My name is Gita Jackson. I'm 25. I live in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, and I'm a freelance writer about videogames, sort of by accident. This has been a really weird series of events that has lead me to be able to say that that's what I do for a living, sort of.
What were those weird series of events?
So I graduated from college three years ago now, and I didn't really know what I was doing for three or six months. I knew that I had to get out of my hometown. My friend offered me a really cheap spot in an apartment that he was renting slash was the landlord of. That was really convenient and great.
So I moved to Chicago, kind of for the moment, when I'd liked the city before. At first actually I was moving for a guy, and then they turned out they were a total piece of shit. Then I was like, "Well, I guess I'm still moving!" because I can't spend another minute in my parents' house.
It was some shit.
So I spent a good six months in a catatonic state, not really doing anything, and then I got a real shitty job that I hated and needed to do something to, like, make me feel better. I ended up playing -- I've been playing games for a long time -- and my older brother was a big gamer -- so I got all the trickle-down things that he was sort of done playing. He let me play Final Fantasy X. I remember distinctly him being like, "I don't want this game anymore and I don't like it, so here, you play it," and just getting like totally enraptured by it. Metal Gear Solid 2, he actually really liked it, but he liked it better when I'd actually watch him play while I was doing homework. So everyday I'd sit down next to him and he would play hours of Metal Gear Solid 2, and I was just fascinated by it.
So yeah, when I was really lonely and didn't have a lot of money, I had already bought a 3DS for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and I ended up buying more and more games for it, then getting into things on Steam. I have this laptop from 2008, so it couldn't play anything too intensive. I started playing a lot of weird, small indie games. I started up a Twitter account -- I had already had one, but I wanted a fresh start, so I started up a new one. Kind of got involved with the "scene" mostly because I was friends with Maddy Myers, through completely non-game related circumstances. She went to highschool with the boyfriend of my high school poetry teacher, so I'd met her a few years prior, we remained friends. And one day on Facebook -- I remember exactly what it was. Me and Maddy’s mutual friend Rain posted something that said, "HelloGiggles, Zooey Deschanel's website, was accepting pitches." And I was like, "Oh cool, maybe I'll do that because I hate my fucking job, and I don't really have that much money even though I'm working my ass off and I want to do something else."
So I was like, "Hey Rain, thanks for letting me know about this," and then Maddy replied saying, "Hey, if you really wanted to write anything about videogames, I'm assistant editor at Paste for the games section, so you could always just pitch us." And I did. I wrote an article more like a college paper, because I had only been out of school for like a year at that point -- more like a college paper than an article or an op-ed for a videogames website. I was really, definitely, working way harder at writing than I realized was necessary.
[Laughs.] How do you mean?
I had citations and shit. I went through multiple drafts on one piece. At this point, I pretty much write things once -- for any editor -- and they're like "Cool, it's going up tomorrow." When I got an email back from Garrett [at Paste] that the article was going up, my reaction was like, "Really? You don't want me to change anything about this? Nothing about this seems suspect to you?"
Yeah it went up, and it was like really overwhelmingly popular.
What was it?
It was about Watch Dogs. At the time, I was living in Hyde Park, and I had really been interested in Watch Dogs being set in Chicago, and I got really frustrated that, Ubisoft seemed to be making Chicago into a city that -- they just seemed to be New York-ifying Chicago.
Wait, are you saying that Ubisoft didn't do a good job of capturing all of Chicago's vast mountain ranges?
Yeah, I know it was really weird that they didn't pay attention to the incredible geography of Chicago. [Laughs.] For me, the big problem was reducing the race and crime problems to "the North Side is fine" and "the South Side is unilaterally horrible," which is just not true.
In other words, as a Chicago person myself, an outsider’s perspective.
Yeah, pretty much.
I read an interview with them in the Tribune, where they said they got a police escort down to one of the dangerous South Side neighborhoods and followed that up with: "We're really big fans of The Wire." I was like, that's the most ridiculous thing you could have said, and now it's committed to this interview with you, and it reveals how little you understand about the city.
You mentioned writing papers in school, what did you get your degree in?
I got a degree in cinema studies. But at Oberlin, the program was sort of -- six students who wanted to do serious documentary and there was a professor that specialized in that, and then everyone else in the department realized that there wasn't the funds or the equipment to do mainstream-style film work, so they either did the best that they could, or -- like me -- just latched on to the other professors that would let you do really weird shit. So I was doing new media art with this professor who just released a really good alt-documentary about basketball and hip-hop culture called From Deep. It's really fucking good. He just did this exhibit for the Cleveland Museum of Modern art about sports.
I remember getting interested in videogames from that perspective because he did an installation piece where he had a Wii without a controller just playing practice mode from one of the NBA 2K games, where it was just Lebron James basically dribbling a basketball in a circle forever.
He was my thesis adviser, and we became good friends.
Tell me a little bit about writing about games through the lens of cinema studies. What does that mean to you?
For me, the biggest thing is that the culture of games -- I feel like sometimes I'm in an "emperor has no clothes" situation, where I can see that these are just like normal growing pains of an industry, a lot of the cultural struggle, or even the artistic ones, like -- framerate discussions are really irritating to me.
I actually wrote something about this and got a lot of hate for it. Because AAA games specifically, they really pride themselves on being cinematic. You hear that thing about games being bigger than Hollywood a lot, and you can see it in the way they frame things: the depths of field, lens flares are now popular, those artificial camera effects where they try to imitate what it's like when you have a lens between the viewer and what's happening on the screen. But a lot of that comes up with "everybody wants to have a steady 60 frames per second rate,” when it just makes everything that developers try to do to make things look cinematic or filmic seem really artificial because films -- the standard is 24 frames per second.
I wrote this long thing about how games have such a freedom of not having a fixed camera. Or they have a camera that is not bound by physicality or physics. And its really irritating that they're not brave enough to break rules and are still so beholden to cinema, when they are just two different beings.
Which is interesting because when I talk to people in Hollywood, they consider videogames part of Hollywood.
Huh, that's weird. I mean, that's what they want to be, right? But they're just a lesser version of Hollywood.
Games that we say have really good stories or you can watch the story on its own? Bioshock is one of them. I think Bioshock tried harder to -- well, to turn Bioshock into a movie, it would be not very good. It would not a very successful science-fiction movie, if we're being totally honest. What makes it a good game doesn't necessarily mean it is good to just watch. Games like Uncharted? Uncharted is just really transparently Indiana Jones. So these things, if you try to translate them into a cinematic context just seem hopelessly derivative.
What are these growing pains you're talking about going on in the industry that you see?
We are at a crossroad, culturally and artistically, where games have to decide what they want to be. The big question -- I hate the conversation "are games art?" because they are, it's whatever. But, as a whole, these corporate entities have not decided whether or not games are art, inasmuch as they haven't decided games being art will get them as much money as they are making right now.
