I’m sure you remember that I used to write for The Escapist. Then the site sort of fell apart and most of the creators were let go. It ran like that for a couple of years before it died completely and they got rid of everyone aside from Yahtzee. The site has since been in this zombie state and I think a lot of us have been assuming the domain would go dark the next time it was up for renewal.
But this week Russ Pitts – who was Editor-in-Chief back when I was recruited to write for the site back in July of 2008 – announced that The Escapist had been acquired by new owners and he was now EiC again.
People are wondering if I knew about this and if I might work for them. Yes and maybe. We’ve each expressed that we’d like to work together again, but nobody has made any concrete plans.
On the Escapist side, I’m not sure how I’ll fit into their plans. Games media is obviously a lot more video-based now than it was a decade ago, and I imagine that’s where a lot of focus needs to be. On my side, I can’t take on any work that threatens my schedule here at Twenty Sided. Over 400 people support me on Patreon, and I have to make sure I meet the expectations of those people before I go running off to take on more work.
There’s one thing about the announcement that I think needs to be put into context. At one point Pitts says:
Politics are everywhere, but they donâ€™t have to be everything.
One thing I can tell you without delay or equivocation: Weâ€™re leaving politics at the door. Most of us have thoughts about politics. Just like most of you. And, because weâ€™re creators, those thoughts might show up in our work. Avoiding that would be unnatural. That said, I can promise you no one here will share their politics in an attempt to convince you yours are wrong. And your worth will not be calculated based on whether youâ€™re on the left or on the right. Politics are everywhere, but they donâ€™t have to be everything. Weâ€™re going to focus on whatâ€™s fun, and we hope youâ€™ll join us in that.
A few people took this to mean that the site was never going to acknowledge politics. They sort of assumed that Pitts was promising some sort of hazy milquetoast editorial voice that would be unable to discuss things like the racism / classism messages in BioShock Infinite, the mangled racism metaphor in Deus Ex Mankind Divided, or any of the loaded political imagery employed by Spec Ops: The Line. So I think some context is required to understand where this “no politics” idea is coming from.
After the Escapist died its first death, it began to slide into the realm of overt political messaging. This was after I left and I’m not aware of any concrete examples, but I’ve got friends on the left and the right and I’ve heard both complain about whatever the site was doing at the time. They didn’t like that The Escapist had decided to “get political” by hiring politically-charged creators or publishing certain articles or whatever. (Rumor has it that the management leaned one way politically while the editorial staff leaned that other. So you’d end up with this strange mixed messaging where policy and hiring decisions favored one side but the text of articles leaned the other. I have no idea if this is accurate and I’ve never fact-checked it with my former Escapist colleagues because there’s no way to ask about it without sounding like a jackass.)
While I’ve never been an employee, never visited the Escapist offices, and have no special insider knowledge on what was going on after I left, I strongly suspect this political stuff was less about pushing an agenda and more about trying to make money. I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that someone noticed how easy it is to get clicks if you piss people off. “Outrage as engagement” is a powerful tool. Like I said on Twitter last week:
I've been trying to convince people of this for years. If you get angry at everything a website posts, you might not be their enemy. You might be their target market.
They don't care what you think. They just want the traffic. https://t.co/7wrYk1HNPf
— Shamus! Young! (@shamusyoung) July 24, 2018
The Escapist even had a section of their forums dedicated to talking about politics and religion. Again, I doubt this was out of a desire to create a marketplace of ideas. I’m sure it was because flame wars equals traffic equals money.
The problem with this behavior is that it’s poisonous to the site as a whole. It stops being a place to go to discuss your favorite hobby and instead becomes a place where you get into nasty protracted arguments with the idiotsYou can tell they’re idiots because they disagree with you. of the internet. That’s good for pumping up the traffic numbers in the short term, but it changes the focus of the site. If people are here to ride their bandwagon through a landscape of crowd-sourced demagoguery, virtue signaling, and moral panic, then they’re no longer here to talk about games. Even if you’re like me and you avoid that sort of business, it’s off-putting to have every comment thread devolve into the same right-vs-left brawl. The site will get more traffic in the short term, but in the long term it loses its identity and becomes unappealing to risk-averse advertisers.
So when Pitts pledges that they’re “leaving politics at the door”, I imagine he’s promising they’re not going to be doing THAT nonsense.
So that’s what’s going on. Russ is still building his team so it’ll probably be a little while before we see what the new Escapist looks like. I don’t know if I’ll be involved, but I’m really hoping it’s a success either way.
 You can tell they’re idiots because they disagree with you.
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