off of the daydream operating system. developers were very reluctant to do it, to not fall into the same trap as Android developers, where they would be forced to not only create VR applications, which are tough to do, especially to get them running at frame rate, but to have them to support all these different architectures and have them support different frame rate targets or different chipsets that were on it that could support certain things and couldn't support other things. And I think because people didn't jump on that, like because the manufacturers didn't jump on to the idea of we're going to take this VR operating system, make our own device and then release it on there. When all that interest kind of died out, I think a lot of daydream kind of died with it, that Google didn't seem to be interested in doing what Facebook was doing, which was controlling every single component of it and saying, we have one unified device that you can only purchase from us and it runs our own proprietary operating system and can't be running on anything else. They didn't seem willing to do that like Facebook is. And I think that was probably, it's a decision I appreciate, but I think it's also the decision that, because I very much disagree with the way that Facebook is running the Quest and the Quest 2. So it's a decision I appreciate, but I also think it was a decision that in some ways led to the downfall of Daydream, that Google wasn't interested in producing the hardware itself And manufacturers weren't interested in producing hardware that could run this only specialized software, unless there were developers behind it. And developers weren't interested in trying to develop these multi-fractured versions of their applications that could run on all these different types of devices, much like Android operates right now.
[00:23:43.886] Kent Bye: That's really canny insight there. I think that explains a lot of probably what happened and why the vertically integrated singular system, the monolithic system that's tightly integrated and controlled all the way from top to bottom, which is the approach of Apple versus the more fragmented approach of Android, which has any developer that's a developer for Android knows that there's all these different permutations and it's a fragmented ecosystem. It's difficult to know what target you're doing and to design that on top of all that fractured approach to do an immersive experience that is consistently works across all of those. It sounds like a bit of a nightmare. Of course, we need that level of diversity in the long term, but I could understand why in the short term that may have not really taken off.
[00:24:27.761] Fox Buchele: Yeah, yeah, and it's sad because you're right. We do need the diversity in the ecosystem right now with Facebook controlling the only basically the only standalone 6DOF device and controlling the people that can access it and what apps you can publish on it unless you try to go through side load and being able to dictate the amount of money that they're going to be splitting amongst the developers. If you want to develop something that requires a standalone 6DOF device, you either work with Facebook or you go get fucked. and there is no in between. So you can either do tethered VR or untethered VR. But if you do untethered VR, there is a bit of selling your soul to Facebook. And I very much understand why people are hesitant to jump into and really embed themselves in the Facebook ecosystem. Like you said earlier, Anton is a very big proponent of very much disliking standalone systems because not only just because of the way that Facebook runs their ecosystem, but also because they're so prescriptive in the way that things are that there's no room for discussion with Yeah, if Facebook doesn't like you, you don't get on their platform and that's it. And it's a very monopolistic approach towards developing things that I think is going to end up hurting VR in the long run. If VR even survives that long.
[00:25:37.042] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, with Google acquiring Alchemy Lab, it was back in May of 2017. And since then, we've had Oculus that's acquired a number of different game development companies, Beat Games, and they've made other acquisitions along the way. You start to have these big major tech corporations that are involved in the games industry more directly. But it seems to me that the culture between Silicon Valley and Google is quite different than say the game development culture. And I could imagine there'd be a clash of different cultures there. But part of the reason why I reached out to you to talk to you is because you ended up getting fired last year. And you kind of did a burning bridges Twitter stream for lack of a better context, where you're just like, I'm done with the VR industry. I'm leaving. this is really messed up for what my experience was like. And then you're sort of walking away. I was like, oh, wow, there's probably some interesting insights in terms of what's happening in the overall industry, but also what's happening with Google. But I'm just curious how you would describe what personally happened to you in terms of your personal story, but also how that reflects into like the overall games ecosystem.
[00:26:46.335] Fox Buchele: Yeah, so I guess kind of where I would start with that is the reason for the long Twitter thread was that, and this is kind of tough to say because it's really sad and it makes me feel like I did something wrong. Whenever I started working for Alchemy and joined in, everyone was this big happy family and we were all great friends. We'd hang out outside of work. We'd go over to each other's houses for pool parties and things like that. And we were all really, really close. And it was a really cool thing to be able to jump in and not only create cool content with friends, but also like knowing that because everyone here is working here, I already know they're cool because if they weren't, they wouldn't have been hired at Alchemy. And In my desire to want to continue to maintain all of those friendships and be friends with everybody and continue working at Alchemy and not stir up trouble or have issues, I kind of started pretending to be a bit of a different person than I am. And I think it wasn't more evident than whenever I was on Twitter that I was a lot more comfortable before working at Alchemy talking about things that I actually thought about, even if they were negative or even if it was maybe not necessarily productive and just complaining about something, but one of the things that Alchemy kind of impressed upon everyone was that we needed to constantly be happy and friends and friendship with everybody. And any sort of negativity was reacted to with an almost level of hostility. Like at one point, whenever I first joined Alchemy, they had a politics Slack channel and of course this is like right after Trump had gotten elected and I happen to be somebody who follows politics very closely so I would go into work every day and talk about the stuff that happened on the Slack channel which would end up being because they were really terrible things that were going on and just the beginning of the slow fall of American democracy they were perceived as being really negative and as being Something that I was told like this isn't really conducive to a good work environment. We can't continue to talk about this negativity on Slack. We're using up a whole bunch of everyone's time. So we're banning the politics Slack channel and no discussion of politics anywhere on Slack. Also coincidentally around the time that they were looking at the Google acquisition. So there may have been some sort of thing if they didn't necessarily want a giant list of everyone's personal political opinions posted in Slack. So we were told to take everything offline. So we began discussing politics in the break rooms and that lasted a couple months before they finally just said this is too much negativity and we can't continue to have people thinking negative thoughts at work and so we need to stop doing this. And we were just going to not talk about politics in common areas or while you're supposed to be on the clock. and that began it started becoming a thing especially after that google acquisition where we were a lot more willing to compromise our ideals and i was willing to just refuse to talk about politics and just pretend like everything's fine as Just all the terrible things that happened in 2017-2018 continue to happen. I stopped talking about them with anyone at work. I stopped posting about them on Twitter because I didn't want to start associating alchemy with a constant barrage of negative call-out posts or things like that about the terrible things that the Trump administration was doing. And that also extended to talking negatively about experiences with other people's VR games. It was very much a, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything, which while I feel is valid in some cases, when the industry is still in its infancy and still evolving, being able to have critical discussions about whether or not something was a good idea to implement in someone's game, especially with other developers that I was connected with on Twitter, I felt like I was losing a lot from that. but I wanted to keep the job and I wanted to keep the friends and so I just stopped doing it and it ended up kind of developing into this almost alternate personality where my wife commented on it after we uh one of the times in VR Austin the first time I brought her there she commented on it after we left she was like you seemed like a completely different person like I don't know who that person was in there but that's not who you are like I've seen you around our friends and I had an entire other separate group of friends that I did not let meet any of my co-workers because I was hiding the fact that I had changed so much about my personality to fit in with VR Austin and fit in with alchemy and fit in with this happy-go-lucky, everything's going to be so fine. VR industry is this magical place where anything can happen. So a lot of the reason for the Byrne Bridges call-out post thing was a bit of a confession of that I had been faking everything I said on Twitter for years. I was rewriting things many, many times to try and figure out what was the most polite, kid-friendly Fisher-Price way that I could ever say anything if I had to say something negative. I was sending people my tweets either people who worked at Alchemy or other friends of mine who were in PR and saying like, hey, is there anything in any way problematic or bad about what I'm saying here? Like, am I going to come off as being overly negative? Or am I going to come off as attacking somebody? Because I don't want to do that. I don't want to rock the boat or shake anything. And after it started happening on Twitter, I started, semi-consciously, I started doing it at work too. where while I was normally pretty outspoken about, like, you know, I feel like we should open up these ideas and discussions to maybe a little bit more than we've done. We don't need to take exactly what we did in our previous game and copy and paste it over the next thing and then expand it a bit. Like, maybe we can revisit some of these assumptions that we had very early on. There was a discussion I had with Andrew and Devin about tomato presence, you know, tomato presence being the term that Alchemy coined as whenever they were processing a job simulator, someone picked up a tomato, but due to a glitch, it caused the hand to disappear. And they didn't notice it. And so they're like, oh, you can just make the hand disappear. And it just seems really natural. Like, it made sense. It made a ton of sense and was, I think, a great thing for them to introduce and coin and make sure that people knew, like, this is actually a really good way of doing things. But as the technology started evolving, I brought it up with them at one point of maybe we should revisit the concept of tomato presence. There are lots of different ways to do it, and there are controllers out, like the knuckles, that allow you to articulate each individual finger. And if you can poke and you can slap the object, maybe we can revisit and see if there's a way that we can make this work. And... was just slapped down in the most open and shut. We are not discussing this alchemy is made of presence and we will never do anything other than that. It was kind of at that point that there was a bit of a glass shattering thing where I was like, wow, I can either just completely give all of this up and continue to go along and and say, yeah, I guess like that's just the way that things are going to go. Or I could try and push back a little bit. And I and I didn't. And I realized that I had compromised so much of myself that I was no longer interested in actually pushing the VR industry forward. I was interested in continuing to work at Alchemy because it got me a lot of clout and because they paid me really well. And yeah, the point of the Twitter post was maybe a bit of a warning to people that for as much as I really, really tried and wanted to make the industry a better place and wanted to make it more inclusive and bring in voices for people who either felt uncomfortable being at certain events or who felt like by asking certain questions or challenging certain assumptions that they were going against the mainstream of the way VR should work and therefore would be excluded. I was part of the problem of making people feel like their voices shouldn't be heard if they disagreed with the big three of like Google and Alchemy and Oculus. And so I Yeah, I felt like I'd been deceiving so many people for so long about how friendly and nice and great everything was when it was kind of a frog boiling in water sort of situation. I didn't realize how bad it had gotten until my now wife turned to me and after a VR Austin thing, it was just like, that is not you like that's a completely different person. Who is this person in front of you right now? Because I don't really like him. And it was very eye opening for me. And I want other people who are getting into the industry to know that it's really, really difficult to be able to hold on to that stuff, especially in a situation like ours where we went from struggling indies to comfortable and buying houses and cars and stuff overnight. And you don't get that for free. You got to give up something along the way. And if you're not careful, then you might give up a lot of what you believed in a long time ago. And I really, really see that the industry is so dominated right now by all of these people and by all of these companies that are prescribing this is the way VR needs to work. And if you don't like it, then you are not part of the community. And I really just hope that people don't try nearly as hard as I did to be accepted into the community, because I think we need more of those voices of people like questioning the way that things work and having people whose voices haven't been represented in VR as well. I feel like we need to bring them in, but without homogenizing them and turning them into just another corporate Oculus fanboy or, you know, I does that make sense?
