Composer Jessica Curry, who most recently worked on the PS4 game Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, has announced she's (sort of) leaving The Chinese Room, the studio she helped found. There's more on her mind, though. In a blog post, Curry pulled no punches when talking about her negative experiences working with Sony, how the industry devalues the contributions of women, and more.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was the first major console release by The Chinese Room, a quiet and contemplative story about what happens when everybody in a small town just...disappears. A game about exploration, it very much followed in the footsteps of their previous work, notably Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. Kotaku's Chris Suellentrop called it one of the year's best games.
Good game or no, the process of making it was extremely difficult for Curry.
"This is a horribly hard post to write," she wrote.
Curry will remain a company director at The Chinese Room and likely write music for upcoming games. Given that she's married to co-founder Dan Pinchbeck and has an office at the studio, she's not entirely leaving it behind.
But, for now, she's looking to contribute music for games not made by The Chinese Room, and work on a "large-scale music project" with Carol Ann Duffy.
There were a number of factors leading up to this decision.
Curry suffers from a degenerative disease whose specific ailment goes unmentioned in the post, but it's something she's dealt with for a long time.
"A couple of years ago," she wrote, "my doctor said to me 'if you try to fight this disease it will win' and I nodded like a good girl but actually at the time I just didn't get it. Having a progressive illness is not like cancer, or a stroke or a heart attack. People are left at a loss because they can't proclaim, 'you'll beat this thing' or 'you will get better' and they can't tell you to just 'whoop its arse.' I am going to get worse -- that's a simple fact and no amount of medication, wheatgrass, mindfulness, positive thinking or acupuncture is going to change that."
She cited making Everybody's Gone to the Rapture as pushing her to the edge. During a mixing session for the game towards the end of its development, it was so bad, she "thought [she] was going to be brought home in a coffin."
"It forced me to re-evaluate what the hell I was doing to myself," she wrote, "and more importantly the effect I was having on my husband and son. I can't keep running and it's time to admit that to myself and to everyone who loves me.
Working with a publisher was, apparently, a reason Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was troubled. Curry doesn't explicitly name Sony, but the post is within the context of their most recent project, which was funded by the company.
"Working with a publisher made me extremely unhappy and very ill," she wrote. "In the end I didn't even recognise myself anymore -- I had turned from a joyful, fun-loving, creative, silly, funny person into a short-tempered, paranoid, unhappy, negative heap. So much of the stress that I experienced was caused by what I see as the desperately toxic relationship that I was in."
Sony has not responded to my request for comment.
Curry doesn't make many specific allegations about what it was like working with Sony, saying she "can't go into detail here." But she argued that "big business and the creation of art have always been extremely uncomfortable bedfellows."
She encouraged other game developers to push back on the demands of publishers, hoping a collective movement might result in some real changes.
"I want to surround myself with honest, open people whom I can trust," she said. "I've heard so many people say, 'well, this is just the way publishers are" and "this is just what the games industry is like.' What I would say to that is while we all keep accepting this, while we are so afraid to challenge this behaviour then it won't change and we all deserve nothing but the meager crumbs we are thrown."
If you're interested in reading more about the realities of game development, make sure to read Jason Schreier's piece on video game crunch, this essay by anonymous game developer lamenting publishers, and another piece by Jason that explores why so many developers get laid off. It's a rough world.
Lastly, Curry expressed frustration at being a woman in video games, exhausted at how often she had to prove that she was more than the wife of a developer.
"When Dan has said 'Jess is the brains of the operation,'" she wrote, "people have knowingly chuckled and cooed that it's nice of a husband to be so kind about his wife. I don't have enough paper to write down all of the indignities that I've faced."
Often, she said, people referred to her as "Dan Pinchback's wife."
It's at this point Curry cited a story about Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's development, in which one of her ideas was pitched at meeting with Sony.
"Dan went to LA and while he was there he told Sony about it," she wrote. "When he returned I said 'what did they think of my idea?' He admitted that he'd ascribed the idea to one of our team members, not me. He was genuinely bewildered by my anger and asked "but why does it matter who gets the credit?' My reply: 'It only doesn't matter who gets the credit when you're the person who always gets the credit!' There is a famous quote that behind every successful man there is a strong woman. Well sod that."
Curry attributed some of this to her desire to stay out of the spotlight, leading to assumptions Pinchback was the creative braintrust at The Chinese Room. These moments have lead Curry to believe that earning credit means going independent. Curry and Pinchback are staying married, but she's creatively stepping away.
"I love Dan so, so much," she wrote. "He is a talented, intelligent, shining-souled man. This is not a rejection of him but of the society that still can't cope with the fact that a woman might just be as talented as the man she shares her life with."
She ended her post with a call to arms for taking ownership of your life.
"Do what makes you happy," she wrote. "People often ask me (with a tinge of annoyance at times) why I'm so cheerful, silly, full of mischief, always laughing. Well, one thing that you learn when you are degenerating (as we all are I suppose, some just more quickly than others) is to make the very best of every single day. To see the beauty, the ridiculousness, the wonder, the hope, the sadness, the sheer magnificence of the world around us. I exhort you to laugh, love and really live."