Mutual respect and tolerance are the foundation of creativity and innovation – interview with Adam Kiciński and Adam Badowski

Katarzyna Kucharczyk: – The LGBT rights issue has become a hot topic. On top of that, the Company had postponed Night City Wire in light of the social unrest in the USA. Why does CD PROJEKT choose to speak out, when most Polish companies – particularly ones as prominent as CD PROJEKT – would prefer to remain quiet?

AK: Because these are important matters. People come to CD PROJEKT not just to earn a living. Our business has always been rooted in a specific system of values. In a small company, business activities often reflect the owners’ personal beliefs. As the company grows larger, such beliefs morph into a foundation upon which the team spirit and work ethos are based. The founders of CD PROJEKT, Marcin Iwiński and my brother Michał, respected the differences between their personalities and focused on what brought them together: a passion for video games. 26 years on we are incalculably larger and all the more cognizant of the importance of mutual respect, tolerance and — to put it simply — fair play. Our team comprises all sorts of people, leaning left or right on legal, economic and worldview issues — not to mention several dozen nationalities, multiple ethnic groups and many LGBT individuals. We pride ourselves on our diversity, but we also realize that efficient operation requires active measures promoting mutual respect and tolerance.

– How did these events play out with your gamers/investors?

AK: The feedback reflects the broader social discourse: some are for, some are against. On the global scale, the vast majority of responses have been positive. I personally happen to believe that, in addition to listening to others, you should also remain true to yourself.

– Is the issue of tolerance an important part of the creative process when developing video games and – to put it broadly – innovating?

AB: I would reply by quoting from the CD PROJEKT Group strategy: We stand for tolerance. We combat all forms of racism, homophobia and xenophobia, as we believe tolerance is the foundation of creativity and innovation. Of course, our perception of tolerance is not fully captured by these two short sentences. Rather, they serve as guidelines which each of us may interpret in somewhat different ways. Some support the view expressed by Professor Maria Ossowska, a prominent Polish sociologist, who claims that tolerance is the capacity to respect other people’s needs and opinions which we ourselves do not espouse, and to refrain from combating phenomena which we regard as evil. Others are more in line with Popper’s proposition that a tolerant society, if it is to remain tolerant, must not tolerate intolerance. There are also people at our studio who disagree with both views.

The key takeaway is that diversity — which Adam talked about previously — and the differing sensitivities and outlooks which result from it, are not leading to conflict. In this way our team’s energy can be fully directed towards creation. And creating complex works is inherently a team effort.

What is more, there is strong correlation between openness to “the other” and its effect on creativity and motivation. In my opinion this results mainly from an increased feeling of security. In an environment where you can simply be yourself it becomes easier to have frank discussions, share ideas and express opinions — and that provides a starting point for many interesting activities.

The status quo is overcome through bold action. If we say that a “revolution” has occurred in some discipline, the very word “revolution” implies a disruption of the status quo. When a revolution in spaceflight is brought about, it is because some guy in California dared imagine it. When a revolution in RPGs takes place, it is because a team of bold women and men has had the audacity to express its ideas. Our role as executives is to manage this process — with matching courage and rationality.

AK: California provides an excellent example of how openness, respect and tolerance foster innovative businesses and stimulate the economy. I am convinced that in today’s world the best way to build a modern, competitive economy is by remaining open to novel ideas and accepting diversity.

– Corporate involvement in LGBT issues may have caused a storm in Poland, but was relatively calmly received in the West. Why? Is it because the Polish society is more conservative?

AK: That’s not the way I see it. Yes, there was some criticism, but I definitely wouldn’t call it a storm. When it comes to the Polish society — it is not for me to judge. I’m glad to have been born in Poland; I’ve had the opportunity to witness the fundamental transformation of the country — when communism fell, I was already an adult and aware of what was going on. The increasing polarization concerns me, but it is not a distinctly Polish phenomenon. Modern European attachment to tolerance grew out of the terrible calamities visited upon us by intolerant totalitarian systems. Unfortunately, we are beginning to forget this lesson.

– How are issues of tolerance treated in your key videogames? How do they affect “The Witcher” series (which clearly has strong antiracist and antihomophobic undertones) and how will they influence “Cyberpunk”?

AB: In his literature Andrzej Sapkowski has dealt with racism in a fairly harsh manner. Much like his books, the video games acknowledge the antagonism between humans and “non-humans”, i.e. elves, dwarves etc. Our games depict the consequences of stigmatizing otherness, reveal the link between social inequality and xenophobic sentiment, and show what humans are capable of when they believe they can act with impunity. There is a similar vibe in “Cyberpunk”. For example, Mike Pondsmith’s manual, published in the 1980s and providing the source of inspiration for our game, is quite liberal when it comes to gender modification. The whole issue is regarded as relatively minor compared to the need to express one’s personal style — and this provides for much greater fluidity. I truly hope that, much like in the case of The Witcher games, Cyberpunk 2077 will surprise everyone with how many bold, mature and astute narratives can be conveyed by the video game medium. I will gladly come back to this issue after the November release once I’m at liberty to share more information.

– CD PROJEKT is a global company. What are your reflections on matters related to tolerance in the digital entertainment sector abroad? Do other studios follow the same direction as CD PROJEKT? Do their games also provide social perspective? If so, can you name some examples?

AK: The entertainment industry in general strongly promotes diversity. It hasn’t always been that way, and there are some bad examples from the past, but the two recent decades brought about a powerful thaw. Its youngest offshoot — video game development — also happens to be the most agile. We learn a lot from the shortcomings and accomplishments of our colleagues from the motion picture, literature and music industries, and I suppose we may be faster at implementing certain novel mechanisms. Way back in the 20th century the superb writer Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton) chose to publish under a male pseudonym because her publisher believed that the masculinized readership demographic would not take interest in fantasy authored by a woman. There is no such issue with videogames. Yes, there are other problems, such as sexualization of female characters, but they are discussed in the open and bold steps are being taken to mitigate them. Sexual orientation is in a similar position. What had long been taboo in mainstream motion pictures is now turning what it should have been from the outset: stories of human romance rather than accounts of the struggle for the right to be accepted.

Source [PL}: Rzeczpospolita daily