Which isn't actually all that much in the scheme of things, but they're afraid that decided games don’t necessarily have to be fun, or games are not necessarily software or consumer products. They haven't decided whether or not it's going to be a huge loss for them.
When you wrote a thing criticizing games from the industry, you got hate mail?
Just a lot of shit on Twitter. Mostly I wrote something about depth of field sliders and how, just as a person interested in cinema, seems like regressive or a Band-Aid on a larger problem of some people getting motion sick from games. The solution for me isn't adding a depth of field slider. It's more, "How do you not make games make people motion sick at all?" I got a lot of shit for -- I remember that article got posted on Reddit on the PC Master Race subreddit, and they called me a peasant, which is their term for people that don't play games on the extreme settings on their PCs.
Some indie devs found it sort of aggressive or an attack on them. One particular one definitely, probably unintentionally but contributed towards a dogpile that was happening on Twitter at that time, talking about the problems with the article: how wrong it was, and how I just didn't understand the development side. There was a lot of developers trying to explain to me why things had to be a certain way. And it was frustrating because I felt like they didn't actually read the thing that I wrote, which was saying: "Are you sure these conversions are so necessary?"
A lot of stuff from just fans, but it seemed, at the end of the day, a lot of people that were making videogames really wanted to tell me why they agreed, but also how nothing could change.
How does game criticism, which is such a broad thing in and of itself -- how does it seem to differ from other types of criticism?
The one thing I know is cinema criticism, because that's half of what I was doing in school. Really what I wanted to do when I graduated from college was own a gallery and be a curator, but that didn't really work out. Cinema criticism was a thing I'd thought about a lot so.
Games still see themselves as products more than they do narratives or experiences. While there are concerns about technical shit in movies, they don't dominate criticism as much as it dominates in games. Even criticism that's trying to talk about games as art pays some lip service to games as product. It's just something that people haven't really grown out of really.
I think Cara Ellison, who's another freelancer, actually now she got hired doing narrative design, she's working on Dishonored 2, which is super cool. She told me that the British mode of games journalism was focused, modeled after music writing. And the American model of games journalism was modeled after tech writing. And the U.S. model won out.
There's a real uphill battle now to talk about the personal in criticism and it's, again, an uphill battle. There's these problems in every industry where feminist criticisms or overtly political criticism where people just don't want to hear it. But it's allowed to exist in other industries. In games, they don't want to hear it and they don't want it to exist, they want it just to be completely expunged. It doesn't really make any sense to me because the internet is this huge place. You can just go elsewhere if you don't like what I or other writers write. I regularly don't read writing I don't like from authors I don't like. [Laughs.]
If you don't agree with a critic, in other industries, it's expected that you won't read their writing, no matter how influential or prominent they are. I've never always agreed with Roger Ebert, I think he's a great critic, but I think that sometimes, especially about sex and sexuality he was just wrong. So I didn't read his reviews of movies that I knew dealt with femininity or sexuality because I knew I wouldn't agree with him.
I say this as someone who as interviewed Roget Ebert and has spent time in the same screening room with him. That is not a disrespectful thing.
I think games are just afraid that they are going to be the nickelodeon, you know? Games are sort of afraid that they are still a fad because there isn't actually that much money being made as a profit in games. And that's just not true. Everyone plays a game. Even if you're playing Candy Crush, you're supporting the industry in some way.
Games don't have legitimacy to the public, even if they are ubiquitous. It takes some time for a medium to stop being pulpy and start being legit. I think because games are so young --
They're so young. Like, maximum 30 years old at this point. They're just impatient. They want to be on the same level as movies, which is the second youngest artform that they are most analogous to. They want to be taken as seriously by people at large. That's why people always ask, "What's the Citizen Kane of videogames?" Which, the answer is Half-Life 2. The question’s already been answered.
That's why people ask those questions, that's why people still ask, "Are games art?," because they just really to be told "yes" so that this thing that they work in everyday and talk about everyday and inhabit everyday can be seen as normal or as un-stupid as the kind of people that see every movie or really into the French New Wave or whatever.
But it's going to happen, it's just a matter of time. The impatience just makes them seem even more immature. That they can't just wait until they have made something truly great. They want to have all the legitimacy without any of the work.
[Laughs.] This is true.
E_ven pop_ music writing gets good writing, considerate and thoughtful writing about it. We've all read a really interesting think piece about Taylor Swift this year I'm sure. I don't think -- I think the distinction between high and low art has really become fuzzy, it's just that I think videogames distinctly are seen as low art.
A lot of that has to do with the scenes that are explored in games. It's not that they're exploring sex and violence, it's the way they're exploring sex and violence is really one note. That's had to do with the industry of the way games are made, and how writing is the last in a long list of priorities for games. It's not like writing makes a piece of media better or worse, it's just that when something is particularly hokey, you really get taken out of the experience.
But we’re writers. We would say that.
Yeah it matters to us.
I mean, I watch movies. I really like the movie Spring Breakers, and that doesn't have a script, really, or particularly good performances. But I'm able to take it in as a whole.
It has a script. I’ve read the script. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Barely has a script.
It technically has one, I've seen it. It exists.
[Laughs.] I love that movie. What other movie are you going to see James Franco fellate a gun It's great.
I often think about movies where the writing is not great and the actions not great but it's just like, these people are a series of props meant to convey to me a feeling or an experience that is only possible in this way. Games really haven't figured out what the equivalent of that is for themselves. They really still lean heavily on narrative and writing and dialogue without working on making narrative and writing and dialogue tolerable in any way.
It's not really about good or bad, it's about how much of this can -- willing suspension of disbelief. How much of this can I police the audience and get them to accept this world without making them feel like they've been duped or manipulated. It's just, it's not a cohesive medium very much, it's taking the bits and pieces from other mediums and throwing them at the wall, hoping it all works.
Are people just being lazy or what? [Laughs.]
I think people are just afraid.
Of just the bottom falling out of this industry. Our friend Maxwell Neely-Cohen --
Hi Max! [Laughs.]
-- often says these companies are publicly traded. It's not a mystery how much money they make. And, although they report to make millions upon millions of dollars, the fact is that they're always -- one game that doesn't sell very well could tank these companies. Bioshock Infinite tanked Irrational, and that was this game that sold very well and was very well reviewed. These stories aren't uncommon.
Yeah, I talked to someone -- I did two interviews this week with people who used to work at big-budget game companies. Someone who worked with Steven Spielberg on LMNO and someone else. They both were saying that these giant studios are both just paycheck to paycheck.