[00:35:47.756] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a number of different threads there. I think the big takeaway I get from that is that for me, as I've been studying and looking at the industry of how innovation happens, there's often this dialectical relationship where Girdle has this incompleteness where you can't be totally complete. And so any piece of hardware will have these different trade-offs. And even looking at the different trade-offs of tracking between what was happening between Oculus and Valve's involvement with that, Valve and Oculus were working together the early days of consumer VR before the Oculus acquisition, because they were generally trying to figure out the best approach to be able to do something. And so there's this conversation that happens where there's always these trade-offs for whatever design decision you're making, and that it's really helpful to have that type of competition where there's multiple people having those different approaches. And when it gets to the level of design and speech, then you have to have that ability of having that critical discourse to be able to look at something and then evaluate both the good stuff and the bad stuff, because it's always going to be some existential dialectical trade-offs that you can't fully complete, whenever you make any decision, you have to kind of focus on one thing or another. And when you stifle that type of open dialogue and discussion by, you know, I mean, I can understand why they would want to do that politically in terms of, you know, trying to avoid these areas that are maybe draining a lot of energy. You know, these are forbidden talk, whether it's religion or politics, you know, we just don't want to like bring that in there because there's always going to be different opinions. But there seems to be also a deeper culture of not being open in other ways, to be able to have critical dialogue that may be involved in what needs to happen for a design decision or that type of authoritarian, like, this is the way, this is not up for debate, it's this way or the highway, this is not up for negotiation. And that type of environment and culture can kind of feel like that authoritarian culture that's a replication of like a shadow projection of the thing that they're trying to avoid talking about, which is the authoritarian politics gets embodied within the ways that even within the company starts to be handled. Then I could see how that could also sort of cultivate a toxic culture, I guess is how I would describe it at least.
[00:37:57.724] Fox Buchele: Yeah, and it wasn't. And that was the thing is that it wasn't always like that at Alchemy, and it was a very much a slow process. The more we sunk time and cost into developing Vacation Simulator, the less things could change, which, you know, makes sense because that's kind of the way that games work. But that wasn't a hard and fast rule. It ended up being in practice much more of the authoritarian thing that you're talking about of the more time and energy we sunk into Vacation Simulator, the less things could change unless Devin or Andrew wanted something to change, in which case it changed overnight. There were features in Vacation Simulator that were literally cut overnight by one of the developers in Canada because, to me, it seemed like because they didn't want to have a discussion. But we came in the next day and found an entire feature hadn't cut with no explanation and not even with a warning. Like, I opened the thing up and I was like, where is that object? And they said, oh, we cut it. I said, why? And they said, well, it didn't work. I said, well, what do you mean? Like, can we get it to work? Like, I'll come in on the weekend again. I really liked that feature. Like, I thought it brought a lot to it. And it wasn't something that was requiring a giant system. It was just like, oh yeah, it's this same thing, but modified a little bit different. It was a paintbrush in the painting station in Vacation Simulator. There used to be two paint brushes, a large one and a small one. And they removed one of the paint brushes while they were at a conference overnight. And we came in the next day and said, well, where is this thing? I was just working on the station. How did this get removed? And they said, it got removed. It didn't work. We're not going to explain why. we started asking more questions like, can we fix it? Can we have like a day? I'll come in on the weekend, even if you don't want me to like stop development on other stuff, I'll come in on the weekend and volunteer my own time for free to fix this. And we're told in no uncertain terms, this is the end of discussion. We are not discussing this. Shut up and get back to work. There was repeated like over and over. This discussion is over. We are not discussing this. This is the end of discussion. And that really, really just did not sit well with anybody. Because it was the beginning of the authoritarian, like as the crunch came in and as the 12 hour work days started happening and as we were started being asked to come in on weekends and still work for eight hours on the weekend, things were no longer, we're going to discuss this or figure out how we can best. game, it was show it to Devin or Andrew, whatever, they're free. And if they give it the thumbs up, it's in there. If they give it the thumbs down, then we ask them what to do next. It was no longer any sort of discussion where we could debate things or talk about how do we make the best game possible. It was, how do we make the game that Devin enjoys? Not a game that's fun, but a game that Devin enjoys. and any feature that Devin didn't immediately get or didn't enjoy or didn't feel like was going to add to the game, it was cut with no discussion and we were not allowed to mention anything about it. That was part of the reason I ended up getting removed from the design committees, because I kept asking questions and saying like, are we sure this is the best way we can do this? Can we experiment a little bit? Because I come from a game jam background where I'm very good at jumping in and spending 48 hours and saying, yeah, I'm going to knock out this cool new feature. Let's test it and see if it's cool. And then we'll see if we can put it in the game. And I started getting removed from, I was pretty unceremoniously just removed from calendar invites and stopped being invited to the design meetings because I was pushing back and saying, I know that you've got this idea of how you think this is going to work, but What if we could like talk about how it works before I went off and did exactly what you just said, maybe there's another way of doing it and the approach that they had of. It seemed almost to me like we developed Job Simulator, and Job Simulator was a massive hit. And we did it all completely on our own, of all of our own design decisions. Therefore, anything that we say is law from now on in Vacation Simulator. There is no opening for discussion. You weren't there for Job Simulator, so your ideas aren't valid. And it came off as exceedingly authoritarian. It was just something that me and some of my other fellow developers that ended up leaving were complaining about to each other. either over text message or in like beers after work and stuff of just the amount of authoritarian oversight that and micromanagement of every single piece of the development of everything needed to go past this and there was no trust or even There wasn't even any way for anyone to try and bring anything creatively to the team. The creative decisions were done behind a locked door in a black box and then told to our producers who then told them to us. And our producers didn't even understand why we were doing what we were doing in certain cases. And that's such a terrible environment in general just to work at, but for a company that was trying to, what I thought, was trying to push VR to be more inclusive and accepting and great for everybody. And to try and not only just do that, but push the envelope of what VR can do and the way that we interacted with VR. For a company who I thought that they were doing that, they really just immediately started shutting down. When the going got tough, they shut down every single line of communication with people and it became a one-way street instead of the two-way street that we were all used to.
[00:42:56.102] Kent Bye: Well, it reminds me of our discussion earlier when we're talking about Apple versus Google, because Apple's design approach is very much like that, where they have a much more top-down hierarchical, like here's the rules, much more design guidance there versus Google, which is much more fragmented. There's always a trade-off between to what degree do you have a singular vision versus getting all that input, but I think just generally, like you're saying, there's an incompleteness to any one perspective. If you want to only serve the needs of one person, then that's great if you do that, but having those other ways of having people feel like they could participate. Yeah, I think this probably gets to part of the differences between the game industry versus, you know, maybe, you know, there's a similar aspect for how this works within something at the scale of Google, but Google, they have the advantage of having a lot of data driven practices of design where it ends up being like A B testing and having millions and millions of billions of people try something out and seeing what the empirical evidence is with the data driven approach versus something that's just completely subjective and you're really modulating consciousness and talking about the qualities of experience when you talk about games. And so as we move forward, yeah, there's just different design approaches and design philosophies for how to achieve that experience that you're going for at the end. But I imagine that you're able to potentially say, here is a feeling that we want to try to achieve, and then have processes that allow lots of different input and not have one or two people making all the decisions.
[00:44:24.705] Fox Buchele: Yeah, and I would like to think that that's possible, because that is what Alchemy felt like at the beginning was like, we want to achieve the feeling of this. We don't know necessarily the best way to do it. So go off and program and prototype, because that's kind of what I was doing is I was given the idea of we need to evoke this feeling, go prototype a couple of things and find one that you like and bring it back to us and we'll try it out. And we'll like open up a discussion about what was good and what was bad of it. And to have that shift all the way over to We need you to go in here and specifically like change this to this and change this to this and then come and bring it back to me. And then I'm going to test it and then go back and change this. It was like anyone could have. There was no longer any creativity there. I had felt like I was being brought on for like my creative abilities to be able to rapidly prototype this stuff. And towards the end of the development of Vacation Simulator, I was feeling incredibly creatively bankrupt just because I wasn't being asked any of my opinions anymore. I was being told what to do. And I think kind of opens up a bigger. discussion of you're right, and that's kind of something that you see a lot in game industries. You see and hear those stories. If you talk to like the developers and and stuff, even behind AAA studios that aren't in VR, there is a lot of the same sort of stuff that can tend to happen from time to time. It's not the same in every company and not the same for each individual project and stuff. Some are done better than others, some worse than others, but there are very few companies of the people that I've at least spoken to where people who have been working there for longer than a year or two feel like they still have creative input into the project or aren't like completely burnt out with just very authoritarian business practices. And the sad part about it is that it just seems like everyone just kind of accepts that that's the way things are. It was part of what I wanted to post about online was like if people had said online like, oh, alchemy is like a very authoritarian company that is basically run by two people and then a bunch of gutter workers who sit around and implement exactly what they want to line by line. No one would believe that. Like, that's just not the face that Alchemy gives. And every game company does that same thing where they, on the surface, pretend like, yeah, we all love it here because we're working in games and we're doing that thing that we want to do. and we're just all having a great time and we're developing the stuff that we want to and then you start hearing the stories about the crunch and you start hearing about stories about developers developing health problems and gaining weight and not being able to take care of themselves and developing depression and becoming exceedingly miserable and I think that that's the reason why anyone in game development there's kind of a bit of a joke of, all right, but what are you going to do after games? Like, what are you going to do for your tech set? Whenever you exit tech, are you going to, like, make bagels? Are you going to go live on a farm? Are you going to, you know, become an actor? Like, what is the thing you're going to do once you're so burnt out from tech and so burnt out from this ridiculous work cycle that they force everyone into? What's your plan afterwards? And everyone has a plan. Every single person says, well, I know what I'm going to go do. I'm going to go do this. I'm going to make puppets or like I'm going to write Dungeons and Dragons modules or everyone has a thing of like whenever I'm so fed up with all of this crap that we're going through. I know what I'm going to do whenever I quit. And it's so sad to see people continue to throw themselves into this meat grinder that grinds out people's love for creating games just because that's the way that things have always been done. And nobody really even thinks to ask like, OK, but can we do it better? Is there a way that we can make games and make art that we're all happy about without having to kill ourselves to do it?
