Tale of Tales: Being Wrong Will Set You Free

Games Features

Last week I was crying on the street. I had signed a lease, and walked over to the apartment, first month’s rent and deposit in hand. I called the landlord and he told me, “You don’t make enough money. You need to look somewhere cheaper.”

I begged him, I pleaded, I told him that I had the money that he needed. He still said no. I couldn’t help it—I fell to the ground, tears welling in my eyes, wishing that a miracle would happen. But there was nothing. So I wiped my face, and started walking to the train. A woman walking past stopped me to make sure I was alright. “You’re gonna be okay,” she told me. As I walked away, she shouted, “Fight the power!”

Tale of Tales closed down because despite all the things they tried they could not make enough money. “In its 12 year existence Tale of Tales has always teetered on the edge of sustainability,” they said, “combining art grants and commercial revenue to fund our exploration of videogames as an expressive medium. “ When I read their blog post, I still wasn’t sure if I’d be homeless or not. I had spent a few days in a more or less catatonic state—I’d wake up, eat a slice of leftover pizza, crawl back into bed and refresh Craigslist and Twitter.

Just before I cried in the street, just before Tale of Tales announced their closure, my friend was meeting me for lunch. We went to a pie shop—a place I was hoping to visit daily when I moved into the home I thought I was going to have—and caught each other up on our lives. My friend had gone in on a business venture with me and, she told me, she could no longer contribute to it. She was running out of money, spending all her time working her freelance job to fund herself and our project. She’d developed what she thought was carpal tunnel and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to do her own, personal work.

It’s going to be hard to keep that business going without her, but all I could think of when she was telling me this was how proud I was of her. She knew when she had to stop. And she stopped.

A lot of my friends who read Tale of Tales’s farewell note thought they sounded bitter or angry. They don’t seem happy, to be sure. I have no idea about the apparent twitter tirade they went on because I don’t follow them and honestly it doesn’t interest me. But that letter struck a chord with me, as I read it in the dark, under my covers. They knew when they had to stop. And they stopped.

Admitting that you have failed is a hard thing to do—a thing I’m not sure I’m capable of. After I lost that apartment, my friends offered me couches and sublets, but I was determined, determined to find that perfect place. I was going to sue that piece of shit landlord, I was going to find a better apartment, I was going to Win.

Guess what? You don’t always win. Tale of Tales’ goal with Sunset was to bring their artistic message to the masses. They did a lot of market research, they did a lot of marketing, they got a lot of positive press. They had not just been a game studio for a decade, but an artistic collaboration that had, already, influenced AAA gaming. They said they made Sunset out of a moral obligation, to spread the art of games as wide as possible. But they admit that it also seemed to be a perfect time to create a more sustainable future for themselves. I think about this every time I check my bank account.

The game wasn’t perfect—it had optimization issues, my friend Patrick telling me that it often dropped down to fifteen frames per second on his above average gaming PC. For some, the idea of falling in love with your employer was distinctly uncomfortable. It was also released two days after The Witcher 3, a highly anticipated entry in a beloved franchise. They had passion, they had a fight in them, they had twelve years of experience and were armed to the teeth with ideas and plans they hoped would help them break through. But they were destined to lose.

And it’d be nice, you know, to see the underdog win sometimes. It’d have been nice if they could keep making games for us, if they had outsold their competitors, if they’d gotten what they needed from Sunset. But the closest thing to winning, in the circumstance they were in, is admitting you have lost.

Losing in the commercial sphere isn’t always the astronomical, life ending failure that our society has lead us to believe. If you lose in a highly niche community, here’s where you haven’t lost: everywhere else. The world is wide and if you get obsessed with winning over an audience that may never, ever like you, you can lose sight of that. There are many spaces that will enjoy the work of Tale of Tales. It’s just not this one. They were always artists, and there’s been a new strain of artists interested in games and technology that don’t have the perspective they have, of being immersed in the culture of games. They said they might not ever make a game again, and that’s probably going to be just fine. They can let the fight go. They can take a deep breath. They can go somewhere else. It’s okay. Videogames is small, and I forget that all the time. My friend Max keeps telling me to take my blinders off.

Sometimes continuing to fight when you’re bloodied and broken isn’t about tenacity, but about your own ego. If Tale of Tales had plunged themselves even deeper into debt despite the commercial failure of Sunset, well, what would they have done? How would that have benefitted them? How would that have benefitted us, the people who participate in the culture they hoped to influence? Hell, if Sunset had succeeded, what kind of a box would they be lumped into—would they be expected to make more Sunsets despite their experimental, avant garde past? Would winning the fight they set themselves up for have made them happy?

My friend, she’ll be fine. She’ll probably also thrive. It won’t be with me or our tiny little dream, but she’s going to be okay. Honestly, she already seems much happier. By giving up she’s won back the rest of her life. I hope she knows how happy I am for her, too. Hey, if you’re reading this, I love you.

And me, I’m going to be fine. I’m not homeless. I’ve found an apartment and it’s not perfect, but it’s mine. It’s a little out of the way, but I like it. It has huge windows and granite counter tops and hardwood flooring. I can have a cat if I want to. I won’t have a porch anymore, but I know that I’ll have a home. That other apartment, it was a fight I was destined to lose. I can give up. It’s okay. I have a rich life. I have wonderful friends. The world is big, and it is wide, and the fight I lost doesn’t determine my worth.

And Tale of Tales, they lost their fight to have a place in games, to make money in an industry they spent ten years in. They lost a fight to be as financially secure here as they are respected. They did lose. And they know they did. But there’s going to be another home for them. I’m proud of them for giving up, I really am. They knew when they had to stop. So they did.

Gita Jackson has dedicated her entire adult life to wading through the marginalia of popular culture and finding gold.

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