Today, Joshua Rivera and Gita Jackson are both leaving Kotaku. They sat down to talk about what they love about this place, as well as the state of games journalism and its diversity, worker solidarity and herbs.
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Joshua Rivera: There’s not a lot of opportunities for this.There’s a good reason for that. We’re not supposed to become the story—but also saying some of this stuff out loud, it’s helpful.
Gita Jackson: I think a lot of the minority teenagers, college students, will be happy to have read this. It’s impossible to not be aware of the absence of Brown people in this space. I am friends with a lot of the games journalists in New York City that are people of color. You know, like when we see one up here, we try to meet them because there are not very many of us. So it’s like, it’s impossible to not be aware. I mean, I get messages from young black women who tell me that seeing me do it makes them feel more confident about getting into video games. Part of me wants to be like, wow, thank you, that’s so flattering. And the other part of me wants to be like, THIS IS HELL, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THIS JOB?
Josh: This industry—part of this, is just also capitalism, right? But it’s unkind to things that it perceives as aberrations or different, you know what I mean? Everybody talks about how diversification is good and they’ll give you all these incentives, like math reasons why it’s good. But culturally, no one really wants that. They just want to hang out with people like them.
Gita: I don’t think that video games are any more or less racist than society at large. We see it very clearly because it’s such a small community and very, very tight knit. And I think that video game marketing divisions have encouraged the kind of quote unquote passion that leads to people becoming overly invested in a commercial product to the point they feel like they need to defend multimillion dollar corporations. And that is the thing that I think is more toxic than just the bald-faced prejudice, is this really intense, unyielding, deeply conservative economic viewpoint on video games and the people who make them. It’s purely a dollars game. And it’s all about corporations. And treating those corporations as people. And that is the thing that holds video games back and holds the people that love video games back more than anything.
Josh: I think you were talking about how, it’s not that games are more or less racist than the rest of society. It’s just that games are set up in such a way that video game fans are conditioned to believe nothing is wrong. Right? Where most people can look at the world and be like, you know, Oh—
Gita: “Some things are wrong.”
Josh: Some things are wrong! You know, like “the NFL should care more about concussions.”
Gita: Let me be real for one second. I never thought that Kotaku would ever want to hire me ever. I’m an extremely opinionated person and many of my opinions run counter to the establishment. It was only like this year that people started taking the unionization conversation seriously. But yeah, I mean, my opinions on just how culture should work very different from the majority of people who really are interested in video games.
Josh: I also had this weird, um, perception of Kotaku ’cause like you said, just media in general, trends toward behaving conservatively because it allows you some sort of stability in an unstable industry.
I was at my previous job interviewing a personal hero of mine, and he had just turned 50, and he was telling me like, ‘It’s like, I just realized you don’t have to fight everyone, you know?’ I’m still in my late twenties, so I’m still learning that lesson, but it’s hard and that’s why there was that reticence towards taking a job like this one. When you are a freelancer, you can have this illusion about yourself, about how you are above the bullshit or fighting it by not participating in a system even though you kind of are by taking money, you know? And then when you get a job—you get this faulty assumption that like, I’m okay with everything that this institution does. You know? So it’s interesting to hear that you struggled in that same way.
It meant a lot to me that you had been here so long, you know, which might not seem so long in the grand scheme of things, but in media, it’s a lifetime. There’s something more fundamentally humanist, I think, about your writing that stuck with me. It made me feel like there was space that I could do what I wanted to do here.
Gita: What I liked so much about your writing and you is that you also care a lot about humans and it’s very clear in your writing. And your understanding of the systems of power is incredibly strong. The way that you see through bullshit is something that I really, really admire. You don’t waste the words waffling, you don’t give people the benefit of the doubt when you see bullshit; you call it bullshit. And I just think that’s something that the industry needs a lot, a lot more of. And so I was so happy once I got to know you and understood what your goals were. Here I had someone that was also just willing to just—I mean sometimes in this industry, it feels like an “emperor has no clothes” moment. Like every single day you’re just the kid that’s saying there’s no fucking clothes.
It’s not as profound a compliment as calling your writing humane, which I don’t —thank you. Thank you. But it is, I think it’s just like, I’m like jealous sometimes when you just say the thing I want to say, but I’m kind of afraid to say it takes a lot of courage because people are fucking nasty and mean in this industry and it’s so small that if you piss people off, they will remember. But you don’t have fear about that and you’re always right. Even though you don’t think Horizon Zero Dawn is a good game.
Josh: One of the things I’ve learned from you, cause I have not been involved in any union or organization or anything like that, is the notion of pushing to advocate for yourself, but also being cognizant of the needs of others. So like there’s this cathartic desire to fucking take on these motherfuckers, you know, let’s take the fight to them, but also we have our colleagues to think about, you know.
Gita: I love every single person who works for Kotaku. And when I say love, I mean love. Like I have been sobbing about the idea of not working with them for basically an entire month. And when I mean sobbing, I mean big fat, wet tears, snot coming out of my nose. Just absolute abject misery. So I love to talk to you because of what you just said, about looking at a time of strife and people deciding that you’re just going to be the best you can possibly be. I feel like that’s a deeply Kotaku instinct, always going out with two big middle fingers. And that’s like the tightest thing in the world.
Josh: I feel robbed of the opportunity to love this place as much as you do.
Gita: Can we just say specifically that Jim Spanfeller has made it impossible for us to work here?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely.
Gita: His outward and obvious hostility towards the writers here, his treatment of the Deadspin writers, his firing of Barry, the way that he talks about Deadspin and the way that he won’t take responsibility for its closure even though it comes from his really awful management decisions, have just made my faith in the ability of him being able to keep this company solvent, just completely obliterated. And it’s all him. It’s all his choices.
Josh: There’s no way I feel supported as a writer. I know Stephen Totilo, bless up, will go to the ends of the earth for us.
Gita: Hell yeah. He would fight an army. He cares so much about his writers.
Josh: It’s a shame that we don’t have owners that care for a fraction as much. You know, they don’t, they don’t shout out our work. They don’t care for our work.
Gita: I’m not even sure that Jim Spanfeller is aware that he has a video game website.
Josh: I mean, he might know now.
Gita: [laughs.] Yeah. Sup dude. Suck it.