[00:48:00.651] Kent Bye: Yeah, I feel like there's a certain amount of momentum once, you know, in order to have any project, uh, Oculus quest, you have to have a certain size and scale of a project and money. And once you get that to that level of money, then it becomes an issue of trying to mitigate the risks. And so, I mean, alchemy is unique in the sense that it, you know, had the backing of Google. So it was able to perhaps have a little bit more leeway, but at the same time, the amount of risk mitigation that has to happen in the normal development cycles, as well as all this additional infrastructure for how what you're describing is essentially like a two-tiered creative class versus the workers who are actually implementing it, and having a distinct split between those two where those people have the luxury of helping to design these things, but not really taking in all this input. So for me, when I look at the VR industry as a whole, there's that element of the normal economic constraints of everything and everything that you're describing here of the existing cultures of the game industry, but also the potential anti-competitive behaviors of someone like Facebook, who was potentially arbitrarily preventing people who had this creative spirit and these ideas that wanted to develop new markets, but because it wasn't a game or because it didn't fit into what Facebook wanted in terms of cultivating the ecosystem, or it happened to potentially compete with something that Facebook wanted to do themselves, then you have all of these ways in which the industry as a whole could have arbitrarily been held back in different ways. But the things that you're speaking to are the deeper cultural issues that are kind of amplified out to where they're essentially a handful of people who have very specific ideas about what they want or what they think is a good idea versus having this ability to have a vibrant ecosystem that is sustainable and not so toxic that allows the innovation to happen and for people to be creating stuff and get it into the hands of creators. and more of these game jam type of environments where you get together and you make something that's cool and you get into people's hands. There was a sense of like the early days of VR with Oculus Share and a lot of experimentation, but over time as the distribution channels got monetized, it became a lot less of that and a lot more curated and a lot less of that experimentation. You can still find some of that on Steam, but it becomes much more of the business that's driving it rather than that individual creative experimentation and this curiosity of what's possible and exploring what's new and really pushing the edge of those boundaries. And I'd always see that Alchemy is one of those companies that was really pushing those edges, but just hearing what's happened since then, there's a certain potential limits to continuing to innovate on some of those things when you have these deeper cultural issues in there.
[00:50:43.771] Fox Buchele: Yeah. Yeah. And while Steam does serve as a good platform for people, they can push out experiments. And I mean, Itch also does this as well, where they can push out VR experiments or make kind of smaller scale games than what would normally be allowed by Oculus's extremely precise curated platform and like what Oculus is thinking for their business strategies and whether or not it'll fit in with whatever they have planned for the future. Steam gives a lot more freedom with that, but with that freedom also comes the downside of there's so much content on Steam that anyone posting any sort of, even a VR game, it's so easy to get lost in the noise. I don't remember the exact statistic, but it's something like there are like thousands of games that are being published to Steam every day. And like most games just don't make that much money or even receive that much recognition because I mean, this goes into kind of a deeper issue of curation problems and how people are supposed to find content. But Oculus has made it so easy for people to find content that they're interested in because of their ability to leverage all of this data that they can gather around their customers. They find the games that people are interested in and can find exactly like what is a safe bet that we can invest a bunch of money into that we know is going to have like a return on investment for both us and for the developers. And that's the way that they're able to create this platform that always seems like it has great content on it. Whereas with Steam, it's a crapshoot. Anything that you get could be good, it could be bad, and you never know if your $30 game that you got is really more like an early access thing, or if it's some hidden gem that has been buried so long in Steam that the algorithms just aren't showing it to people anymore. So while there is like a space for that creativity, people can technically put their games on Steam and on Itch and then do a bunch of promotion and try and show people the new experimentations that they're doing. Problems with curation, which is something Anton talks about a lot, problems with curation are the exact problem of why those experiments will never really see the light of day in most people's hands. When Oculus Share was a thing, the only people that were playing it were the developers. And so every developer kind of knew, yeah, whatever you get on here, it could be good, it could be bad, but it's always going to be something interesting and new because it's about developers. We're all developers and we're all experimenting and we're trying to figure out what's the cool new stuff that we can do. What are the limits of this platform? and what has started slowly transitioning to just a much more capitalistic like money first approach. There's no longer any of that experimentation and figuring out whether or not something is good or bad. It needs to fit into the boxes of what kind of teleportation does it have? Does it have a big open world? Is there multiplayer in it? Does it use like specific types of locomotion versus other things? Is it a clone of something else? everything is, it needs to be fit into these small little channels and categories. And those channels and categories didn't really exist in the early days, because it was, as Alex and Devin said, it was the Wild West of VR, and everyone was just trying stuff out. And it feels like it should still be the Wild West of VR. But so at some point down the line when a lot of these companies and when a lot of money started pouring in because people were excited about this new tech and then companies like Facebook and Google started getting really involved in stuff like this. At some point, everyone decided we're done. We're done innovating. We figured everything out about this platform. And now you need to figure out which boxes your game checks. And based on which boxes your game checks, it either will or it won't make it into certain platforms, or it will or it won't be included on specific curated lists, which of course you need because otherwise you're not going to get any players and things like that. And experimental things like Like a perfect example of something that I find is incredibly weird and experimental and I absolutely love it is screensavers VR. It's something that not a lot of people have heard about, but they just take Windows XP screensavers and put them in VR. And it's just it's just a really strange little wacky fun little thing made by Kate Pearson and you know others. But screensavers VR, I think, is a perfect example of something that would never exist on Oculus and doesn't really have too much of a following on Steam. But it was something that I was like, oh, this is actually this is really interesting, compelling content for me, to me, for some reason. Just watching these screensavers bounce around in VR is really interesting. Another example is a lot of Khabibo's work. Khabibo is just a fantastically creative person who's behind Blarp and he did some stuff with the Wave VR, but now does a whole bunch of VR experimentations where he just plays around with representations of like avatars and how voice can like change the environment that you're in or playing around with how interesting it is to be able to push in and like move meshes around as if they were clay and have them bounced around and and have everything move and synced with music. And he's just pushing this creativity in so many cool directions. But he just doesn't get anywhere near the recognition he deserves because he doesn't fit into the Facebook checkboxes. And in order to get it to be something like even as popular as Blarp on Steam, it would have needed to be developed in the time period that Blarp was, where everyone was looking for cool new content. And it didn't matter so much that on the surface it originally looked unpolished. But now, like, if he had tried to release Blarp today, I can't imagine we'd get more than, like, 20 downloads. Because it just, it, at the time, like, it was really, I still feel like it's very innovative. But at the time, we were willing to overlook a whole bunch of stuff. because VR has so much money and there's so many people behind it, there's like a quality bar expected that it needs to look like a PS4 game in order for people to ever be interested in it. And you can't do weird experimental things of like, I want this person's face to be represented by a sea anemone of strings that react with your voice. And there really isn't much to do other than that, but like sit around and yell musical notes at each other as they come out of your mouth. slam into people's hair and cause it to go frizzy. Like it's all just fascinating content that there's no place for it, unfortunately, because of the way that the industry has set itself up, that it's set itself up to stagnate because they were so convinced that they've discovered everything cool that there is to discover about VR. And now they're just kind of trying to, in my opinion, just trying to milk it for as much money as it's worth. or do the Facebook thing of establish themselves as the curator and the gatekeeper to their nice little walled garden of we will give you all of these experiences that you would expect that you can do in VR and nothing else. We're not going to give you anything else that breaks that mold in any way. And it's just really sad to see all that stagnation in the current industry. And I don't really know if there is a way for the VR industry to pull themselves out of the nosedive that they're doing into just kind of the same teleportation or artificial locomotion based. shooters that have some story behind him, but they're short and the basic everything you see on Oculus Quest. I don't really see Oculus attempting to, in the future, try and move beyond anything that goes outside of the genres they've already defined.
[00:57:33.115] Kent Bye: Well, the thing that gives me hope is both looking at history and looking at the evolution of, say, the time period of film called the cinema of attractions, which is before film was really commercialized to the point where it was like this, everything standardized and mass distribution, there was a lot of similar experimentation that was happening during there. And then once Edison really started to formalize things and standardize it, then I talked to a scholar, Rebecca Rouse, who did a lot of research on the cinema of attractions, and there's other researchers of that time period. But we've been in that cinema of attractions period of VR, say from 2013 to 2017, 18, once it started to really get the distribution channels and the headsets into hands of people. You know, there's been moments of that experimentation with Oculus Share. You mentioned like itch.io. And I'd also point to what's happening in, say, like, both Game Jams, but also the film festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest, Venice Film Festival, the IFA Doc Lab. You have these opportunities to show, like, the cutting edge of experimentation, where you have a lot of those types of artists that are experimenting with immersive storytelling, the future of storytelling. You have Half-Life Alyx, which I think is actually looking to the future of trying to blend both immersive storytelling as well as with the games. But all the affordances of the web and the open web and game development, game design, architecture, industrial design, and immersive storytelling, cinematic film, but also theater and embodiment and avatar representation. I think you have all these design disciplines that are still coming together. And I have hope that there's still going to be a lot of experimentation and innovation, but I do think that it's coming down to like these alternative distribution platforms, like these film festivals that Some of them are going like Rain Dance, as an example, you know, they went all virtual and VRTO, they have virtual manifestations and Sundance this year is going to be all virtual. So we have all these opportunities to still have these little ephemeral experiments to come together and see what that avant-garde is. But I think if you look to any other existing communication medium, there's always like the massive mainstream of film, the blockbusters, but there's also the independent film circuit and those independent pieces that normally would only be available at those film festivals are now being sold at Netflix and that you have these things going viral that would have never maybe been seen on a theater release, but they catch an audience and they're able to have a context for the distribution to really be scalable out. So I expect that the same thing to happen with the virtual, but it does take those curators to be able to identify the unique aspects and the I think also just frankly, a critical discourse that goes beyond the press releases of the latest, you know, mainstream games that are coming out week to week, but to have people that are actually going out there and discovering things and talking about them and, and really helping to curate and point people towards the stuff that's already out there.