So you see why companies like Ubisoft, who have a formula that works -- everyone always buys the next Assassin's Creed game, they really don't want to do anything different. Watch Dogs could have broken them in a lot of ways, if it hadn't sold well, if they hadn't gotten the hype machine up, and even that wasn't too far of a departure from their other intellectual properties.
Is there a parallel for this in the cinema world?
There is if you look at just major Hollywood blockbusters in that stemming sequels, but even then there's -- like, there's way more diversity even if you just limit to just superhero movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was a major gamble for Marvel, but they did it anyway because they had faith in the project, and it was a huge fucking hit. And you can see how it justifies them to go off and do other, weirder projects. I think whenever a AAA studio tries something and it works, they say "Okay, we'll just keep doing that same exact thing forever now."
Isn't that just like all business?
Yeah, it just seems more dire here.
The diversity you see in cinema, where -- I'm not a huge Chris Nolan fan by any meaning of the word "fan," at all -- I actually fucking despise him if we're being honest.
I was going to say, so you're not a fan at all. [Laughs.]
I totally fucking hate Chris Nolan. [Laughs.]
God, like Inception -- Inception isn't a videogame that would be made in this climate. Like, it's a weird concept that took a long time to put together and could have just been a nothing. That had partially do to with he made the Batman movies and everybody wants to suck his dick. But, Ken Levine is the guy who had the same earned or unearned status as an auteur and -- we just talked about Irrational and what happened there and what happened with Bioshock Infinite.
Do you think the whole auteur theory is a bit of a misnomer in the context of videogames?
Absolutely. It doesn't work here, I don't think.
I mean, I knew you were going to say that, but please elaborate?
In cinema, everything is kind of a top-down hierarchical structure from the director to everyone else. The director really is just delegating tasks about his specific vision to a lot of different people. Games are a little bit more designed by committee, which is not a judgment, it's just sort of how they are. The work that's involved in a game is structured differently in that way, where people from different teams can be making basically editorial decisions over parts of the game that are more or less okayed by whoever is in charge, but maybe a little less strictly overseen. At least that's my impression of development. I'm not a developer, so I could be wrong but it seems like it’s more of a team effort.
Max was talking about this thing about how being a game developer is the only unsexy artistic profession, and I think it has a lot to do with game development crossing over into computer science, nerd shit, being the person who does it -- does things not through personal expression but through technical proficiency. There's a lot less of a concern over authorial intent and authorial vision in games, which makes dubbing particular designers auteurs a little more difficult. There is sometimes a sense that there are particular influences or particular messages that want to be conveyed through a game, but, there's also -- it always seems like a meeting of people that have a couple of distinct interests that they're willing to put out there rather than one particular person who is the sole author of something.
A little bit ago, you did say the word "indie," and I hate these kinds of discussions too.
I don't think it's very useful, just because -- when you think about indie it has specific connotations. Like I listened to indie music in high school and college, I was like really into Saddle Creek Records and stuff like that.
I'm just such a fucking ridiculous teenager. So yeah, that gives an image of subversion and transgressiveness. There are people like that in indie games, but the vast majority of them want to makes games like Rogue Legacy or another good survival sim. Really just wanting to make games that are similar to AAA but on a smaller scale. There's not a lot of subversion. A lot of the indie games makers that I think do feel indie in the music way might as well just call themselves visual artists a lot of the time, because a lot of the time I feel like what they are doing has more in common with Cory Arcangel, who I also don't particularly like. Cory Arcangel, as opposed to the rest of games as a whole.
Yeah. So, forget quality of games being made independently. What do you think are the factors that actually contribute to success for people who make games independently today?
God, it's kind of a crapshoot, if we're going to be honest. A lot of it is just luck and exposure. With the Sonic Dreams Collections from Arcane Kids, they had sort of a cachet -- I'm pretty sure I know the exact reason they got up on Polygon is because Nick Robinson knows them and has been aware of them for a really long time. He now works for Polygon and he made a video doing a little playthrough of the games in the Sonic Dreams collection. That's just all luck.
They've been doing that kind of shit for years, and a lot it just doesn't get any attention. But they knew somebody. That's just how it works in most industries. I got into writing because I knew somebody. I know I'm very lucky in that regard. I've met a bunch of New York writer types via Max. I love that guy so much, but he's also useful for me to know and I'm useful for him to know, because he's interested in videogames too.
I'm aware. [Laughs.]
Yeah, very much. [Laughs.]
And a lot of it has to do with skill or capturing the zeitgeist. And a lot less of it seems to have to do with polish or ideas, even. I can't really differentiate what you can do to make it as a smaller team or in the indie scene as opposed to other industries.
What's the name of that actress that was in Tree of Life and then was just in every fucking movie post-age 30? And no one had any idea who she was or where she'd come from? She was in Zero Dark Thirty also. It was a really bizarre case of, obviously she fucking knew somebody. She's kind of a great actress, but that's how these things work.
How do you see that playing out in the world of writing about games?
It's no big secret that most of the salaried writers and the freelance writers in games kind of fucking hate each other. [Laughs.]
And you end up sort of just trying to find like-minded people who will help you find opportunities to write and earn money while trying to stay away from the people you think are vampiric or just not very smart. It seems a lot worse in other industries but I don't imagine that it actually is. These things just happen. This is how human beings are. They want to be around people who are like-minded. But it does make it hard as a freelancer because -- I'm very aware of who I can and cannot piss off, and whose buttons I can press and can't press.
Do you mean outlets or?
Outlets, not so much at this point, because I know somebody at basically every outlet right now. People, absolutely. There's some people who have some power over me, and they don't always think great things, and I'd liked to be able to call them out sometimes but you just kind of can't. Because my ability to continue writing in this space is dependent on them giving a shit about who I am. Because I'm just, like, some lady, you know? I'm just some 25-year-old girl. People like my writing. But if I quit tomorrow, basically people will forget about me in a couple months.
Well, give me a year or two, maybe some of that will be different. Something I really want to try to nudge and poke is to make it feel safer for people to say whatever, because if it’s the truth, it should be said.
I'm putting everyone else's name on my stuff. [Laughs.]
People are -- a side note. Did I tell you when I talked to Austin Walker in New York we had -- I mentioned that I had talked to you and he was like, "Oh yeah, I really like that guy's website." I think more people know who you are than you think they do.
I honestly try not to think about it, and to insulate myself from it. It’s distracting. Not that I’m not grateful, but you know what I mean. Sometimes the point of a thing is doing the thing, not being in the parade for the thing.
We should talk a little bit about perception online. I mean, we can. I have no fucking clue. But that is in line with my brand, right? I don't spend much time looking at it. I literally have the traffic from my site filtered to go into a different folder and I never look at it.
