At PAX South, Apple and Ubisoft Motion Pictures premiered the first episode of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the upcoming workplace comedy focusing on a game development studio working on an MMORPG. While the episode was humorous and dealt with a lot of workplace drama, it also had moments of addressing some of the toxic parts of the job.
In this episode specifically, there was a character named Pootie Shoe, a young influencer and streamer who both was seen being terrible to his mother and directing a fair bit of vitriol toward Mythic Quest through his massive following. The character and the wrath of his community embodies a terrible side of the video game industry, and while he’s used for laughs, it’s an acknowledgement of a uniquely awful side of game development. That’s something actor and writer Robert McElhenney wants to use the nine-episode series to shed light on, regardless of whether viewers are entrenched in that culture or not.
In an interview after the showing, McElhenney discussed Pootie Shoe and how he saw him as both a representation of online toxicity, while also acknowledging that he was meant to be a gateway into showing how game development studios take in feedback from the community, even if it’s not always delivered in a constructive way.
“You can get a certain level of feedback, but prior to the last 10 or 15 years, because of the advent of social media, everybody was sort of just a recipient of the information that was coming at them,” McElhenney said. “There wasn’t a tremendous amount of opportunity to give a lot of feedback back. And yes, oftentimes that can be exceptionally toxic, but when it’s not, I think it can be incredibly empowering for the players, the people, the fans, the people that want to engage on a level that they don’t traditionally have the power and control to do. So, I look at somebody like Pootie Shoe, and yes we’re playing it for comedy, but I think that is a very important role. And I think that community feedback is a very important part of the process. So, yes, whilst I am a little bit nervous and I fear some backlash, but you’re gonna get backlash no matter what. I think we’ve created something that pays homage and respect to the community itself, and I think people will pick up on that.”
According to McElhenney, Pootie Shoe and his general awfulness isn’t the end of Mythic Quest’s attempts to capture the negative experiences of working in game development. When asked about if the show would be addressing crunch culture, which means developers are working extremely long days throughout the week in order to hit development milestones, McElhenney said it will be a major factor in later episodes of the first season, and that the ways it affects characters will be point of contention for its cast.
“To make it feel authentic, we wanted to make sure that we’re capturing those things that studios themselves are really grappling with beyond just the interpersonal dynamics among the employees, but specifically things like crunch, which we deal with in a very real and big way at the end of the season,” McElhenney said. “When you realize that there are people who are working 60, 70 hours a week to make the games possible, and one of the ramifications of that was the fallout from that and what does that do to the psyche of the employee and individual?”
While crunch can be an issue for everyone working in a studio, McElhenney said he wants to be able to hone in on specific roles and challenges they face, and pointed to a character who didn’t appear in the first episode: the community manager. While specifics weren’t given, Mythic Quest will feature a community manager in later episodes who was inspired by a trip to Ubisoft Montreal when McElhenney was doing research for writing the show.
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“The community manager was born out of one of the fact finding missions from when I went up to Montreal and was talking to people,” McElhenney said. “I met one of the community managers on one of the games, and this guy looked like he’d been hit by a truck. His job is to field incoming…communication from players, and they tend not to come with positivity. And so we thought, ‘wow, that’s a really interesting job and really interesting character,’ and he took that job very seriously and recognized that he was the front lines. And yet, it’s easy to dismiss it as ‘oh, just a bunch of trolls,’ but the truth is, if you have 90% of the community coming in and saying ‘this isn’t working and we’re angry about it,’ that’s important information to have. And he was the conduit, unfortunately, for that information to get to the higher-ups.”
Based on the episode I saw, which was largely meant to establish the cast’s dynamics and the setting, I’m not quite sure I can say yet how well I think Mythic Quest will be able to pivot from its comedy into these serious subjects, or if things like crunch, which is literally ruining the lives of some developers as we speak, can or will be made into something comedic. But at least it’s comforting to know there was an awareness of these issues and developer/community relationships when the show was being written, and that it won’t shy away from them.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet will premiere on Apple+ on February 7.