[01:00:23.901] Fox Buchele: Yeah. Yeah, I guess I can see where you're coming from. What worries me, though, more is that when the group that owns the headset also owns the curation and the distribution platform, especially in a thing like a mobile 6.0 headset like with Oculus Quest, when they own a pipeline like that, I feel like that's kind of maybe a little bit where the comparisons might start to break down. Like for the movie industry or for film industry to be able to grow, it did require, you're right, like a bunch of people experimenting and kind of learning like the ways that things can be done and things like that. But we're in a different era now because the monopoly laws have been eroded so much that it's kind of okay for a company to own. I guess like the equivalent that I would see it being is if Sony produced TVs that could only play Sony movies.
[01:01:17.306] Kent Bye: That's actually how it happened at the beginning all of the movie production studios owned all the theaters. And they actually had to have antitrust to break it up.
[01:01:25.451] Fox Buchele: So if you look at the history, yeah, but I don't I don't really see that. Yeah, I don't I don't really see that happening. I mean, and I hope the Biden administration maybe we'll be able to work a little bit more in kind of busting a bit of a monopoly. But in the last four years, the amount of control that Facebook has been able to grasp over the VR industry, to me seems very difficult for like, it's going to take a lot of work in order to bust that open and basically make it so that people can produce content for these mobile six stuff systems without having to buy into exactly the way that Facebook does stuff and have to tailor their experiences to the way that Facebook works.
[01:02:01.279] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's alternatives like WebXR and stuff like that and OpenXR, which I think are hopeful. But yet part of this is looking to see what the competitor is doing. And I look to Google and see how Google, there's nothing that's preventing Google from competing. This is a whole new market and it takes billions of dollars of investment and also just commitment to making an industry. And for whatever reason, Facebook has been the one that's only been doing it on the consumer space. I mean, Microsoft's doing an enterprise space, Apple's waiting in the wings, letting everybody else do the emotional labor of cultivating the market and doing all this experimentation. And they're going to swoop in like they have in other times as well and release their AR and VR headset. But still at the same time, you have all these existing practices for mobile with both iOS and Android, which have created this precedent of if you develop the platform, then you can take a 30% cut and you can own the entire ecosystem. And in the absence of something like that fundamental business model from being broken up and challenged, then the same thing is going to happen in the immersive technology sphere, where Apple is going to own a certain slice of the AR, and then Facebook is going to own another big slice. Whether or not Google comes in with whatever they've been working on or not working on, if they're going to try to come in late, they can do something similar to what they've did with Android. We've seen the challenges of having a fragmented system, but Yeah, I think there's certainly a lot of antitrust. But when I look at the history, I think we could see similar things of what happened with film. And hopefully, because this is a new precedent where the technology wouldn't exist without these billions of dollars investment, they're just saying, well, this wouldn't exist without our money. So we have a right to be able to make whatever rules we want. And there's not like a competing open source, open hardware movement where hardware that's built by the community. It's like that model of the tightly integrated systems from the top to bottom with having everything tightly integrated, that approach that Apple has taken, it seems to have won to some extent in the hardware side. The software side, Google's approach certainly has a larger market share, but when it comes to the immersive technologies, I suspect that what Facebook is doing with the Quest is going to be closer to what Apple has done than what Google has done. In other words, the tightly integrated, everything from top to bottom working together and Qualcomm providing the chip. But yeah, eventually maybe Facebook having complete control in developing their own Silicon, just like Apple has done. So I think there's some fundamental limitations for how the technology is, but I'm hoping that there will be at least some antitrust action that was already started, but to continue that conversation and seeing the degree of power that these big technology companies have of really these anti-competitive behaviors for so long. So seeing what kind of, how that gets broken up in the future of these immersive technologies, if they do get broken up, I think is also a big question.
[01:04:50.788] Fox Buchele: Yeah, it's and it's going to be a really interesting several years to because it's either going to be like you're saying, like we're going to start seeing a lot more people entering the ecosystem or Facebook is going to be able to basically have such a stranglehold on the industry that they'll be able to prevent people from going in. Like there were those lawsuits that Mark Zuckerberg ended up needing to go to Congress and testify in Congress about the anti competitive behaviors that they were doing, where they were saying we will crush our competitors if needed. Like if you don't join us, we will crush you into dust. I find it very difficult to believe that Facebook would not attempt the exact same thing for anyone trying to develop similar technology. And while an open hardware, open source kind of movement might be able to help a little bit of that, Yeah, from everything I've seen and heard, I just I can't really remain hopeful about the VR industry anymore. And that's part of why I was posting on Twitter about it is I can't remain hopeful that the industry is going to get better. And I can't continue to attach my name to something that seems like it's just so against everything that I believe of that with this brand new technology, we should be experimenting with altering like what is the idea of what consciousness is and like what does it mean whenever you put yourself in a VR headset and you feel like you were there, you start having memories and dreams about things that didn't actually happen in VR headsets. And we just have so many more questions to ask. And I really, really hope that the people that continue to remain in the industry will be able to start asking questions like that again, instead of questions like, what can we develop to make us the most money in the shortest amount of time so that we can continue to survive? Because survival will only keep you so far. We need to start innovating because things are really starting to stagnate. I hope it gets better, but I'm not hopeful and I don't want to encourage other people to get into the industry anymore. And it's a sad thing to be because I was so, so into trying to get like with VR Austin, like trying to get more and more people into the industry to bring them in. I can't recommend people get into the industry anymore. But maybe the new people will be able to change it. I don't know. I don't know.
[01:06:51.954] Kent Bye: Yeah, and maybe as we are starting to wrap up here, just one quick thought. For me, I feel like as a journalist covering this space, there's a lot of things philosophically that are being figured out now. That's a big reason why I wanted to have a chat with you is because I think that there are actually a lot of insights that we as individuals that we're figuring out that I think in the long scale of seven generations from now, let's say, that VR will be a fully vibrant platform and ecosystem that isn't sort of owned by just a handful of people, but it's just like computing is today, and that it will be like the printing press of our era. and that maybe there are some people at the very beginning of the printing press that tried to own every aspect of the printing press, but there's a plurality and diversity that happens within that ecosystem that allows for the expression of all sorts of ideas and stories and knowledge sharing, and that we're going to be able to capture the human experience in a way that, for the future, seven generations from now, When I do my work, I think a lot about those people in the future and that they'll be listening back to this time period. Because there's a lot of lessons learned that at the very beginning, as this all is getting started, that is worth experimenting and figuring stuff out. Just like in math, there's these little ideas that get started, but then they get dropped, but then they get picked up 100 or 200 years later. Because there's always a persistence to mathematical knowledge that gets pushed forward and that people can still find that as a tool to be able to use in their toolbox. right now, if anybody wants to help contribute to that overarching knowledge, that that within itself is worthwhile to be able to think about what this technology could do for the future generations. It's not there yet in terms of the scale at which and who has it and whether or not it increases the amount of digital divide. I think in the long scale of history, VR will be a technology that brings more access, more education, more liberation, more freedom, more accessibility to experiences that they'd never be able to have before, more connection to other people, more knowledge, more abilities to explore all the different dimensions of the character of the human experience. So to me, I think that's what personally keeps me into it as I'm operating in this realm of the conversations and the knowledge and the philosophy, but certainly the pragmatism of the pain and the trauma of the short term and maybe not as many opportunities to be able to contribute in that way. So anyway, that's at least how I think of it and everybody has to kind of figure it out.
[01:09:13.089] Fox Buchele: Yeah. Yeah. So I guess as you were talking, I was kind of mulling it over in my head a bit. And I think like a good example of kind of what I'm worried about and maybe a better way of saying it is comparing not necessarily to history, but to things that Facebook is doing like right now or has been doing the last couple of years. One great example is Facebook had a push a while back, and I haven't actually stayed up to date with how it was, but they had a push a while back that got a lot of internet rights activists very upset, where they were going into third world countries and providing free internet to everybody, only on Facebook though. And basically like providing internet to all of these people who had never had internet before, they can now communicate with their friends and their loved ones over great distances, as long as they were using Facebook. But as soon as they started having to look other places in the internet, that's when like the money started having to be charged. And it created such a cultural impact that there are still areas of like, so I grew up in West Africa. And there are still areas of West Africa where specifically in Ghana, where Facebook and the internet are considered synonymous. They don't say, I'm going to go look this up on the internet. They say, I'm going to go look this up on Facebook. and Facebook is for all intents and purposes, as far as they're aware, that is just the internet. And with that sort of stranglehold, it creates a lot of responsibility for Facebook to be able to make sure that the content that they're providing for people, if they're not giving open access, needs to at least be somewhat fair. And we started seeing this, especially like around the US elections, where when Facebook has a stranglehold over your only method of communication of information, it's very easy for conspiracy theories and QAnon stuff to start spreading. That exact sort of thing is happening overseas in third world countries is conspiracy theories and like genocidal acts are being planned and talked about on these platforms. And just absolutely, it's being used for absolutely horrible things, but it's being done in the guise of, oh, well, we're making the internet more accessible to people and people can talk and communicate so much more But they're not getting the full story. They're only getting what Facebook allows or what Facebook will talk about. And they become beholden to the truth that they learn about online is beholden to like what people can get away with posting on Facebook without getting their posts removed. and conspiracy theories can spread like wildfire. And I worry if Facebook becomes synonymous with VR, even if Facebook is the reason why a whole bunch of people get super into it, and they create this entire ecosystem. If Facebook and Oculus become synonymous with VR, even if there are other alternatives, I think we'll do so much cultural damage. To basically have everyone say, The way that VR works is the way that Facebook says that VR works, that it will take so long to repair and not saying that it's impossible, just that it could take much, much longer to repair than we might think if they continue to be able to run around unchecked like this. With very little governmental oversight into the way that Facebook operates and acts and their business practices, especially, you know, due to the Trump administration and their very lax oversight on businesses, we're entering into some very, very dangerous territory where these businesses can run around unchecked and establish themselves within people's mindset. And then, you know, maybe later we'll say, oh, well, that wasn't a good idea. You should pay a fine or something like that. But the damage will have already been done. And people who are getting into Facebook, right, are getting into VR right now because they have a quest and because they have all this other stuff, because they have a quest or a quest two, and they're playing all of this stuff on the Oculus Store, are beginning to think of VR as being the thing that Facebook is. Like VR and Facebook are the same thing. VR and Oculus are the same thing. And if it's not on Oculus, it might as well not exist. And that's a scary place for us to be in.
