A writer and editor turned game developer who has previously worked for websites such as Destructoid and the Escapist, TechRaptor was lucky enough to talk to Allistair Pinsof for a series of interviews about the current state of the gaming media. First up in this series we catch up, talk about Allistair’s opinions on the current state of the gaming media and the recent firings at his old media sites.
Disclaimer: Allistair’s interview had been re-arranged into sections, with Allistair’s permission, to make for more manageable reading. No edits have been made to the interview save for spelling and grammar.
All views are the interviewee’s own and not necessarily shared by TechRaptor.
TR: Firstly, introduce yourself and tell us what you are up to at the moment.
I used to write for various publications, most notably independent game site Destructoid as Features Editor, and now I awkwardly write about myself in interview introductions, apparently. After departing from journalism, I began learning to code with web development in mind. It quickly dawned on me that it wasn’t for me and the obvious suddenly presented itself: Make a game. So, I spent a year teaching myself to code and make art (never even drew before). With the foundation in place, I’ve begun making headway on my first game. Not enough yet that I feel comfortable showing it or talking about it in detail, though. As someone who only wants to be judged by his own words, actions and creative endeavors, the recent events and climate of the game industry and community has spurred me to be more vocal with these issues on Twitter. It is in no way coincidence that me being vocal coincided with me being in the moving process, away from my work and gaming consoles. No way at all …
TR: What made you decide to come forward and finally agree to be interviewed?
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was seeing that IGF Chairman Brandon Boyer blocked me on Twitter and refuses to respond to my amiable emails, along with other journalists and developers in his circle. Keep in mind, I wasn’t on the IGDA’s or any other published blocklist (never followed key GG members, just 2 or 3 moderates and devs) so this was a decisive action and one likely made in an online or offline group. It’s effectively a blacklist, brought on by nothing more than me voicing my concerns with the industry. I never tweeted at these people directly or presented myself as a threat. It became clear that whatever I was worried would happen from speaking out has already happened, so it may be good for other developers and the gaming community for me to speak honestly about my time in game journalism and the things I witnessed and experienced.
TR: What is your relationship now with Destructoid and the gaming media?
There isn’t one. As weird as it sounds, I never was completely ostracized or hated after the drama around me being fired in 2013. It wasn’t until being tied to GamerGate that people suddenly unfollowed, blocked, or refused to talk. I firmly believe it has a lot to do with fear of being questioned or punished by their peers.
A year ago, this fantastic YouTuber Super Bunny Hop was going to tell my story. I trusted him so I gave him my complete honest story along with documented proof backing everything I said. After a couple interviews and emails, I realized how much it was stressing me out to dig that stuff back up so I backed out. He was really cool about everything and remains one of my favorite YouTubers. Here’s the kicker: He voiced concern throughout that he was worried if he’d be blacklist by the media himself by telling my story. He eventually joined the Game Journo Pros group. Now he won’t even respond to me. I’m not ragging on him or anything. I think he’s an incredible voice with a strong sense of ethics and values, whose views on GamerGate and the gaming community align with my own (see his 2014 retrospective video). I’m saying this to highlight how even he, an independent YouTuber, is ruled by this fear of being shunned or punished by the movers and shakers of games media. It seems everyone in gaming right now is acting and reacting out of fear of some sort of boogeyman. It’s not a healthy place for a creative industry to be in.
TR: Do you think Dale North’s leaving from Destructoid had anything to do with your situation?
Is there any doubt? He emailed me asking what I would do in his situation, since readers were attacking the site for various reasons. He claimed he had no idea how things went down with me (e.g. staff pressuring me into action and giving me false information of death threats toward individuals that stirred me into action) and played dumb. Seemed too little too late. He said he was frustrated with Niero and done with dealing with his lack of control — the real reason why things went down as chaotically as they did with me in 2013. I said before, I should have just been fired and left it at that. Instead, Niero put on a public circus, trying to manage appealing to both an LGBT mob and my fans by fabricating info and revising stories on a daily basis. Considering how much money they lost after all that crap, you can say honesty does pay.
I told Dale in his email, “I’d apologize for my staff’s actions and offer an invitation to collaborate and publicly right wrongs previously committed. Make clear what mistakes were made on both sides, what accusations are false, and set an example that sites and people can change. I’d also use the platform to denounce online abuse toward Anita and Zoe — every site has, but if it involved such a pro-GamerGate story it’d have an actual impact.”
I guess Niero disagreed and Dale left to better things. He’s not the most responsible or aware editor, but he’s a cool guy and I wish him the best. I hope one day our corgis will meet and I can tell him how his ancient corgi wisdom made me the proud corgi father I am today.
TR: Do you think the recent layoffs at the Escapist are indicative of a larger shakeup in the video game journalism industry?
Yes and no. In 2012 and 2013, a lot of big game sites went through major layoffs and made changes toward video production to appeal to the YouTube crowd. They lost a lot of respect and trust from that crowd in 2014 that is going to make it very difficult to stay afloat. The ones that will survive will be drama-free sites like GameSpot. They don’t post inflammatory articles that provoke readers and they have a staff that is closer to 50% female/minority than others; their actions speak louder than other outlets’ words. I can go there and not feel bad about myself and hobby.