I don't want to know. It's spiked on Reddit. It spiked on Reddit the first week. It was on the front page of the games Reddit, and I was in Utah sleeping on someone’s floor. My phone would just not stop and I was like, “What the fuck is going on here?” And then I figured it out and was like, “Oh, shit.” I knew it would probably only go down from there -- but that’s nothing new.
It was the same when I was an editor at The Onion, the same when I was an editor at NBC. I feel like I’m writing for people, not numbers, and that people are smart and if you put good stuff out there, they will find it.
Anyway, you are the focus here. Tell me why you think if you stop you would be forgotten tomorrow? Why do you feel like that?
I think games value newness more than anything else. You can see some writers -- Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt, they both hit 60 and then got fired. There's like no long-term career goals for anybody.
60? Do you mean --
No, not 60, they were older than most people that were doing games writing at the time.
I don't know how old people are.
I saw an article that basically said the escape plan -- if you're full-time freelance, have an escape plan for when you are 40.
Jesus christ. God.
You got seven more years before where you're where I'm at. Seven years later, I'll be like -- if I'm still alive, I'll be like: "Shit. I got one year. I gotta marry someone rich or kill someone cool." [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Yeah, no, my plan has sort of been to marry someone in a different career. Which I think is a lot of women's plans in the freelance industry is to like, just snag someone through your limitless charm and wit that has way more money than you do.
It's the American dream, man.
So it values newness, but like, by your own admission, you are new to this stuff, right?
Yeah, I'm fucking lucky. I've been doing this for about a year -- right now, games are starting to talk about race in a meaningful way and I'm non-white. Games are still deeply embroiled in gender and sexuality stuff, and I'm not straight and I'm female. So I'm at the precipice of a lot of hot topic discussions that are happening. And I'm also sort of a "new, exciting, young voice", you know?
A fresh face, with a cool voice!
Cool name, would look great on the cover of a book.
What was your perception of what this subculture was before you joined it? How did the reality not line up with what you imagined?
I was so excited to start meeting all these writers! I was a huge fan of a lot of people that just seemed so exciting and interesting. And I started doing the -- man, it's really only been a year, but I was started to become fans of certain people for a couple years prior to that. I think the first time Chris Plante tweeted at me I freaked out in my bedroom, alone. I was like, "Oh my god, he's so cool!" Turns out he's just sort of a guy who quit videogames like a year later?
That’s true. Hi Chris, other people I also know.
Cool, I like him actually. I still kind of freak out whenever he tweets at me just because I don't hear from him very often.
I was so starstruck in the beginning. Then the reality hit of how much money I was getting paid, which was not very much at all. How these people are kind of just people, and I shouldn't really be idolizing them because they're not people to idolize. Really no one is someone to idolize, but, for the most part -- if you go outside of videogames, basically no one has any idea who, say, Leigh Alexander is or Ben Kuchera or these people we think of as really big names. If we ask a person on the street who Ken Levine is they wouldn't be able to tell you. If you ask who Zoë Quinn is they might sort of know something relating to harassment.
My mom now knows who Anita Sarkeesian is and that's the only thing she'll talk to me about videogames because that's the only thing she knows about.
I just started to see how small this world is. It was useful for me because I think my writing got better because I started to look outside the tiny scope of videogames. But it also makes you start to feel, very quickly, really trapped, inside this very tiny, political, fraught, inconsequential world.
Yeah, I've called it a Burger King bathroom on the internet. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I think that's pretty accurate. I've said this thing to you before, and I'll say it here so it can be recorded for this interview. It makes me think about, there was a documentary for The Real World where they interviewed Puck, who was famous for being the mean guy in the San Francisco season, who got kicked out. And he said something about his level of fame, which was "I am now so famous that I get recognized at Taco Bell, but I am not so famous that I can stop going to Taco Bell." And that’s my destiny at this point if I just keep writing about videogames. And I feel like a lot of people in videogames recognize that's the career they've got. Occasionally they will be recognized at Taco Bell but they still have to eat at Taco Bell.
Have you been recognized on the street?
Not yet, I've been recognized by high school friends that have listened to Giant Bomb stuff now. More than one person has approached me on Twitter and been like, "I went to highschool with you! It's so cool that you're doing this." And I just want to tell them, "I'm not that person that I was in high school and also its really actually not that cool and you could start doing it tomorrow if you really wanted." The bar of entry is real low.
You’re right. But tell me a little bit about that, actually.
I told you the amount of work I put into my first article was really more than I needed to put in.
How do you perceive the bar to be low with stuff you send out and stuff you see up by other people?
For me, I'm really -- I went to this creative writing magnet school program in high school, so pretty much everyday I was writing and workshopping my own stuff and other people's stuff. I got pretty well adjusted to a pretty rigorous drafting cycle where things would go through upwards of 10 drafts before I would feel okay putting them away. That continued into college, not quite so many drafts, but I would write and rewrite things, and make sure I had as many eyes on them as possible before I turned them in. A lot of the time in games it seems like you write something about maybe get two notes back, and then it goes up the next day. For me, it doesn't seem like the best way -- I know the internet is really fast, so you don't have a leisurely pace like when you do when you're just writing shit in high school or college.
I've seen some of my own stuff go -- something of mine went up where I got someone's name wrong, and I had to email my editor after it was posted, being like, "Yo, I totally fucked that up, you gotta change it." Stuff of mine has gone up with grammatical errors or spelling errors. I'm still never sure if my arguments make logically sense when they actually go on the internet and I kinda just have to trust that people can follow what I'm saying. I don't get a lot of feedback on that stuff unless I show it to other writers, which I now have just started to do, because I need that to make sure that I'm not getting complacent.
You're talking about the difference between -- what has been taken from writers is that there are much fewer jobs. We used to be people who would sit in an office with other people doing the same things as us. We could lean back in our chair and shout, “Hey, what’s a good word for blah blah blah?” And they’d be like, “Blah!” And you’d go out for drinks after and blow off steam and bond and you’d be part of a pack. You would be a human being coexisting with other human beings.
Maddy Myers, my friend, she's now at The Mary Sue and she really likes it. She doesn't get a chance to go out and get drinks with these people but she does get the opportunity to be like, "Hey, how's this sentence feel to you?" or, "How do you feel about this idea for a thing I might put up?" She gets a kind of camaraderie from other writers and she -- before she was assistant editor at Paste, she worked for an actual magazine, like a real, physical magazine, and of course it went under. It was some weird project that was bankrolled by an immensely rich person and then it wasn't making any money anymore. But she did have a sort of "newsroom" experience. That just doesn't happen, unless you create it for yourself, and that's not -- I want to get paid for that work too.
Are you able to support yourself writing about games?
No, not at all. My parents pay my rent. [Laughs.]
I don't know how long it's going to last. I don't know what's going to happen to me if they decide tomorrow to stop. [Laughs.]