[01:12:51.318] Kent Bye: Yeah, it brings up a couple of thoughts. I mean, we're sort of typing into I mean, you're talking about all the things of not being able to talk about politics. And I think, you know, these are certainly a big political issue to all this, which is looking at both the economic and the cultural and the technological impacts of culture and how that evolves. It reminds me of a conversation I had with someone from the ACLU, where we were talking about freedom of speech. And the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech from the government being able to stop speech, which is why Twitter and Facebook could ban Trump and its private property. It's not a First Amendment issue. The problem is that these companies have had so many anti-competitive behaviors that our digital communications happens on these centralized networks to the point when someone like Twitter or Facebook ban someone like Trump, it feels like a First Amendment issue because we don't have a public square. Like all our interactions that happen on the internet are through these private companies and that there is no digital town square equivalent. And so the issue is not that we are able to communicate, we need to communicate at this way. It's actually in the longterm, it has a lot of benefits, but the downside is that it gives too much consolidation of wealth and power into the hands of a few tech companies who are controlling those communication platforms. which is why we're going to be seeing a huge movement this year into decentralized approaches of Signal and Telegram and the decentralized web. All the censorship that's happening is going to drive the people who are on the right who are being censored. They're going to be developing their own infrastructure, their own networks, for better or for worse. So Lawrence Lessig has an approach where he says there's four major dials that you turn when it comes to shifting sociological aspects of a culture. You have the technological architecture of the code. These are all the communication networks and the Amazon web services and all the network reality that we live in. Those different decisions shifts culture like Facebook and Twitter and everything else that we've been talking about. But there's also the law. And so the role of the government to be able to have antitrust, to be able to prevent these big companies from consolidating so much wealth and power. Then you have the market dynamics, which is that these are businesses that people tend to go to where the network effects will go to YouTube because that's where everybody's at. They'll go to Twitter because that's where the conversations are. And so they want to have the biggest audience. So there's a market dynamic there. And then the final thing is that's the culture, that's the decision where as individuals, we have the opportunity to be able to make a different choice. We have an opportunity to invest in decentralized technologies or to use Signal instead of WhatsApp or to cultivate a WebXR alternative to the social web.
[01:15:23.833] Fox Buchele: When you say that, you say like, yeah, we as consumers have the ability to make a different choice, but do we really? Like if today, for instance, if today you needed to quit Google and stop using every single Google product, Would that even be possible? What would you use for maps? Would you like, do you have your credit cards tied to it?
[01:15:42.768] Kent Bye: There's a, there's a whole website that gets you off to different places. You have DuckDuckGo for search.
[01:15:47.611] Fox Buchele: Oh, I know. There are off ramps. But Kent, here's the, here's the thing. is that I have actually been trying to do that as part of whenever we're leaving Texas, is I was interested in the idea of if somebody did want to retaliate against me at Google and maybe did some not necessarily legal things and started looking at some of my information, knowing how much I know about how web development is and how much of our information is leaked onto the internet, how possible is it for me to actually disconnect myself from Google? And while there are alternatives, like you're saying, like DuckDuckGo or the Open Maps things like that there are ways like proton mail is a great one where you can switch off to a more decentralized um the fact of the matter is like having done this for the last several months those services are woefully inaccurate and just horribly maintained because so many people use google services that they don't really notice like a big problem that we've been having lately, like in getting rid of Google stuff, is a lot of places that will look up, even on like open map stuff, it'll give me bad directions, or it'll give me directions to the wrong place, or it'll give me directions to a place that's closed and claim that it's open. Or in the case of using DuckDuckGo, DuckDuckGo is actually a horrendous tool for any sort of programming. If you type in, just as an example, like Unity physics collider glitching through floor, or something like that, On Google, you're going to get a whole bunch of really interesting answers of people talking about exactly what could be going on with that. On DuckDuckGo, you'll get Unity, first result. Second result will be the Unity Collider Docs. And then the third result will be other things that people talk about, collisions in cars. They are not in any way comparable services. And the fact that they exist makes people really complacent in thinking, oh, yes, there's technically an alternative. Yeah, I'll use DuckDuckGo sometimes. And I technically have an alternative if I want to get off of this platform, but people are so comfortable and so used to the way that Google operates and that Facebook operates that actually attempting to do this, to remove yourself from one of these gigantic ecosystems, it removes a lot of your ability to use the internet in ways that we've all become accustomed to. Like, one of the things that I miss the most about not being able to use Google Maps is I can't find out what restaurants are open near me. There's just not really an easy way of doing that. And it's something I got so used to. And I think a lot of people have gotten so used to the familiarity of the way that Facebook and Google operate that they say, oh, yeah, I could quit at any time. But they're data drug addicts. They say that they can do that. But when you actually ask them to do it, they say, well, but you know, it's it's really a lot nicer in their ecosystem. I like having my Nest flights and I I like having my Google Home to be able to answer questions. I like being able to say, hey, Google, to change the song while I'm driving and stuff like that. The alternatives that are out there that exist are just so woefully underpowered compared to the ones that currently are there that it can be very, very difficult to, I find it very difficult to believe that people would actually end up switching if they felt like they'd had enough. Signal, I think, is probably the farthest people get and it's because it's a full app replacement to your text messaging. and it's relatively unintrusive to do, and it behaves practically the same way until it goes down for like two days, like it did yesterday. But it's dangerous, I think, to say, like, oh, yes, people can always switch off at any point. The free market will help people decide, and if people aren't okay with the way that they're doing things, then they can always switch off to another alternative, because those alternatives are just not nearly as good, and people, if anything, are creatures of comfort and habit.
[01:19:12.852] Kent Bye: Well, that's why I said that Lessig had four things. One is the culture. One is the tech policy of the laws. One is the market. And the other is the tech architecture. So whenever I think about these issues, I think about it through all four of those lenses because they all four are happening. I tend to avoid the type of technological deterministic, blaming Facebook and blaming Twitter on what happened with the Trump administration for the last four years. Because this has been a cultural context that's been developing for the last 20 years with the whole right wing media ecosystem and a culture that's been supporting it. So whenever I think about the future of all these technologies, especially, you know, the things you're talking about with providing internet services, and then having things like what happened in Myanmar with the genocide that happened, which was, you know, the lack of having any sort of moderation or cultural sensitivity or understanding the unintended consequences of what's actually happening with a culture that may not be ready for that level of unbridled communication if they have authoritarian instincts within their country. It's like when we went into Iraq and tried to install democracy, well, that sort of made things a lot worse. Maybe you have to have the democracy that's organically grown step by step, and you can't just go in and implement things that people aren't ready for, if they're coming from an authoritarian dictatorship, the transition from that into a democracy through a war is maybe not the best way to do it, especially if you have all these reactionary responses from things like ISIS and whatnot. But just generally, when you think about taking that colonial settler mindset, which is what it is, it's going into a country and having that colonial We're going to impose this on to you without being in deep relationship to that community. There's a lot of ways in which those unintended consequences, like there's not a lot of good conceptual frameworks that these companies have that prevents that type of colonial settler mindset. But what I can say is that right now, We're at a peak of people wanting to have decentralized alternatives to those systems. And yes, a lot of them suck. And yes, they're not good enough, but I feel like this is an opportunity for people to say, you know what, we've had enough of big technology. And for people to have said that for the last four years is one thing, but to actually embody that day to day, Like you said, it's really difficult to extract ourselves from these ecosystems, because if you say, I'm not going to use any Amazon products, well, how many people know how far Amazon Web Services is used from so many things about the web? It's such an invisible part for how a lot of these companies have put into their lives that it can be really difficult to know the full extent that they have influence in our lives and that they're at that stage where they're really accumulating more wealth and power in this pandemic. But I feel like this is an opportunity for the culture at large. The one thing that we have power over, we can't always change the law, we can't always change the market dynamics, and we can't always implement a technological architecture that's going to be a competitor to a lot of these companies. But the thing we can always have control over is the culture. These conversations that we're having right now is a part of that culture. And then how people translate that culture into their action, that's where the rubber meets the road. How far are you going to go to be able to actually Fully embody your values because I use a lot of these services as well. I'm not like completely off the grid with all these. I use Gmail. I use Google calendar. You know, I use Google maps and there's a utility there, but there's a trade-off that each person has to make. And so everybody has to like decide where they're going to fall on that spectrum of trying to like complain about the big tech, but then actually embodying it into their actions and what they're going to do day to day for, to make a difference.
[01:22:38.467] Fox Buchele: Yeah. And to go along with that, I think a big important part of why things have gotten to the point of where they are kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier of in the end, it eventually comes down to the people who are making the design decisions, even at like large scale, like in Facebook and Google and stuff. And with Facebook going into, like you said, with Myanmar, it very much can turn into what you're saying, like a colonialistic sort of impression of stuff because they're doing it unilaterally and they don't have enough diverse voices in the room and people who do have alternative opinions. And I'm not even talking about like right-wing people in any way, just talking about people who may not necessarily always be at the table. and minority groups being where they can actually l and be treated like an e decisions are valued in t it's very easy for them t have business running as possible. We're going t kind of the same and think the same sort of thing, at least in public, or at least like in our boardrooms, and at least in our design discussions. And by shuttering and removing people who want to challenge the status quo or say like, Hey, guys, maybe this isn't necessarily a good idea to do right now. Or maybe we should do a bit more research because I have some other personal experience of why things like this might not be necessarily a good idea. When we continue to do kind of what happened a bit with me of like, Removing or getting removed from a company because you have differing views from them, or being removed from design decisions or design meetings because you have differing views, it will run into the same problem over and over again. We need more diverse voices and we need more people who are new to the industry to challenge existing paradigms. To challenge existing paradigms and say, I don't think this is necessarily a good idea. Sure, Internet should be given free to everybody, but I don't think that we should do it in this way. Like, we're missing so many of those voices with this homogenized Silicon Valley tech bro culture that has been created. When we miss all of these voices, we're just going to continue to set us up for the same failures over and over and over again.
