Molyneux, Notch, Anthropy: why gaming’s new cult of personality is good for the industry
Recently, I interviewed Peter Molyneux about his new iOS game, Curiosity. He describes it as little short of miraculous, a global experiment that supposedly contains a life-changing secret at its heart. Everyone else describes it as ‘some cube thing’, all but certain to mark another occasion when the quirky creator over-promises and under-delivers.
Molyneux’s reputation as a big dreamer suffering from an excess of ambition has won him no shortage of controversy – and scepticism. Even as someone who likes big dreamers, I had to admit Curiosity’s cube thing seemed a little perplexing.
But there’s something about speaking to the man that makes you want to believe. He described to me his rush flight back to England in response to Curiosity’s App Store launch – where he pressed his phone to the window, desperate for a signal, feeling it would be “worth it” if he caused the flight to crash.
His sense of wonder that so many people had gathered to tap at his mysterious cube was palpable. Peter Molyneux is a man that wants to find the answers to the questions his imagination poses; he wants to know whether a sense of mystery and community is enough to drive hundreds of thousands of people to
pursue an experience together. His fascination is tangible, electric, inspiring.
This, I thought, is why people pay attention to Molyneux, why his persona inspires a parody Twitter account and an elaborate profile piece in Wired. The man is inseparable from the ethos of his work, and one can’t take interest in one without the other.
This industry is starved for personality, and some don’t like the idea of authorship at all – games are the product of a team environment, it’s the player that should take the lead in crafting the experience, and so on. That’s why such figures can be so contentious: it’s rare that fans get the opportunity to personify games, or to correlate them with a single voice.
Yet obviously people want to, hence the rush to crown figureheads, to attribute games or companies to someone. That’s arguably natural: every medium has recognisable voices and faces, and it’s really only games that still struggle with how to negotiate celebrity and creatorship on an individual level. It’s controversial; people like Molyneux, Hideo Kojima or David Cage very easily fall under the lens of examination, pinned for dissection, idolisation and scrutiny.