How does the reality of your situation in your work, how do you see it be misconstrued in general or also by people who read your work and criticize it?
People who criticize my work think I have a lot more power than I actually do. I say this a lot: I'm really just a fucking nobody. I'm popular with a group of writers that have a lot of traction on Twitter, but that doesn't actually translate into money in my bank account or influence over the industry. The most I've heard about my work -- I write this column thing called Wardrobe Theory, which is this style guide thing for character in videogames, which is incredibly fun to write and I love doing, but, the most I've heard about my writing from developers at any studio is that they show Wardrobe Theory articles to their co-workers, which doesn't really mean all that much.
The people who like me a lot, they also think I have more power than I actually have, but they really think I'm a lot more stable in my life than I actually am.
In what sense?
They think I have a plan? [Laughs.]
They think that I'm going to -- that I have the ability to stay exclusively writing about videogames. Or get hired anywhere. That's just not possible for me right now. They think I'm a lot happier -- I think I'm a pretty positive person, but I think the people that are fans of mine think I'm a lot happier than I actually am, when in fact, I'm a mess. Like, most of the time --
So in other words, you're normal.
Yeah, basically. I'm just a lady. And then I hear from people -- somebody on Twitter, I replied to one of his tweets, because he said something either complementary or interesting, which are now the only tweets I reply to -- everyone else just kind of gets muted -- And he responded saying "I can't believe a celebrity is talking to me on Twitter." And what I said, I remember because it was 100 percent true and also so striking that someone would call me a celebrity: “It's flattering that you think that of me, but I have to tell you that I spent the last two days in my bed eating pizza.”
Like a rockstar.
[Laughs.] An extremely poor rockstar.
That was the time when I wasn't sure whether I was going to be homeless, too. Which made it even weirder to hear from somebody, that they thought I was a celebrity.
So this was a few months ago, then?
Yeah, yeah. It was the day after.
Right. I remember. Not to make you relive it but for people reading it to get a sense of.
My lease didn't get renewed. I'm really not sure why. Well, the landlord gave me an answer, and he also told me that his sister was moving in, which made me think that his answer wasn't actually super-legit. The lease wasn't renewed.
I'm just saying, this is a recent thing.
Oh yeah. When Maddy told me to pitch and Garrett Martin, the editor of Paste Games, accepted my pitch, she told me simultaneously, “Congratulations, and I’m so sorry.” And I was really cognizant of that because a few months prior something went down with her and her good friend, our good friend Samantha Allen, where Maddy applied for a job, didn't get it, at the time, was in a pretty rough spot financially, so she complained about it, publicly, and the two of them got dogpiled by people on Twitter. Eventually Samantha Allen, who's a trans women, ended up seeing violent harassment and quit games journalism, like that day. Now she has a great job and she's living in Miami, so there's a happy end to the story.
I was just really aware of what could happen to me, and hasn't really happened. Well, no, it has happened.
People see me as a viable target for harassment or abuse. [Laughs.]
This won’t come across in the transcript, but you sort of scoffed and laughed.
It was somewhere between a scoff and a dark laugh.
[Laughs.] None of this stuff is in a bubble. There are plenty of examples of amateur monsters wanting to feel potent, and using the internet or TV or whatever as platforms for it. But I think the uniting thing in all of it is, no matter the reason, people are forgetting there’s a human being on the other side of what they’re saying. There’s a person behind the avatar. This is going to be an impossible question to answer, but why is so much dehumanization going on?
That is an impossible question to answer. I don't have the answer to that, honestly. I think it has to do with something that happens on a smaller scale with cliques are grouping that cross up in games itself where people just like being around like-minded people and see people who do not think the same way they do as inherently inferior in some way. I'm guilty of that sometimes, and I try to temper it and remember that everybody is just kind of a person, and people with opinions that are not mine are allowed to have those opinions. I still think -- some of it has to do with the general backlash against feeling like you are losing some power in a space, or that you are being shunned, or that these imagined lives that happen -- I don't know. It's easier to imagine people who are distant from you, to just project all of the feelings we have about them as their own feelings and motivations.
I was on the Giant Beastcast, Giant Bomb east's podcast, and someone in the comments, which I read all of them, I'm sorry David.
It's okay, I understand.
Like I said, I'm a little bit further down the same journey, I understand. [Laughs.]
They said that they were afraid that I didn't have a healthy outlet for my anger because I use my Twitter as a space to vent. And they made a lot of assumptions about my motivations and whether or not I see a therapist -- which is fucking hilarious. I’ve been in therapy since I was ten. But they directly spoke from their own experience when talking about me.
And it's easier to understand someone you've never met but you are being forced to interact with or think of as part of your life, it's easier just to make something up about them then to actually step back and say, "They're just a stranger.” It's just a way of humans trying to make sense of this unique experience, of hearing people and seeing people interact with you with a level of friendliness while also being aware that they are different from you in a really fundamental way. It's hard to admit that you're never going to know somebody when you feel like you know them.
Tell me a little bit about branding.
Like, is this a thing that you think about?
It's a way to have some sort of longevity, you know? If you can be easily digestible. In a way, it's sort of making that process of dehumanization easier because, if your name can be followed up with a three- to five-word descriptor, people will more easily remember who you are. So my twitter handle is @xoxogossipgita, which, at the time I was just watching a lot of Gossip Girl.
Gossip Girl's a great show, if you haven't seen it you should see it. But at the time, when I started branding, I realized, "Maybe this is super-unprofessional?" Or maybe, I can just sort of incorporate this into my persona online, as a way to sort of round the edges off of my personality. Because yeah, I write about fashion, and I like gossip, and, you know, I'm a young, pretty girl. I always feel like I'm bragging when I say I'm pretty, it's just I'm aware that I won some sort of genetic lottery.
Which is weird to know about yourself, but I think it's better to know yourself than to try to -- it just comes off as really irritating when people who are really pretty talk about how they don't ever think about it or they don't think of themselves as pretty.
That’s true. “Check out how humble I’m being.”
There is a part of me that's fun to play with, especially on the internet, where I like to put up a defensive armor, which is: "I'm Regina George from Mean Girls." She's a character, she's easy to swallow as a character, she's not really all that complicated. Her motivations aren't all that complicated. So, when I tweet stuff that's sort of divisive or maybe mean on Twitter, it’s funny and it’s easier for people to swallow if they think of me as a character from Mean Girls. And they also find it more interesting if I'm a character instead of a person.
Do you feel like the stuff that you write for publications as a -- for money, as a professional -- needs to be an extension of that image?
The fashion stuff, definitely. One-hundred percent. The fashion stuff is a little bit kinder than the way Regina George would tell you about the way you dress. But I'm playing up that image of me being not very smart or this ditsy girl in her twenties being a girl in her twenties.