[01:24:45.100] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I think being in relationship to both the communities that they're serving and but also internally within having open communications and be able to talk about all these things that you're talking about. There's a documentary by PBS called The Facebook Dilemma that goes through how there were a lot of non-governmental organizations and nonprofits that were warning Facebook about the risks of what was going to happen with this genocide. But yet those voices weren't heard. They weren't integrated into the business practice. They still push forward. ignoring a lot of those warnings that they were getting from those nonprofits and from those subject domain experts. And so, yeah, I think what you're saying in terms of having people at the table who represent those diverse voices and those pluralism of different ideas is really crucial to be able to prevent things from escalating to that point of genocide, like happened in Myanmar. But, um, yeah, as we're, we're sort of like covering the whole scope of everything that's happening in the world. Maybe you could go back to just kind of like tie up your own personal story as you just any sort of thing that you want to sort of wrap up your final moments or times there at alchemy in terms of just contextualizing for what meaning you take out of it. Now, what story you have in terms of how this represents the overall industry, but, you know, maybe just sort of, uh, close that loop.
[01:25:58.070] Fox Buchele: Sure, what I feel like was the biggest problem and hurdle that alchemy never really went over that has started to embed itself in the VR Austin community and and in some other communities and companies and things like that is the concept of toxic positivity of we're going to present this face of everyone is great and we're normal and we're all friends and nobody's ever upset or unhappy and enforce toxic positivity amongst your employees is It seems nice on the surface, like we don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable at work. Or we don't want anyone to feel like they need to be reminded of past traumas while they're developing or working on some sort of thing that you're making. It makes sense, like kind of on the surface. But what I feel like we're kind of seeing more and more, and what I saw at Alchemy was that by enforcing a rule of everyone needs to be kind and positive and nice to each other, we stop having difficult discussions because they make people uncomfortable. And when we stop having difficult discussions, it makes it feel like people who want to try and make things better can only do it if they can make everyone else in the room feel nice and fuzzy about themselves. if you can't stroke everyone's ego while you're doing it and make them feel like they're good and nice and fun and everything like that, then your idea can't be brought up. And I just hate that it sounds like I'm a right wing guy complaining about getting kicked off of Twitter. But we really just need to be able to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable with each other. We need to be able to confront people who say things that are bad and say things that you feel like shouldn't be necessarily accepted any sort of community or industry. We should be able to talk about these things out in the open instead of talking about them in whisper networks and in circles and speaking about them behind the scenes and trying to make it so that you can only talk about negative things if you can find a way to make everyone else feel good about hearing it. I regret my part in that in the industry, and I regret my part in continuing to pretend like everything was totally fine throughout the horrendous development of Vacation Simulator, of continuing to make jokes about, oh man, it's going to be great to vacation whenever this is all done, while we were killing ourselves with 12-hour workdays and I was causing my chronic health issues to get worse and worse and worse, while simultaneously not having any time to go to see a doctor because we just had to get this thing out the door. I regret that people are going to see Vacation Simulator as this fun game that everyone enjoyed making and was really fun and nice and great, when the reality of it was it drove several people out of games, it drove me out of games, and it caused so many health problems, mental health problems, actual physical health problems amongst the staff that worked on it. It wasn't a vacation. to make it was torture at times and at other times it caused me to question whether or not I was still kind of the same person and if I could ever rediscover what I loved about VR and what I loved about creating stuff. I was so convinced that the creative cycle of making something good was the way that Alchemy did things and realizing later on that there are other ways to make things but Alchemy is just not open to the idea of hearing those other ideas because it might make them feel bad about what they did. There's got to be a better way to do this, and that's the reason I'm leaving industry. I don't want to continue to devote time and energy to try to become friends or become associates or business partners with people who are going to continue to go down the same broken path that chews people up and spits them out. I want to find a better way that we can make cool content and make art and make fun things or just make whatever people want. And I want to find out a way that we can do that without the extreme personal toll that it takes on developers, because it's not right to continue to bring people in with this false narrative of come and join games and your life is going to be great and you're going to get to make whatever content you want. You're going to be able to, like, make things that people enjoy and you're going to have fun while you're doing it. It's a fucking lie. And I regret that I told that lie to so many different people. And I just hope that people in the future who want to get into this industry will either understand that that's what they're getting into or get into it and say, I know that this is the way it's been up until now, but now we're doing things different. Like with everything that happened under COVID, we learned that most of the rules are made up. You can serve drive-through drinks, like people who are getting paid $7 an hour actually are essential workers, and people who are getting paid hundreds of dollars an hour are not. And we've just learned how much of our society is fake. And we've got this really unique opportunity post-COVID to try and remake society into the image that we want to. And I don't know if gaming is gonna be included in that, but I feel like at a certain point, something's gonna give. Maybe. And whenever it does, I really hope the people who come in after us will be able to remake the games industry and the VR industry in a way that isn't comfortable to the people on top, but comfortable to the people who are doing the real work, like the ones who are coming in and working the late hours and implementing all the features and not the real work, but the people who are doing the unappreciated work, I think is a better way of putting that. that I hope that we can find a way to remake the industry in ways that the unappreciated can feel more like they're not lying to themselves and killing themselves over several years in order to make a game that gets a 60% on Metacritic, you know?
[01:31:35.317] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot in there that resonates, I think, not only for anybody who's in the game industry is listening, but for me, as I listen to that, there is this pressure for anybody who's sort of covering the industry to focus on the best lights and to turn your head the other way when you see things that are uncomfortable. I've been trying at least throughout my time in the industry to not just turn my head the other way and not listen because I think that to ignore those voices is to ignore an opportunity for growth and to be able to see this type of information, for anybody to see how they are oriented to this. I wanted to elaborate on one quick point on the right wing and free speech issue, because the First Amendment actually has things that are not protected as free speech. There's all sorts of things like child pornography, commercial speech, but also fighting words, I think, is the biggest thing. The fighting words clause, it was meant to prevent people from inciting violence face to face. It's trying to not speak words that are fighting words that inciting an insurrection, as an example, or to start a fight. So there's certain ways in which that even within the First Amendment, that these companies have the right to be able to mitigate what type of toxic, harassing, fighting word speech is happening. And it's also, as a private company, people have the right to do that. But there's also a whole other class of dangerous speech, which is inciting violence of big groups of people, like the Myanmar example of things that kind of lead to a genocide. So these companies have an obligation, a moral obligation, to mitigate things that are dangerous speech and things that are illegal speech. things that are threatening the lives of people and doxing them. You know, there's things that are not actually protected under law that these companies that I think Parler had the illusion that free speech to them was that you could say whatever you wanted to. But I think that, you know, as as they're realizing that there are actually limits and that, you know, they weren't right. following the terms of service of Amazon to be able to rein in some of this illegal speech that was happening on their network. So as long as you understand the differences between the spirit of free speech versus harmful speech and fighting words clauses, I think there's a confusion that people think that anything that's a critique automatically falls into this fighting words domain of free speech and that you shouldn't critique things that like, actually, as long as it doesn't lead to physical violence, as long as that's like off the table, then in the realm of these ideas, then especially in a creative sense, you should be able to be in an environment where you're able to have these type of creative disagreements and be able to actually talk them out because otherwise it's the stifle creativity and stifle innovation.
[01:34:10.328] Fox Buchele: yeah yeah and i was just i was only mentioning the feeling like i was sounding like a right winger complaining of being banned from twitter only in the sense of that it's often a crying cry of people who have been banned from twitter or things like that saying oh i'm just making the snowflakes feel uncomfortable I feel like what you're s a very strong difference that is what I would cons or abuse of behavior or l you're saying and questio or whether or not somebo And that's kind of what I mean, like those are uncomfortable conversations to have. And that's what I meant whenever I said people should be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. They should be more comfortable with being approached with your idea might not be the best idea. And maybe we should look at a different one, because that's an uncomfortable thing to hear, especially for some people who have spent a lot of time in the industry building themselves up as like I am the monolith and the way that VR should work to have somebody question and say, Maybe there's a better way of doing this that's very uncomfortable for them. And yeah, I guess that's more of what I was meaning is people should feel more comfortable having their stuff challenged, not in a way of I'm challenging like anyone's like rights or I'm challenging someone's right to exist. But these tech companies need to be a lot more comfortable with somebody saying, hey, I know that you think you're trying to do the best that you can. I know that you think you're doing this right or for the right reasons. but you need to be open to the idea that you might be wrong. And that's something that not a lot of people in any position of power, it's a very rare thing for people in position of power to be able to question whether or not their beliefs are actually right, or if they just think they're right because they had them.
