This article is part of a special series on the intersection of guns and games. For more, click here.
Most video games have weapons, and lots of those weapons happen to be guns. Some are based on real-life firearms, others are pure fantasy, and often it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s also common for developers to seek outside help for very specific tasks—art, writing, etc. Rmory, founded in 2008 by former German ground forces soldier Kris Thaler, specializes in something very unique: designing weapons. If you need video game guns, you come to him.
“Believe it or not, I actually did not set out to start a company specialised in weapons,” he told me over email recently.
Years back, Thaler uploaded some concept art to a message board he lurked on, looking for feedback. A few of the images included guns, and he was later contacted by a developer, interested in having Thaler work up ideas for their game. Thus, he doubled down on guns.
“We focus on realistic feeling armaments for our clients that look cool and don't break the immersion in their product,” he said.
Though Rmory does provide contractual services to drum up concepts for other military items—tanks, mechs, etc.—the primary reason companies seek Rmory out is firearms.
Generally speaking, Thaler told me, the process begins with a company approaching Rmory about a game, sometimes asking for them to come up with a specific weapon they have in mind, or to fill in the details on a weapon they’re working on but need Rmory to flesh out.
“For example, a client comes to us and says, ‘Hey we need a rocket launcher,’” he said. “We then work out details like ammo capacity, animations, alternate firing modes, etc. We then provide the client with all the visuals he needs to give the weapon to the next member in the production pipeline.”
Even in fantasy settings, Thaler said Rmory tends to pull inspiration from the real-world. His favorite real gun is the German HK G3—”it has a lot of oomph”—while his favorite game gun is, shockingly enough, the Groovitron from Ratchet & Clank, which makes enemies dance.
Thaler started shooting guns at 12-years-old, as soon as legally allowed. (That wouldn’t fly today. Germany has since adopted incredibly stringent gun control laws, in the wake of various mass shooting incidents, and in 2009, the country started a government database.)
He later joined the German military, where he was trained on everything from pistols to missle launchers. Thaler credits his time in the military with giving Rmory an edge.
“I personally think it [my experience] makes or breaks believability,” he said. “You can read all you want about guns, but having handled them in different situations gives you a totally different perspective on them. Almost everybody can make a cool looking gun, but as soon as it feels unbelievable in game it breaks immersion, providing both is key.”
Besides gun design, one of the services Thaler offers is “gun tactics,” in case a client “wants to know explicit use scenarios for guns or what calibre to use where, we got him covered.”
When I pitched Thaler on talking to me, I mentioned this was part of a larger set of stories Waypoint was running about the relationship games have with guns, timed to the ongoing conversation the United States was having about mass shootings involving children. Given his profession—making virtual weapons— I wondered if moments like that gave him pause.
“Of course,” he said, “any tragedy especially involving children do give you pause, and your thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the bereaved. But to bring it back around to our conversation—guns are not the problem, video games are not the problem. Crazy people are the problem, and, unfortunately, there will always be crazy people.”
Though mental health is an important consideration when discussing how to deal with America’s gun problem—it comes up every single time this debate returns—new research suggests there’s not as much of a link between mental illness and gun violence as society generally presumes. According to The New York Times, a recent analysis of 235 mass killings, many of which involved a gun, revealed only 22 percent of attackers would have been classified as mentally ill. It’s even lower for annual gun homicides: 1 percent.
In the case of Rmory, though, they’re working with and designing virtual guns, not real ones.
“One is a piece of a cultural good, the other is for self-defense,” said Thaler.
Rmory is just one link in the larger relationship between games, guns, and firearms manufacturers—both real and imagined. A still shocking 2013 investigation by reporter Simon Parkin explored how gun creators co-op the popularity of games to increase awareness of their creations, often without players being aware. We know games don’t cause violence, a topic we explored in an interview with a research psychologist yesterday, but it remains true most of us spend a lot of our time running around killing fields. And because of companies like Rmory, the weapons we’re running around with are, for better or worse, surprisingly authentic.