Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Escapist and Me

Shamus Young | 27 Jan 2015 19:00
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Last week I said I'd answer some reader questions. Well, one question jumped out at me, and then exploded into a dozen questions and topics. So here is an email from reader WWWebb:

From the new editor's note:

"Moving forward, The Escapist is eschewing the "curmudgeon" mentality that is so pervasive these days in favor of the "enthusiast" mentality that we want to foster among our community, and geek culture at large. We want to focus on finding the good in the geekspace, rather than focusing on the bad. We want to facilitate enjoyment, rather than disparagement. We want to talk more about the things we love, and less about the things we hate."

Does this mean that grumpy-old-man Shamus is going away and it will all be a series of articles about what made 2 year old games so great?

- WWWebb

I know the recent staff changes here at the Escapist have been a little alarming to some. So let me pull a Dr. Breen and answer a bunch of un-asked questions implied by this one.

I realize this isn't always clear from the outside, but not everyone who writes for The Escapist is part of the staff. People like Yahtzee, MovieBob, Robert Rath, and myself don't go to The Escapist offices everyday to do our work. We're contractors, and so our relationship with the editorial changes at The Escapist is naturally a little different. I know nothing about the affairs of Defy Media or the reasoning behind any changes, and I like it that way.

I've written 205 columns now, going all the way back to 2009. In all that time, going through several different editors and format changes...

* The Escapist has never refused to run one of my Experienced Points columns.
* The Escapist has never asked me to cover specific games, genres, topics,or platforms. Never told me what to write about. (Although back when the site had a "topic of the week" I was provided with the topics ahead of time, so I could write about that week's topic if I wanted to. I kind of miss that, actually.)
* The Escapist has never tampered with any of my columns at all, except to fix typos and assign headlines. (Which I specifically told them they could do.)
* The Escapist has never asked me to re-write anything, express a different opinion, or even change my tone.

Some months ago Greg Tito sent me a polite email explaining the "enthusiast" attitude they were trying to foster on the site. He didn't demand anything of me or ask me to change anything. It was just a suggestion. Kind of like, "Most of the guys are wearing jackets and ties to the party, but wear whatever you like." So in my experience The Escapist has an extremely gentle editorial hand, and I'm willing to bet that a lot of people writing op-ed content in other domains (music, politics, business, food) would kill to have the kind of freedom I have in this space.

Which is to say: No, I don't expect this column to change very much.

But if I'm being honest, I think I've mellowed on my own, and I think that's a natural part of this business. When you're young and hungry, you want to write a bunch of fiery, attention-grabbing stuff because passion always draws people in and you want to get your name out there. Whether people agree or disagree, being hyperbolic will drive traffic to your content. But once you're comfortable with your audience, you're probably more interested in being taken seriously and less interested in the hate mail and drama that naturally results from writing controversial stuff. In my earlier columns I was more prone to name-calling and attempted comedy, and these days I focus on analysis.

The mellowing is also a product of repeated exposure to reader feedback. If I want to talk about Nintendo corporate strategy and I need to mention how the Wii U is struggling, I can pretty well anticipate the reflexive arguments I'll get from Nintendo fans. There's always a strategy game going on in my head as I write stuff like this. Tighter, more focused columns are more useful and fun to read, but insufficiently armored assertions will get dismissed and result in a bunch of tedious hate mail. I always have to balance how many people I'm willing to piss off with how much column-space I'm willing to spend appeasing them.

So over time, the experience of reading hundreds of article threads results in a more measured approach to making my points. This doesn't just apply to writing. A couple of weeks ago I made a video about the PlayStation 3, and I had to make sure to establish my "Sony Fan" bona fides before I tore apart the PlayStation 3, in order to head off the predictable tribalism that would muddle the discussion. A younger me wouldn't have done that, and I would have ended up with more headaches as a result.

So I guess what I'm saying is that if I'm slightly less "curmudgeon" than I used to be, but it's nothing to do with editorial control and everything to do with getting older. At the same time, I'm probably as nitpick-y as I've always been. I still focus on flaws and broken games or companies, because that's where the interesting conversations are. I'm just a little less bombastic about it.

One final note is that I hope people don't get too freaked out by the staff changes. While I'm really sad for my friends who lost their jobs (Greg Tito in particular) I know this is actually a very normal part of running a site like this. The internet landscape changes at supersonic speeds compared to print media, and strategies that were dynamite two years ago are outdated now. More video. More personality-driven stuff. More social media connections. More interactive content. Broader subject matter. The stuff that drives traffic today will be the stuff that people won't bother clicking on two years from now.

This constant upheaval is really hard on anyone trying to earn a living or run a business. This is a tough market, and change is inevitable.

Except for this column. I doubt I'm going to change.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. You can read more of his work here.

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