I write a lot of more academic shit too, or more researched or more dealing and grappling with bigger ideas. But I know that there's a lot of people on Twitter who follow me exclusively for my tweets and have never read anything that I wrote. So I think there's actually a disconnect -- I know there's people that follow me because of the podcast I do and not for anything that I've written. And I don't think there's a lot of crossover.
So I've become three different things. To the games writing, academia clique, I'm the girl who talks about race. To my Twitter followers, I'm the untouchable black hottie. To my podcast listeners, I think people keep talking to me about how great my laugh is, and they just see me as sort of a sweet, nice girl. There's not a lot of crossover between those groups.
Do people feel like they know you?
Yeah. People feel like I'm their friend that I don't necessarily know. At all.
How do you navigate that as a 25-year-old “black hottie?”
I mute a lot of people. I block people. I pretty much publicly shame people if they cross the line too hard. One time I was complaining about not having enough money to go blonde again, which now I do, have enough money to go blonde again, so you might see that. Super pumped.
I was also talking about beauty norms. Sort of going into whiteness as the beauty ideal and being frustrated that it's sometimes hard for me to date because it's always a weird process of explaining how I ended up this way before people actually see me as a human being. And someone tweeted at me that their type was dark-skinned blonde girls. I was like, "That's completely fucking disgusting." And I blocked him, and I made a big deal about it. So that happens time to time, but mostly --
Some guy the other day on Twitter was tweeting about an anime, Escaflowne, which is a great show. He immediately tweeted at me, "Oh this show’s not that good. It's irritating. Oh have you seen this? By the way I guess I liked your appearance in the Beastcast." I linked it to my friend in our secret Slack chat that we have to talk about all our problems. I was like, "Is this guy negging me right now?" They were all immediately like, "Yes." So I immediately muted that guy. [Laughs.]
Yeah! Yeah. It's more fun for me now. I's a level of tolerance. I have to ask some question than to just say things. Sometimes, they're interesting questions, like I ask people about what personal theories they have about pieces of media that sort of fix them for you. And I got all these really cool and interesting answers and I just retweeted them all, I was having a good time reading them.
But then I ask dumb things like, "Hey, I basically only have avocados and eggs in my fridge or some instant Ramen, what should I eat?” And then I'll get replies back that are really insistent that I should make a particular kind of meal that includes ingredients that I don't have in the fridge. And then when I don't make it, people get even more insistent that I've done the wrong thing, that I should have made what they told me to make.
I used to post selfies. I don't do that anymore, because I just don't want to think about what people would say to me. But people would want to dress me up like a doll, you know? I just talked about wanting a pug on Twitter and people were like, "No, this other breed of dog is more attractive and cute." It's just like, I fucking like pugs! You're not going to change that fundamental part of me. I'm a pug person, it's not an argument about the things that I like or the opinions that I hold. This is not a discussion, this is me stating a fact. [Laughs.]
Do you consider yourself a successful games writer?
No, not really.
What are the relationships that seem to matter for people who you do consider to be successes in the same field?
A lot of it is the ability of people to put in a lot of money to this without getting any back for a while. Being able to just move to New York or San Francisco right away and work in a job that's not going to give you a livable wage. Or the ability to just go to conferences and meet people before you have a job. It's a lot less about knowing writers than demonstrating that you’re going to throw yourself in the rocks for them. It's, I guess, not what relationships but what kind of relationships. A lot of the time it just seems like just admitting to the way that these people see the world and what matters to them and admitting that those things are more important than the things you care about.
What "people" do you mean?
Oh, people who will hire you. People who work at the three websites that hire people. Or the ones that are the most popular. I guess I'm talking about Polygon, Kotaku, and Giant Bomb, who are the ones that most regularly list job openings. Just falling under the house style for those places before you even work there, then demonstrating that you are still willing to do that once they hire you.
I sounded like an adult there.
You sounded like such an adult, I'm so proud of you. [Laughs.]
Thank you, it was all phonetical.
Should they do anything? Could they do anything?
I think the best thing to do is just to ignore that audience and start acting like -- I think the best thing that they could do is just to dissolve the "games media" all together. Just become other kinds of websites that also write about videogames for an audience that isn't, that aren't the kind of people that watch the E3 conferences, you know? I think, if the games media wants to not have to deal with all the toxicity that's within games culture, it's about not making it an exclusive space anymore and acknowledging and writing for people who also play games that don't consider themselves gamers.
And that's what I try to do with my own writing, write beyond that audience. I don't know how much it works, I don't really know who reads my stuff. Definitely not the intended audience. I write this fashion column for women and teenage girls, really. And I haven't heard from a single teenage girl, which is really disappointing to me. I really hope someone read my Mirror's Edge style guide and went out and bought all those things I recommended.
Yeah, I just don't really see the point of those websites existing anymore, because they only seem to feed into this idea that games are capital "s" Special, and need to be preserved in the way that they are, forever, and to this idea that, "We own this space that belongs to us, we are entitled to it.”
Maybe some of this points to consumer culture in general? Games writing started as that. Whereas film writing, if I am remembering correctly, started in journals.
Yeah, mostly journals. Journals not for people, really.
Do you have people who are hardcore Marvel movie fans going over and shit-talking on boards for Criterion releases?
I mean, not really. Even Criterion has done every Wes Anderson movie and they do action movies from time to time. I think they did Pearl Harbor.
I'm trying to make a somewhat equal comparison to the level where things are in games.
I mean, yeah, Marvel movie fans are talking shit about the Cahiers du Cinéma, or something like that. In other industries, there is an acknowledgement that people can write these heady, weird, artistic, personal essay whatevers, and you might not like it, but they're just going to do that. In games, the idea is that, the people who write like that shouldn't be employed and shouldn't get money for it, at all.
Who's sending that message?
The audience that they're writing for. [Laughs.]
But isn't it also the outlets in a way too?
Yeah. I've been surprised at the certain kinds of pitches that have been accepted, because, right now all I'm writing are personal essays. I guess my byline is just popular enough, or whatever. I remember Maddy was telling me a couple years ago there was a big argument over whether or not people should use personal pronouns or write in the first person for games websites. Which is hilarious because that has been a discussion that has gone on in journalism that happened a very long time ago. People pretty much decided it was fine, for a certain context.
The outlets really aren't interested in writing as a craft at all. Which I think is part of the reason why most of the writing on these websites isn't great. Another part of it is you just have to write something today and it goes up the minute you finish it. It makes it hard to do things that are more experimental because you're not sure what the staff you are going to give it to are going to do with it. I've definitely written things that were less weird when they went through revision than they were when I wrote them. And been kind of disappointed at how they got sort of "normaled" by people.
