Why I’m (sort of) leaving The Chinese Room

This is a horribly hard post to write.  The Chinese Room has been such an integral part of my life over the last few years; the games that we make and the people in our company are woven into the very fabric of my being. So what has led to the decision to move onto pastures new?  Well, there are three factors that have led me to where I am now.

1)   As many of you will know from my twitter feed I’m ill.  I have a degenerative disease that simply won’t do what it’s told, and anyone who knows me is aware of just how stubborn I am and how hard I try every single day.  A couple of years ago 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 ass.” 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.  The doctor wasn’t being negative, just honest.  When I told him how tired I was he said that I wasn’t tired; that people with my disease experience what the medical profession call a “tsunami of fatigue.” I cried with relief, finally realizing that I wasn’t going mad, that it wasn’t me just not trying hard enough.  I pushed myself to the edge of a precipice on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture- I thought if I kept running then I could always keep the disease just out of reach.  I was so wrong.  In June I got very ill. I was in LA working on the final mix of the game and I got so poorly that I genuinely thought I was going to be brought home in a coffin.  It forced me to re-evaluate what the hell I was doing to myself, 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.

2)   This is a tough one to write because I don’t want to negatively affect the company – there are lots of amazing people who rely on The Chinese Room for their livelihood.  So I’ll tread carefully and please be aware that I’m speaking entirely on my own behalf now.  Working with a publisher made me extremely unhappy and very ill. In the end I didn’t even recognize 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. I can’t go into detail here for the reasons above but what I can say is that I look back at the way we were treated and it still makes me shake my head with disbelief.  Big business and the creation of art have always been extremely uncomfortable bedfellows and making Rapture proved to be no exception for me.  I don’t want to do this anymore- in fact I can’t do it.  I want to surround myself with honest, open people whom I can trust.  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.

3)   Which leads me on to my final point.  The games industry itself.  I thought I was strong enough to lead the charge, to prove through talent and hard work and positivity that women have a vital role to play.  Well, as tough as this is to admit to both myself and to you lot this is one fight that I’m personally not going to win.   I leave it to people younger and fitter than me to carry on this crusade.  On a personal level I look back at my huge contribution to the games that we’ve made and I have had to watch Dan get the credit time and time again.  I’ve had journalists assuming I’m Dan’s PA, I have been referenced as “Dan Pinchbeck’s wife” in articles, publishers on first meeting have automatically assumed that my producer is my boss just because he’s a man, one magazine would only feature Dan as Studio Head and wouldn’t include me. When Dan has said “Jess is the brains of the operation” 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.  Partly it was my fault.  I don’t like doing talks, Dan loves them and he naturally became the public face of the studio.  People assumed that he was the creative force behind the company and I didn’t want to seem like an egotist so I let them carry on thinking that.  Last year I had a beautiful idea for Rapture.  Dan went to LA and while he was there he told Sony about it.  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.  I’ve realized that the only way I’m going to get credit for the work that I do is if I take a step away from Dan.  I love Dan so, so much. 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.

So, what’s next?  Well, I’m still a Company Director at The Chinese Room and the games that we make are always going to be very close to my heart.  Dan and I are married so it’s hugely unlikely that we’re not going to talk about what he’s up to.  I still have an office at the new place and I’ll see the amazing members of staff every day and will no doubt be unable to keep my nosey beak out entirely. I will still write music for our beautiful games. What Rapture made me realize is that I’m actually pretty good at writing music and by God, it makes me so wonderfully, dizzily happy.  I’m going to go it alone and see where it takes me. I’m about to embark on a large-scale music project with Carol Ann Duffy, our wonderful Poet Laureate and If you’d like me to write some music for you then please do get in touch.  I may well find that my travels lead me back to the company sometime in the future; we’ll see.  But in the meantime I want to spread my wings and see where the next adventures lie.

Because I’m actually very bossy I have one final piece of advice for you all.  It’s very simple: do what makes you happy.  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.