[01:35:57.292] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:36:07.792] Fox Buchele: Huh, well, I think in the ideal world, the ultimate potential of VR is the ability to make somebody look at, feel, and experience something that they could never actually experience in real life, or that is impossible to replicate in real life. Like a common thing that people do in VR is they get into VR and they say, okay, cool, I'm gonna recreate this cool place that I was at, or I'm gonna try and make like the most realistic looking thing that I possibly can. I want to make like a realistic shooter or I want to make a realistic exploration game or, or even whenever it's cartoony, it's always based in realism. I think the ultimate potential of VR is decoupling people's ideas of the things that I've experienced up until now are the only things that there are to experience in life. and the only ways to experience them. The only things that we know about now of how to communicate with others is via phone, via Zoom call, or now with VR, we're getting more and more to the idea of, yeah, we can meet face-to-face and in VR, and we can talk and make hand gestures at each other. But when you see people actually implement that, they're like, let's try and make realistic avatars that can accurately represent things that maybe people don't necessarily want to represent like maybe somebody doesn't want to be really short in VR or maybe somebody wants to change their gender in VR and experiment with what it would be like to be a different gender or change their skin color or things like that where everyone's trying to push towards let's try and make VR represent all of this stuff that exists in real life I feel like the biggest potential of VR is opening up everyone's ideas to maybe we don't need to chase realism. Maybe we should start chasing abstract, surrealistic things and try to tap more deeper into the ways that our brains work and the ways that our brains perceive things. One of my most memorable experiences was the first time that I did Tilt Brush. It was at Alex Schwartz's house. I went over and tried out a secret demo of Tilt Brush. And I didn't even have guardian boundaries at the point. So they had people standing in the room making sure I didn't knock into something. And I went onto the floor and I drew a little log and then I made a fire. And I was like pretending to put my hands up against it and everything. I was like, oh, this will be cool. I'll try to stick my head in the fire. And I leaned down and tried to stick my head into it. And the lizard part of my brain said, nope, nope, do not do that. That will hurt. That will hurt a lot. And my whole body physically stopped me from doing it. And it was at that moment that I realized that there is some deeper part of our brains that we can tap into, that we can tap into the lizard part of our brains. And maybe we can change the ways that we think about things or the ways that we perceive and even conceptualize complex ideas or lots of data or conceptualize the concept of what is a person's self. But when you run into issues like what we were talking about with Facebook requiring a physical identity, you can't experiment with the way that you represent yourself to people. And you can't experiment with the way that you want your appearance to do outside of their very specific sets of customization options. And I feel like the more abstract things get, and the more abstract VR content gets, and the more people stop trying to base things off of real life and start trying to experiment with people's perceptions and their perceptions of reality, the more we're going to create neuroplasticity amongst people, where we won't have to accept what we see and hear in front of us as the ground truth, in reality or not, that we'll be able to I think VR will start the notion of we really change the things in front of us. We can change the things that we see and hear with our own eyes and ears. And we can change it to whatever we want. It doesn't have to be just what we've already done in the past. It doesn't have to be based on history or doesn't have to be based on what was successful. We can make literally anything. So why are we going with realism?
[01:40:09.508] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[01:40:18.195] Fox Buchele: Just know that if you're working in the immersive community, in VR or AR, and you're getting a feeling of Maybe things shouldn't be going in this direction, or maybe we should be thinking a bit more about what we're doing. Maybe we should be being more careful about what we're giving over to companies, or what we're allowing companies to get away with. If you're starting to kind of feel like that, of we need to be more careful about the amount of power we give these companies, because we may not be able to claw it back in the future, just know that you're not alone. That most people aren't going to talk about it for that same toxic positivity thing. No one's going to talk about bad parts of game development and of VR development. And I'm going to get so much flack from this. I've already gotten tons of flack from friends and people in the industry saying like, I mean, I agree with you, but why would you say that on Twitter? Like, how could you say that on Twitter? I had a friend call me up yesterday and yell at me for an hour and a half, just saying like, I have gone to bat for you so many times, how could you say all of this stuff? Like, you're right, and I agree with you in some cases of what you said, but like, I have to disown you. There is a lot going on behind the scenes, and if you don't have a lot of friends in the industry, you might feel like you're alone in thinking that there's got to be a better way of doing this. I just want them to know that you're not. It's just everyone's too scared to talk about it. And I really hope that that changes in the future.
[01:41:45.841] Kent Bye: Yeah, me too. And just by you coming on and sort of breaking the taboo in that sense, I'm just very appreciative for you being willing to come on and share your story, share your insights. Because I do think that there's a lot of your experiences, kind of a reflection of this wider industry. They're not unique in the sense that nobody else is experiencing them. I think it's just that the reality is actually a lot different than the stories we tell about it, I guess. And trying to be in alignment with The world that we live in versus our values and the story of that world I think is kind of the existential story of our day right now where we have different reality bubbles of fragmentation of our culture that we're trying to get onto the same page of what the actual reality is and that we're going to be battling through that throughout all of this year of trying to get onto the same Venn diagram of at least having enough overlap between these different reality bubbles that we can exist as a society without breaking out into all-out civil war.
[01:42:37.503] Fox Buchele: But first we have to recognize that we're all living in reality bubbles. And that's a really uncomfortable thing for people to recognize. People want to pretend, especially with COVID, that everything is just kind of fine. It's all going to go back to normal. Everything's going to go back to exactly the way it was. But it's not. And that's an uncomfortable truth that they're going to have to face at some point. Because if you deny the fact that the reality bubbles exist, you get exactly what happened with the Trump administration in the last four years. And especially with what happened very recently at the Capitol. You just deny that all of these right wing lunatics are actually up to the point where they want to mob and take over the Congress. You deny that for long enough, you're just going to completely miss all of them openly planning it on Twitter and Facebook.
[01:43:18.982] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm resistant to using mental health language of calling them crazy or lunatics because actually when you look at the media diet that they're consuming, it's like if you watch the footage of clips of what they've been fed, it's like they're a part of a reality bubble where they believed that they were liberating democracy and that was their belief. And it's only so-called crazy from our perspective.
[01:43:42.387] Fox Buchele: That's a very fair point. I shouldn't use language like that. And you're totally right that it can seem to us like there is some sort of mental illness here. But you're very much right in that it's not. And we shouldn't use those sorts of language for doing it. But it is definitely something that it can seem so alien, I think, to us that there are these reality bubbles that exist so far outside of our understanding that we can just literally not we have no concept of how to communicate with those people. But you're right. That was actually bad language. I shouldn't have used that.
[01:44:09.755] Kent Bye: Well, it's just I think it's reflecting of the point of like the split that we have in our country right now and how to resolve it. Either we're going to go into an all out civil war or we're going to find ways in which that we can find this middle ground of things that we agree about, about the nature of reality. Maybe that's one potential for VR is to provide these experiences that, you know, these cultural artifacts that we can connect about. I mean, I mean, who knows how this is going to continue to unfold? But I think that The degree to which those reality bubbles have been increasingly diverging to the point of turning towards armed conflict, that's where obviously makes me deeply concerned. And when I think about what's it going to take for us to really get to a point where we're not at that point, how do you take these two reality bubbles and basically merge them back together? war is one way to do that, where one side dies and the other side survives. I hope it doesn't come to that. The only alternative is to have this radical empathy of tolerance, but in a tolerance that is a paradox that Karl Popper pointed out of pluralism, where you can't be tolerant of people who want to eradicate you. And so both sides believe that the other side is trying to eradicate them. So you have two polarized extremes that believe that they should not be tolerant to the other person because being tolerant to that other person is going to eradicate their existence. And when both sides believe that, it's an impasse where like, how do you get over that? So As I've been thinking about that, it's like trying to deconstruct, like, how do we sort of merge these reality bubbles? And I think it requires sitting in the tension of the opposites where both sides have to be open to the point where they're listening and also trying to really tune into those parts where there's tolerance and acceptance. And so any sort of language or things that dehumanizes them or precludes the opportunity for that possibility, then it's just sort of leading us towards this other path of more polarization. I see it as an artifact of a system that's brainwashed them to the point where I'm in my own reality bubble that completely disagrees. It's a dilemma. How do you create a context of two opposite ends of the spectrum who are intolerant of each other and think that they're going to try to eradicate the core existence of their fundamental values? people undermining democracy in an authoritarian way while saying that they were liberating democracy. There's a disconnect there that hopefully is being made clear, and certainly by the FBI, by the facts on the ground, people being arrested. That's one way of bringing people in. But Yeah, that's the sort of thing that I'm really meditating on. I don't know if I'd have the answer, but it's these paradoxes.
[01:46:55.893] Fox Buchele: To me, it seems like a big issue with that is that whenever you have a sort of discussion like this, where you're trying to figure out how to basically reconcile two people who have very, very different opinions, if One side is coming to the table, willing and open to the idea that they might be wrong, and the other side is not, then you don't have an open discussion. Both sides need to come to the table, open and willing to admit that, yeah, I might be wrong. I still think I'm right, but I'm open to the idea that I'm wrong. Like, let me hear your opinion, and I'll explain mine, and let's figure out where the dissonance is here. Instead, people just end up talking at each other, and they're waiting for their chance to say the next point. they can make in their debate instead of actually saying like okay well my perception in the way that I see reality is this and your perception the way you see reality is this like let's try and figure out where at least like we have one point of reality we can agree upon and right now it's very difficult to find any point of reality you can agree with on with any of these right-wing folks
[01:47:54.598] Kent Bye: Well, I think entertainment and games and experiences that we share could be one of those points, culture and art and stories. That's where I put my hope in because the split, when it comes down to these other narratives and stories about the nature of reality and, you know, what to do about it have been so diverging for so long that, um, yeah, anyway, um,
[01:48:18.185] Fox Buchele: I was gonna say, ironically, I think COVID might have been or could have been had the potential to be the one point of reality we could have all agreed upon, that there is a virus that's sweeping through the US is infecting and killing millions of people. Like, ironically enough, like, I was so hopeful that that was going to be the one piece of reality that both sides could agree upon. And, and it just didn't. And now we have an entire half the country who denies that COVID even exists while they see their friends and family die in the hospital.
[01:48:45.665] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, hopefully, you know, that, that could be a reflection of the cultural split that we have, that the fact that the U S has so many deaths due to COVID that, you know, there's still time to turn that ship around, but yeah. How to actually do that. I think that's the question we're all going to be asking, but, and also just the fact that your personal journey was coming out of context where you were prevented from discussing any of these things for so long in the side effect of that. So I think everybody has to sort of. decide where they're going to fall down on, to what degree do you engage in these discussions where there is a certain amount of intolerance that can happen, and how to bridge those gaps. For me, it's like a koan. How do you bridge these two sides that we have in our culture? It's very concerning to me, and as I watch it play out, all indications point to that this is going to continue to have these physical manifestations of these reality bubbles that are in conflict with each other, which does not give me any sort of solace, but as I look forward of trying to think about it, then yeah, that's at least where I'm at. And I just appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk to you and to get a little bit your story and be able to talk about all the stuff that's happening in the wide world and how it relates to VR and how that sort of manifests in a very personal way and the cultures of these big companies, these small companies and your own personal experience. So be able to touch base.
[01:50:02.318] Fox Buchele: It was good talking with you, Ken. Thank you very much. Appreciate you talking with me.