[Laughs.] How do you mean? You don't have to talk about a specific piece or outlet but just the general practices.
I do personal essays now, that's pretty much all that I do. And sometimes I get hella dark. And I just don't know how dark I'm allowed to be. I wrote like six things in a row about being extremely depressed, all the time. Three of these articles had references to me crying. In a way, you got the sense that the outlets really wanted that kind of work from me because they were affecting, but also it made me feel less attractive to keep around on a more permanent basis because they gave the sense that I was not the happiest person.
So, in other words, you're normal?
Yeah, just expressing any kind of human emotion becomes a liability. Especially if you do it in your writing, even if you know your writing's going to do well on the site.
How do you let go of people's negative reactions to you online?
Oh, I just got off the internet. [Laughs.]
I made a whole bunch of friends that are constantly having basement shows in our house, I go to those. I also co-founded and help run an art gallery, so I just hang out and do art stuff. On the weekends, I take my Twitter off my phone, and I try not to check my emails. I usually have a meeting with this person that I run the gallery with, so my mind is just in a completely different space. Occasionally I'll talk to those people I know in real life about these dumb videogame problems and they will just be aghast at the things that I have to complain about. Then it just becomes clear that you have to take the videogame blinders off. It's so small, these dramas are so inconsequential, they have almost no bearing on who I am as a person or the actual rest of my life, which is full of stuff that's probably more interesting most of the time.
Why do you think people get the sense that they can glean any sort of picture into who you are to make personal statements about you from just the internet?
It's the same reason people see the face of Jesus in a pancake. We’re just trying to fill in the blanks. [Laughs.]
How do you let go of the positive things people say about you online? Because sometimes those can be just as damaging.
Yeah. In my youth I had pretty low self-esteem. That continued basically until the end of college. In college there was this thing called some Oberlin students I'd seen made a short documentary of, called Slut Bitch Crazy. It’s on Vimeo. Anyway, it's this horrible anonymous message board and -- people talked a lot of shit about me on there in college. Mostly they were calling me a slut, which is not uncommon, but it's just the sheer force of daily knowing people thought I was a huge slut and an asshole and a bitch was pretty damaging to me on a personal level.
And it was around that point that I decided, yeah, anything anyone has to say, positive or negative, I can allow it to affect me, but I have to know that I know myself better than anyone else -- it's hard for me to accept compliments in general because I don't really -- anything that really makes me feel like I'm done or I'm finished or I don't have to work anymore I'm distrustful of. You know, when you write something, you never really finish it, you just decide you can't look at it any longer. That it's good enough.
And that's how I see everything about myself. It's not actually that difficult for me to let go of positive things, I don't trust it. A lot of the time when people are overly complimentary of you, they really just want something from you, and I don't have a lot to give, and I'm pretty protective of myself.
I'm better at just saying "thank you" when someone compliments me, and sometimes when it's a friend that tell me I did something well, I'll accept that. But compliments from strangers don't mean anything.
Tell me a little about LiveJournal.
Okay, great. [Laughs.]
I’m asking, because you said this connects and you specifically wanted to make sure we touched on it.
I got really into LiveJournal around 2001, 2002. I started reading Harry Potter fanfiction when I was, like, 10. I made my own when I was 12. Then, high school was when I really started getting into talking -- my other friends I was making in high school, they also had LiveJournals, so then it became a really big part of my life. I would read all their entries and comment on all their posts and they would do the same for me.
A large part of my LiveJournal stuff though was being very mildly involved in communities, mostly about Harry Potter. I know a lot of shit about people who are now YA authors based on the things that they used to do LiveJournal, which is really funny to me, always.
What I mainly remember about LiveJournal as a teenage boy is that I probably wasn’t the audience for it. I definitely had male friends who used it, but it mostly my female friends who were on there.
It was a really female place, which was really nice and totally unusual. It became -- I didn't know until I was 16 that most of the internet not on LiveJournal, the default gender was assumed male. Like it was that female.
My friend, who is now a publishing agent, was also big in some LiveJournal fandom, some Tumblr fandom. He told me that for a long time he got tired of explaining to people that he wasn't a woman. [Laughs.]
Which is so bizarre, because everywhere else in the internet is completely the opposite.
I remember a friend's little sister would basically treat it as a diary, but it seemed to be an open diary that other people in the community could see. I remember there was a thing at the very end to specify what your mood was when you wrote it and what song was playing at the time.
Yeah, and you could even do a plug-in with your Winamp player.
So it would be automated. Often I would skip to a "correct" song to make sure it wasn't obvious when I wrote this really emo post about how mean my friends were being to me.
I was about to say, yeah with your Winamp and your Bright Eyes skin, being into Saddle Creek Records.
I actually had a bunch of anime skins for my Winamp player. I had a Trigun skin for a while. [Laughs.]
This is the second time Winamp has come up this week. [Laughs.]
Winamp was a great little program! I liked Winamp a lot.
Hey, I registered it.
Wow. I never did that.
I was a fool because I thought people who create things I enjoy should get money. Now, look and see where that attitude got you and me today.
You fucked up.
I always took the high ground. [Laughs.]
No, you didn't tell me about that at all.
She just got laid off last year, been at Nintendo for 22 years, spent the first eight and a half years manning the phones for gamers in the 90s. This is pre-internet, so I'm just trying to give you context if you don't remember quite what it was. I was actually a little fuzzy myself because I was just a kid. But it was a number you could call where if you're stuck on a game, you would get tips. It was free to begin with, then it became a regular, long-distance call because they couldn't shoulder the cost of it anymore.
So she had talked to something like 150,000 gamers in the ‘90s. Just a colossal number. But the data is a little skewed, because they switched to charging people, and when they started to charge, there was a direct correlation to people being kind of nasty and just like, "Get to the point. I'm paying money, just tell me where the fucking key is!" Whereas before it would be a little bit more of a jovial conversation, like, “Here’s a couple hints!” Trying to encourage and nurture people along.
And it wasn't just kids who were calling. It would be grandmothers and parents, who were also playing. I asked her -- and your memories of LiveJournal basically pick up after where she left off, because it got to a point where she asked for a transfer because she had become so saturated with talking to other people about videogames and taking the brunt of their verbal abuse. Which is a concerning thought or a cautionary tale for people like ourselves, I suppose.
Were people this horrible to each other on Livejournal?
There were, if you look in the right places, there's long documents about various really famous LiveJournal dramas. The msscribe scandal -- I wasn’t sure if you’d like to hear about the particulars of any of them. Most of them have become meme-ified and I have strong memories of them.
I'm building an oral history here, so, please. It's impossible to bore me.