For sites like Polygon, which saw Ben Kuchera double down on his online harassment and inflammatory articles, it seems like a lost cause. I respect most their staff, but their decision to get political while isolating a major portion of women and minorities that sided with GamerGate, or merely wanted to remain neutral but were labeled GG due to sharing similar views, will hurt their cause. You can’t claim to be inclusive toward all groups while hosting an editor who feeds a hate campaign toward members of GamerGate — and yeah THIS is an actual hate campaign against GG, since the majority of GG’s critics agree its members shouldn’t be judged as individuals and treated like garbage. GG does the same toward feminists extremists (or SJWs, if you like). People rather debate how this started and conduct a slap-fight rather than seek to make peace and progress. I got thrown into the mosh pit after expressing my disgust in extremists of both groups.
Am I an SJW or gator, now? My former employer called me extreme SJW while my critics call me a GG supporter. I’ve received hate from both sides with little support in-between. Maybe your commentators will help clear that up, because thank God we’re past people treating each other as individuals who can be judged by their own opinion and actions. Now we can get down to the important stuff: What vaguely defined group does the majority think you belong to?
TR: What do you feel is the biggest issue with the current state of Gaming Journalism?
Cronyism and questionable collaboration between media, judges, PR, and developers.
It’s become increasingly difficult to find a site that hasn’t had recent controversy over funding, living with, or having unprofessional relationships with the subjects they are reporting on or critiquing. Online game journalism and the indie game dev scene are both young and full of people who matured in the industry together. It seems natural that these people will be friendly and familiar with each other via various trade shows, industry parties, and press junkets. But when you are writing about your roommate and friends’ games for months without disclosing or when the Chairman of the IGF is in a private group with other game journalists and journalists-turned-PR, that is betraying your readers’ trust. Instead of being responsible, admitting mistakes and seeking to repair, they denied, dismissed or retaliated against critics, many of whom are their readers and fans.
The general cronyism and boy’s club mentality of the games press created a culture where decisions to collectively affect people’s lives, negatively or positively, can easily be made via the Game Journo Pros group, which was what happened to me. I don’t buy into any conspiracy theories but it is human nature that such a group where authority and power is held can cause parties, who should act independently in their readers’ interest and own moral compass, to cave to peer pressure instead. It also builds a culture where ethical breaches at companies will be ignored by others in faith others will do the same for them, should the time come. Media reporting on media is never normal or easy but there have been many instances where this should have happened in the past year but didn’t.
Forgive me if this is a crude comparison but this is the way I see the games media as opposed to other media: It’s like a family gathering where a distant relative who is a sex offender shows up. People whisper awkwardly but its generally agreed that confronting them or making a scene will just make things more awkward or invite chaos from the group, so everyone just ignores. What the media should be like is a neighborhood, where some people will be in some circles together but NEVER should EVERYONE be in the SAME circle. If a sex offender moves into the neighborhood, some will investigate, some will ignore, and some will even defend. The point being, their own judgment and investigation would lead their actions, not peer pressure.
Admittedly, the industry is so small and focused in such a specific area (SF mostly) that it seems almost impossible to escape the group think. Ignoring other sites’ mistakes and industry drama of recent months is mainly self-preservation for media who will inevitably see each other multiple times a week via local junkets and trade shows. I don’t know if it can be fixed, which is why I put my trust in certain YouTubers and turn to drama-free sites like GameSpot and Giant Bomb for entertainment, not brutal honesty.
TR: Do you think the gamers can address corruption on the part of big publishers or is that up to games media?
They are the only ones, really. Money talks. Whenever media addresses wrongful practices, it riles up the people and it’s the people that these companies are focused on. It’s why so many companies are silent during this GamerGate drama. I’m sure a lot of them don’t have a dog in this fight and are being silent until they feel it’s safe to come out and pick a side. It’s all business, so it’s hard to get mad at any of them. One thing I would like to highlight is that for all the good that media and social critics think they are doing by holding a campaign against consumers, it’s really companies like Ubisoft (ironically called sexists due to no female lead in latest Assassin’s Creed) and Bioware who have been holding women only game jams, job fairs, and meet-ups. Actions speak louder than words and as far as I’m concerned most of these companies don’t need to say anything.
TR: What do you think of YouTube commentators and their emergence in gaming media?
Since I joined the gaming press officially in 2011, there has always been a narrative that YouTube is the future and traditional press is on the way out. My peers ignored them when they emailed asking to be promoted on the site’s news feed, hated them when they got more attention from PR and devs at events, and now imitate them because it’s the only way for most games media sites can survive without firing the majority of staff.
It may sound like doom-and-gloom, but it’s a positive change for game enthusiasts and industry. It means you have people who you know will act responsibly because they know the price they’ll pay if their audience knows they are corrupt. It also means you have genuine, enthusiasm and experts covering games again. The jack-of-all-trades media types are being replaced with people who are experts at individual genres, topics, or coverage-type.
I watch way, way too many gaming videos on YouTube and it always blows my mind to think I used to think G4 was as good as it’d get. Every day I am discovering new voices that make me think, laugh, and feel in a way games media hadn’t. I’m also happy to step away from the toxic witch hunts and fire-and-brimstone political rhetoric that games media have adopted in recent years in order to get traffic back. I love some members of the games media to death and I also think there’s a lot of opportunistic scum on YouTube, but overall this is a good change for the industry and community. We’re learning to celebrate games together again, rather than celebrating media icons bagging on companies and readers.
You can find what else Allistair had to say about GamerGate, industry relationships and what happened at Destructoid in the rest of our series. You can find him on Twitter.
What are your thoughts? Are the recent layoffs and closures in the gaming media forewarning of things to come?