[01:50:07.295] Kent Bye: So that was Fox Buchli. He was a VR developer that was working on Alchemy Labs sometime a few months before May of 2017, up until the last day of September of 2020. And he was just sharing some of his experiences, what it was like to work on vacation simulator and work at Alchemy Labs, as well as different perspectives about the VR and gaming industry in general. What he sees is needing to break out of this stifling of innovation and creativity as we move forward. And yeah, the impacts of this toxic positivity. So yeah, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, this, this concept of toxic positivity, I think this is something that is throughout the entire VR industry where you always want to just like hope for the best and only show the positive aspects of how VR is going to be really great and kind of turn your head the other way when you see some of these more darker shadow sides of the industry and. Yeah, I've just noticed that over time, it's certainly changed a lot over the last six and a half years now that I've been covering it since May of 2014. And yeah, it seems like this kind of micromanaging of individual people's emotions as part of your brand is somebody who's happy and positive and playful. And I think getting down to that micromanaging of emotion starts to get toxic if that was indeed what was happening, but there was this stifling of discussion and no opportunity for people who are actually implementing a lot of these different features to have any sort of creative feedback. There was a couple of people who had creative decisions, but there wasn't really necessarily a collaborative conversation, it sounds like. It was like a top-down hierarchical approach in their management style. I think the other aspect is that they were wanting to prevent people from talking about politics. I mean, anybody over the last four years who has lived in America and deal with the schism between what was happening politically and what was happening in your personal life, what was happening at work, I can understand why you wouldn't want to have these all-out battles draining a lot of people's energy as you have the collision of these different reality bubbles happening at work. And so I imagine lots of different places have probably been like that where you just don't talk about politics, you just don't talk about religion, or certain topics you just don't dive into because there's like these existential metaphysical beliefs that we have that get so primal, especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. But when it comes to politics, I mean, here, you're talking about two completely different reality bubbles that are competing. And if you have different media ecosystems that are supporting different bubbles of reality, then how do you bridge those gaps if those two reality bubbles aren't talking to each other. And there's one side that may be completely manufacturing or having what I would say is a big lie in terms of the Republican Party that was essentially supporting this big lie that there was going to be enough evidence to be able to overturn the election, which, you know, frankly, is not anybody that was watching it closely from what was happening in the courts. The courts were the opportunity to be able to present some of this evidence, and they never actually presented any evidence of fraud to the degree that it would overturn the election. There were over 60 different lawsuits that were put forth, and they only won like one of them. So of all the different evidence, they either didn't have standing affidavits or not enough to have like actual compelling evidence of fraud on the scale that would overturn the election. But you have this media ecosystem that was perpetrating this big lie that there was this level of fraud. And it got to the point where the President of the United States incited this insurrection saying that they were going to go back and take back and storm the Capitol. And basically overthrow democracy. And it's been a little stressful for everybody in the United States. After Biden got inaugurated this week, there was like this relief that I don't have to be on this constant vigilance of paying attention to see whether or not we're going to like slip into an authoritarian state. I mean, it really felt like this country could have really gone down a really, really dark path. And we're not out of the woods yet. We're still in this realm of trying to navigate these different reality bubbles. But I think the thing that Fox is really bringing into the conversation was that he was watching all this, this slow demise of American democracy, and he wanted to be able to talk about it at work. And it's probably wise that maybe work isn't the best place to be able to talk about this, you need to find your own place to be able to talk about that with your friends, or in other social media outlets. And if he felt like his social media presence was directly tied to his work, and he couldn't freely express themselves, Then it sort of created a situation where he started to be someone he wasn't and stifling his own freedom of expression. We need to be able to talk about these things. We need to be able to explore and do this collaborative sense-making and to do these sanity checks. And I agree with the decision at Alchemate that maybe it's not the right context to have all these really heated political battles happening, not only in the Slack channel, but also in the hallways. But that doesn't mean that those conversations shouldn't and can't happen in other contexts. I mean, we all have our Freedom of expression to be able to like explore these things and we need to find outlets to be able to talk about these things I mean in order for our democracy to function we need that so we're at that place where we do need to have these conversations with these different reality bubbles, but it's like this fractured reality bubbles are fed by institutions of media companies and Politicians and so it's gonna be a long way of trying to actually like heal a lot of this political strife that we have in the United United States. That's just the political context that I expect to have here in the United States. And that's going to be playing out in all sorts of way in terms of tech policy and enforcing antitrust law is going to be a big part of this coming year as well as we start to do that. But the thing that I was talking to Fox about is that we each have this opportunity of having these four different dials to turn whether it's our culture and be able to talk about this and educate people whether it's our economic ways that we're voting with our dollars and who we're supporting and decisions to see how the market plays out. We have some small part in that, especially if we do that collectively. But then there's the laws and the antitrust as well as the technological architecture and the code. There's still a lot of ways that we could build up more resilience by building more decentralized systems, having your own indie web. getting off of these big tech platforms and building your own networks. I mean, that's a lot of what I want to be building this year on my own websites and doubling down and building that up as well. But also, to what degree am I going to unplug from all these big tech companies? Fox is saying, yeah, it's really difficult. And I'm guilty as that as well. I'm using a lot of these services. And I think that's the power that we have as individuals. But that may not be enough. The thing that Fox was saying. So taking it back to the VR perspective of how all of that kind of feeds into a larger ecosystem where there's a stifling of innovation, there's a lack of diverse voices, a lack of critical discourse, but not having diverse and inclusive voices of people of color, underrepresented minorities, people with just divergent perspectives about what the future of VR should be. Without having those people have their voice heard and be a part of having these conversations, it's going to have this stifling of innovation and stagnant content that doesn't really resonate with a lot of people. And I think that I'm really looking forward to having more of those diverse creators and diverse voices and things that are just outside the box of what we already have in terms of these checkboxes that have been created. And in order for the VR industry to really go to the next level, we need to have that being avant-garde, being experimental, of having these outlets to be able to experiment a little bit more. And it ends up being sort of a monolithic viewpoint about the future of VR. That's like a point where Fox is like, oh, I'm done with this. I'm out. I don't see any hope in where this is going. And I think in the short term, that may be true. But for me, I always try to take the longer perspective of in order for VR to live into its potential. There's things that we can do now to be able to start to step into that, even if it's 10 or 20 years. But there's going to be a lot of things that are changing. These pendulums are swinging back and forth and that we're perhaps reaching the limit of these centralized systems. And they're really coming to a breaking point, all these different levels. I mean, I did a whole Twitter thread where it was like, looking at how I see with a lot of the censorship that's happening on the right is going to actually invigorate a lot of these decentralized networks of people running their own servers or having peer-to-peer encryption and getting off of things that are just like centralized. In this case, it's not always great because it's good to have the FBI keep track of some of these people if they are actually planning violence, but You know, all these things about free speech, as long as you're not advocating violence, being intolerant, wanting to eradicate people, advocating for the death of people, those are all things that are not protected speech. There's limits to what kind of speech you can have when your speech is actually trying to limit the liberties of other people. When you try to limit the liberties of other people by advocating genocide and wanting to kill people, that's called dangerous speech within human rights, or it's called fighting words, doctrine within the first minute, or it's called hate speech. And so there's limits to speech, and it's not just all quote-unquote free speech. there's actual consequences to that speech and how you're in relationship to other people for how your speech actually impacts other people, especially if you're advocating for violence. But I think understanding those differences, and as long as you know, like, hey, I'm not advocating violence. I don't want you to get hurt. And you create a context in which you're able to really have this open discussion, open dialogue, and being open to having your own perspectives be changed and knowing that each of our perspectives are limited. And Ken Wilber says, there's nobody that's smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time. There's things that you believe that are not completely true, and to be able to believe all truths and avoid all falsehoods is something that is impossible for anyone to do. It's not like everyone's figured out everything, so we need to have everybody talking to each other in this deliberative dialectic processes so that we can actually learn from each other and to be open to being wrong and to growing and learning. It's really difficult when you're flooded with a bunch of fake news and propaganda and institutionally supported bullshit that is supporting a certain ideology. We need to get away from those ideologies and away from those reductionistic ways of putting labels onto people and thinking that we understand everything about someone's viewpoint because of this or that label, and be open to the paradox of not knowing and being engaged in those dialectic conversations, assuming that there's two preconditions of tolerance and openness, where they're not trying to actively eradicate you from the earth. So that's some caveats where you need to have that as a baseline. And if you don't have that, then it's really hard to move forward. So Anyway, I just enjoyed being able to talk to Fox about the whole range of here. And I think there's a lot of things in terms of the deeper context of what it's like to be on the front lines of the VR industry or just the games industry in general, but also this larger geopolitical and technological context we all live in right now. It's really wild. And I know for myself, it's a bit of a sigh of relief as we're moving forward, not to be so hypervigilant to have to check the news to see whether or not democracy is going to survive. we've at least pushed back but there's still a long fight to go in terms of what needs to really kind of shore up. There's been a big stress test of our democracy here in the United States and it was on the brink of collapse honestly. It was super stressful for me and I think a lot of people here in the United States. So hopefully this has been one way for me to just be honest about where I'm at. There's ways in which that I sort of hold back because there's this culture of like not talking about politics but Here's what I say, you know If you are in a place of privilege where you can say I'm I can afford to not talk about politics I'm gonna only talk about tech Well, that's a position of power and privilege that you enjoy that your life is not in danger and that there's a certain power that comes with that privilege that we need to redistribute so that everybody feels like that and because we don't live in a world where that power is evenly distributed. And there's a lot of oppression that's still happening and systemic racism and economic disparities, everything else that there's certain obligations, moral obligations to be able to do what we can to be able to speak about it and to be authentic to yourself without being polarizing in a way that is still open and inclusive. And that's, I guess, a challenge that I'm trying to achieve while still trying to close those gaps, but also be open to the spirit of the dialectic and the dialogue and to facilitate conversations like this for the larger community, especially when The community is not willing to talk about stuff and there's all these taboos I'm all about let's just talk about stuff. No one wants to talk about let's get it out there because That's what's going to push things forward to be able to really evaluate. Why is it that there's these authoritarian practices? Why is it have to be like this? Are there other ways so Anyway, thanks for listening and going on this journey for me. I know it's been a wild ride for everybody here. That's all I got for today. And if you enjoy this and want to hear more, then please consider becoming a member of the Patreon and be in relationship to supporting this type of work and these types of conversations. $5 a month is a great amount to give, and you can join up on Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.