A Note About 'Brutal' Comments and a Kotaku For EveryoneS

I was recently asked to be more clear with readers about who Kotaku is and isn't for.

Let me be clear here about what I believe the mix of content we run on the site already attests.

Kotaku is a site for any and all gamers and even people who don't play games but are curious about them.

Actually, all absolutes invite exceptions, so let me be clear about who we are not for: intolerant gamers and creeps, gamers who would prefer to insult or attack rather than empathize or argue intelligently.

Kotaku is for gamers of any ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Kotaku is a site where I would like gamers of any type to feel welcome.

I was recently asked by a one-time contributor to this site to state this clearly. The writer, Samantha Allen, had identified herself as transgender when she wrote for us and, in a moving Open Letter to Games Media, described some of the feedback she received because of that as "brutal."

Internet feedback for Allen will tend to be rougher for her than it ever will be for me, because I am more familiar to more readers. But it's not just due to the fact that I write articles every day in front of the millions who read Kotaku every month. It's also because I am straight, white and male. More of you know me or know of me. Yes, you let me have it when you dislike something I write, but your feedback to me has not been brutal. My good fortune should not excuse an acceptance of the status quo. Kotaku can, always, be better.


Over the last couple of years it has become increasingly clear to regular readers that we aim to be a broadly inclusive site. This is not a new policy borne of new management but one I can speak most confidently of regarding the time I've spent as the site's Editor in Chief.

We are a site that covers new games, that interviews top developers and the biggest of industry bigwigs. We also write about gamers, who I feel have long been under-represented by the industry-centric coverage conducted by most gaming news outlets. We write about the good guys and the bad guys, about hackers and cheaters and cops and crooks. We write about third-rail topics such as drugs and gender, sex and sexuality. In so doing we implicitly ask for an openmindedness among our readership that other, superb but more tightly-focused outlets do not. We open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy by readers who see posts of images of visually-alluring male and female cosplayers and posts about gender discrimination as incompatible. For the record, I do not see that incompatibility. We can write about beauty without being gross. It's not difficult.

We are a site of multiple voices and opinions, one where the mandate is for each writer, whether writing news or opinion, to be honest about what they think and to be transparent with the truth. We believe video gaming is not a field of wilting flowers and can withstand an outlet that puts what other reporters and critics would consign to Twitter into the mainstream of what is published front and center. Gaming is an amazing medium. It can take it.

Those of us who write professionally for Kotaku can see the positive reinforcement of a story done well and the negative blowback of a story that misses the mark. You can see some of this too. For one thing, our traffic stats are present on every article. What you can't see are the emails we get, pro and con. You may not always be aware of the pride we take in our best work and you're not privy to the anguish that comes from some of the worst.

Through all of this, we try to maintain a couple of key standards: one is to always write that which is genuinely interesting, that which, to use an example I often make, we'd be willing to mention after work, over a beer to a friend who asked what we did today—without fear of boring said friend.

Another standard is to be confident that, if we had to sit down with the person we are writing about and have them quietly read what we wrote about them in front of us—even if the piece was negative to them—we could ask them if they considered it fair and they'd say, "yes."

It is the latter standard that we also expect of readers and will more aggressively enforce.

We still want readers to feel free to agree or disagree with our articles and say so on the site. We still encourage wit, smart argument and bold opinions. We still welcome debate. We still, as before, will diminish or even block the visibility of comments by those who simply attack Kotaku writers or readers.

Today I am also committing to expanding our discussion moderation to push back against any tide of comments that fail the test of being things that we believe you'd say to the face of the people you're commenting about. We imagine that any of our more than five million readers per month might disagree with something on our site, and we are confident that any of those five million can find a way to say so while getting over what is still a low bar.

I am asking my team and our readers to do their part to encourage improved discussion. Over the last few months I have already seen a lot of improvement of the discussions below articles thanks to our new(ish) commenting system that prioritizes discussion threads that have contributions that were written or promoted by approved readers and staffers. To maintain and improve that, Kotaku writers will more carefully elevate the best discussions and consign the worst stuff to the unapproved commenting queue. We'll also block the worst commenters from having their replies appear at all. Transgender writers don't need to be told, as Allen was on our site, that "I like my videogames like I like my women. Without a penis.” Cosplayers whose images we feature don't need be told how badly a reader wants to masturbate to their breasts. (There are other ways to comment about how terrific a female—or male—cosplayer looks.) Such comments will disappear; commenters responsible for them will see their commenting privileges reduced. If I'm describing your comments, now's your chance to change things, too. Save that stuff for elsewhere.

I ask readers to focus their energies on writing or replying to comments that meet these standards of in-person discourse—standards I believe most of us want. These standards, please understand, aren't designed to showcase groupthink but to provide safe harbor for all sorts of points of views, including those held by a minority of readers.


Notes like this can sometimes be written in times of crisis, when an outlet has screwed up or the community has been torn by a contentious issue. There is no crisis today. Kotaku is a healthy, growing site with many great writers and readers. Simply, we try to make a better Kotaku every day and I was asked to be clear about where we stood and what we'd do.

Among the things Allen encouraged us to do was take risks with what we write and with whom we support. Risk losing readers, she said. Been there. Taking that risk. Daily. And I appreciate the readers who've stuck with us, who've looked at articles that challenged them and who've tolerated the occasional piece that didn't strike its notes as well as it could have and decided that the mix we present is worth sticking around for.

I'd like to use Allen's letter as the impetus for another leveling up of the discussions under our articles. I'd like contributors of all types to find our readership invigorating and challenging but also fair. I'd also like to some day play a new Blast Corps, so I recognize that not everything I want is something we will get. But let's all try to do better and embrace our fellow gamers—white, gay, Muslim, whatever—with the respect we'd like for ourselves.

One additional practical note: for readers who have specific thoughts about the direction of Kotaku, you are welcome, as so many of you often do, to email me directly. I read all of your emails and reply to as many of them as I can. We are adding a feedback@kotaku.com email address as well. If you see comments you are concerned about that you think should either get more or less prominence on the site, shoot us a note there. Please include a link.

To contact the author of this post, write to stephentotilo@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo. Top image by the talented Michael Myers.