So msscribe was a person that really wanted to be in -- if you look at it now, it's so sad -- all she wanted, not to employed anywhere or make money off of scamming people. All she wanted to do was to be friends with some of the big-name fans in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fanfiction circles. She was successful in this also. She created a bunch of sockpuppet LiveJournal accounts, populated them so they looked like normal humans, then started using half of them to harass her and the other half to support her.
She did totally enter the inner circle of certain big-name fan LiveJournal people, who I only don't mention by their LiveJournal username or their real names because some of them have gone on to writing real things which they get money, and some of them are YA authors right now.
She was found out and it became thing huge thing where people couldn't believe that they had been tricked so badly. It was also so funny that her cover story once the veil was drawn was so laughably bad. It became very popular to mock the whole thing. People never went as far as finding out where this lady lived and sending stuff to her house. They mostly just sent her a lot of comments and wrote posts back on LiveJournal. She was allowed to quietly leave the scene. People still don't know what her real name is, they just wanted people to know that she was lying to everyone all the time.
There's a couple other instances of that. There were some instances of people seriously scamming money and doing stuff like that, but the harassment that occurred on LiveJournal didn't happen for no reason. It happened because you did something that was either breaking the law or you were hoodwinking a lot of people.
Some person got a lot of money out of people to host a convention and told them that the actors from Lord of the Rings were going to be there. When they all showed up it was nothing and they were all stranded in I think Austin for a weekend. She also, I'm not sure if I'm confusing two stories, but it was either this person or someone else that had claimed that they had met Dominic Monaghan from Lord of the Rings and was their friend and all this shit. They were getting money from people for prints of drawings that she had made of personal photos of them. Then one person was suddenly like, "Hey this is just a Photoshopped picture of this publicly available picture of this actor." And suddenly it was a horrible deluge of people being like, "I can't believe I was so fucking stupid for giving this woman money.”
People have, in documenting these things -- I'll send you a link of one of the Wikipedia dedicated documenting LiveJournal dramas of old -- they really wanted to know cause and effect. They didn't want people to be hurt for no one reason. People who controlled other people were mostly left off to their own corner to just do that. Really big, really well remembered drama all had to do with someone doing something explicitly totally shit, as far as I can remember.
It feels like the internet was so different not so long ago.
Yeah. Someone like msscribe would never have gotten away with the things she did then now.
God, I mean people pay such attention to follower counts. The difference between bots and having a really concentrated, puppeting campaign is that bots are just trying to boost you up, the sock puppet thing is creating a narrative about yourself and making people believe that narrative. You can just do that on your own now, it's not very difficult to just make shit up about yourself and pretend that it's true forever.
Are we just getting dumber?
I don't know. I think people still want to be trusting is the thing. People aren't skeptical.
Someone said this to me about my taste of men, which is notoriously terrible. She said, "Girl I just don't think you have any defenses.” I feel like that's how people feel about people on the internet. People would rather the things you say be true than them be a massive lie.
Given that you came to this stuff within the last year and what happened last summer, and what continues to happen -- I don't know if you know any of the people who were at the helm of any of those sites who could have made a different call or to do anything different. Do you get the sense, do any of them feel like they made a mistake? Or any sense of responsibility.
Some of them I know. The ones that I'm friendly with I think feel like they made some kind of mistake by not making it clear on an editorial level that the discussions that were being entertained on Twitter or off of their site weren't welcome on their sites, and then not covering it anymore.
I think a couple of people -- I remember talking to some people last year around this time and indicating that I was frightened and I didn't know what to do, and that I felt really scared and threatened and the response just being, "Well what can we do? What is there to do, other than to just let this happen?”
Now we can sort of see, well there's a lot of things that could have been done that weren't done at all. I think they just feel as powerless as anyone else in the face of this audience. The most they seem to be doing -- making jokes about it, which doesn't really help. While they are funny, it doesn't really help. And even now, while I think privately a lot of them feel a certain sense of responsibility, they still feel powerless.
I don't know.
It was fear, mostly. Because at this time last year, there was a lot more fear. We didn't know what could happen and people were getting doxxed. I guess this time last year, Phil Fish had all of his documents hacked into. I couldn't believe when I saw a tweet from Polytron saying a special announcement and I thought maybe Phil Fish had done a Phil Fish thing and un-cancelled Fez 2 just caused he fucking felt like it. And instead it was all his personal information.
And I didn't sleep at all that night because there was a feeling that if you said anything that could be you. But at the same time, the reason why they had so much power was because no one was saying anything. No editors were saying anything, no sites were saying anything as a collective. Everyone was just having their own personal opinions on their blogs or their twitters, but the industry wasn't taking a stand.
And it makes you feel like they are just sort of happy to let this trash can fire burn out. That it doesn't really matter to them, that other people in the industry that don't have the kind of protections that they do are having their lives destroyed.
I had a conversation with someone earlier this summer at E3 who told me basically that the game industry is not able to be embarrassed because it has no sense of shame. I may have said this to you already, but I'd like to pose the question to you anyway because I did think about it over the summer.
Something that has no shame has no sense of identity. So what does that say about the videogame industry?
Huh. That's a really good question.
That's Maslow, bitches! Look it up.
I did some research. [Laughs.]
You read books from time to time.
Don’t tell people. I record these interviews from a microphone on a stack of books. [Laughs.]
Oh my God. [Laughs.]
But, really, to stay focused: What does that mean, if it doesn’t have an identity?
It just means it's not really an industry. You said that to me and I thought about it and I think you're right but it's just -- the way that games exists now isn't going to exist in maybe five years, definitely not in a decade. This is not sustainable, if games can't look inward and correct mistakes, then it's just going to collapse. It's dead. It's already -- it sometimes feels like hanging out with a corpse, going to a funeral, watching things go down in the industry that are just horrific and everyone's just sort of like, "Well that's just the way it is!" Because if you can't say, "No, it could be better," then what's the fucking point?
What do you think videogames have accomplished?
For me, from my perspective with a background in the arts and cinema, videogames are most interesting and accomplish most in the ways that they open up new media art. Videogames are a tool to make art. And that's the most interesting thing that they have accomplished.
I don't really like a lot of the stuff that's happening in the fine arts centered around videogames. But I like the way that these arbitrary systems of games are broken by people who are outside of it. Games are a tool for people that aren't in the industry.
Which we just said doesn't exist.
Yeah. Games, the industry as they think of itself, doesn't exist.
But yeah, there's a lot of people -- games as an industry does encompass the things that they'd rather not think about or acknowledge. And I mean stuff that's even farther outside of it than Glitch City or other shit. That's part of why it's not really an industry because -- people in Hollywood don't necessarily like weird art films or shit like my old professor does, but they acknowledge it as part of cinema, as a part of the industry that they work in. They are allowed to exist in that space. They are allowed to crossbreed and you are allowed to have influences from outside the industry proper.