[Freelancer Alex Rubens tracked down the man who plastered Gabe Newell's face all over downtown San Francisco this past week during the Game Developers Conference. For journalism!]
After mysterious pictures of Gabe Newell’s face began appearing in seemingly random places around Moscone Center in San Francisco this week, it understandably started some confusion. While the rumors of a Steam Box debut and Half-Life 3 unveiling were all obvious hearsay, it still left us with some questions: What are these, who put them there, and why?
Enter Jonathan Haggard (pictured). A local gamer and amateur street artist with a love for Team Fortress 2 and the man behind Valve. “Me and a Swedish friend play all of Valve’s games -- Team Fortress, Half-Life, Portal -- and all of our sprays have always been Gabe-related. We came up with this idea to have Gabe’s full face be the spray, like the texture unwrap that they would use to make it to a 3D model.” It became an ongoing joke between them to spray Gabe’s face mid-match and watch people react.
“We’d spray and people would be all ‘That’s so weird, what is that!’ but we thought it was fucking hilarious, so we kept doing it.” It was just something fun between friends until Haggard wanted to make it into something more, “I got my paycheck last week and realized that I had an extra $100, so of course I wanted to spend it on something fun. I went to a local shop and had 100 stickers printed up.” These stickers just happened to be a texture wrap of Gabe Newell’s face.
Haggard went on to tell me about how the idea of placing stickers around SF came to be, “More recently, I’ve been interested in this street art thing. It seemed like a really cool way for someone to get an idea across to a bunch of people really quickly. If you want to get a message out there, print some stickers or make a wall paste.”
We took a detour through the Yerba Beuna Center across the street from Moscone West to see how many of them were still up. “We went around at 8PM [on Tuesday] and stuck them anywhere we could. We even got some on the GDC entrance sign and that was the best one for us.” As we continued our way around, he pointed out spots where the city cleaning crew had been diligent in removing the stickers, but the NOS booth members weren’t so on top of it. “It was great, because we’d just peel a sticker, put it up and walk away. People would look, but all they could do was laugh. They could call the cops if they want to, but we were only putting up stickers so whatever.” That isn’t much of a concern for Haggard though, as he doesn’t see them any differently than the dozens of club posters on every street post.
Unfortunately, this isn’t some viral campaign for the rumored Steam Box, in fact, Haggard didn’t even remember that GDC was happening until last week, well after it was all planned. “I just thought that downtown San Francisco seemed like the place to do it. It’s filled with videogame and tech bloggers, so it was perfect.”
He’s right too, GDC is the best place to do something like this. Gabe is known by everyone. People didn’t just see some random dude’s face on a street post, it was Gabe Newell’s which resonated perfectly with this crowd. “I saw a few tweets going out that night. One being of his face on the newswoman’s body, but it didn’t seem to be doing much that night so I just went to bed. I woke up the next morning and checked my phone. I did a Twitter search for Gabe Newell and was like ‘What the fuckkkkkkk’! It was an amazing feeling.”
Twitter wasn’t the only one to take notice though, Destructoid posted photos of the stickers after getting back to the hotel that night. “Seeing it hit Destructoid and then Kotaku and even the front page of Reddit gaming was awesome. It was really cool seeing something that you put time and hard work into and to have the physical space for it to show up on the internet in popular places. I wanted to make people smile and this was how I could do it.” It seems to have done just that. Photos of the stickers have been met with positive reception and even a sense of infamy for the man who thought of this brilliantly executed idea.
Sure, it may not be signs of something new from Valve. However, it is the story of a gamer coming up with a creative way to show his appreciation for the games he loves and the man who created them. I find that to be extremely refreshing.
**Luke Williams, a friend of Jonathan, went out and took photos the next morning. We’ve included those below. **