Gabe Newell’s Little People Problem


Anytime Gabe Newell starts talking, I start listening, but I was a little confused when he began talking about his little people problem— he likes them, but can’t seem to understand why.

Geoff Keighley interviewed Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson of Valve while at GDC 2015 for the debut episode of his new podcast called “Gameslice“. The hour-long interview has loads of tidbits about the internal decision making within Valve, and how they decided VR was a sound investment.

After some chatting about Gabe’s father and his machine shop, things turned to Steam OS and Linux. When asked about his stance on Windows 10, Gabe said he didn’t know enough about the OS to have “an opinion worth listening to”, but reiterated Valve’s commitment to openness for the PC, “We think that VR is naturally a PC thing, and we just want to make sure both for ourselves and for the other people who are part of PC gaming, that the inventiveness and the experimentation that we see as being critical for the long run is possible, so Linux is a great way to ensure that. ”

But it was when Gabe began discussing his quest to understand “little people”, that my ears really perked up:

"“I don’t understand the little people problem, it’s this weird thing in VR where little tiny people are really cool looking. It sounds like kind of an absurd thing, but what it means is: my conceptual model of why VR works has no explanation for why things at this certain scale level seem so much more compelling than other things.”"

That quote would be confusing even if little people weren’t mentioned, so let’s give him a moment to collect his thoughts:

"“You can usually go in and play a game for like 5 minutes and you understand all of the choices and the consequences of those choices. So when you run into something where you don’t understand it, it’s actually kind of exciting. It may turn out to be nothing more than novelty, right? I don’t think it is, I think there’s something that we don’t understand yet.”"

I haven’t had the chance to try out any VR headset yet, but when I get the opportunity I’ll be hesitant due to my history of motion sickness. But now I really want to look at little people, even if it means puking my guts out.

If you’d like to hear more about Gabe’s little people problem, start listening around the 27:30 mark. You can also read this transcript created by a very devoted listener.