Blue Rogues, it’s time.
You know what this is. A farewell post isn’t a shock anymore. Especially since I gave you 24 hours notice on Twitter. I suppose a few folks are probably like “Fuck, no! Wait! Don’t leave!” That’s sweet but it’s counterbalanced slightly by the chittering of Twitter gremlins and YouTube shouters. You know who you are and I gotta say, the way you live seems exhausting. Which is why I’m glad I got to work here and write for folks who really engaged. It was incredibly badass. Let’s get that out of the way first. Thank you, Kotaku commenters. It was a blast to have an audience like you.
Before we go any further I also want to say that it was not my plan to have this come alongside Maddy and Jason’s departures. There’s just a really cool opportunity that came up? Sorry! Where was I...
Working in this field ends up being a balancing act: what are you willing to say, and what are you willing to put up with? Which isn’t to suggest that journalists or critics should be afraid of colorful responses to their work or hold back. It just means there’s an occasional calculus. My approach? Shrug and keep going. Assume that most people are fundamentally decent. Which, for the record, they are. I think it worked out for the most part. In the best moments, it felt as Drew Magary said: “just like sailing.”
That was the play these four-ish years: sail. Look at games, tell people what I saw. Point out mistakes and praise successes. Explore art and report back with the maps I drew. I can’t self-diagnose if I did a good job at that. Some folks have told me I was alright. Others have literally threatened to shoot me. I wrote with one maxim in mind: games are good, and by examining them we can see what makes them good. In the best cases, we can help make them better. You don’t do this work unless you love games, and I fuckin’ love them so much.
When young writers—I am somehow part of an older guard now in what felt like the blink of an eye—ask me about getting into this field, I ask my own question: could you do anything else but this and feel fulfilled? If so, do that and don’t look back. If not, welcome aboard. Journalism doesn’t pay well and the likelihood that you will be shitcan’d so some splotchy Boomer can buy another mansion is incredibly high. If you can know that and still want to do this, you should. You’ll do well. Everyone has things they can’t live without. For normal people that’s usually something like home cooking or their cats. For degenerates, it’s politics. For masochists, it’s writing.
The best parts of this job are the once-impossible things. The stuff you didn’t know could be your job. It’s the late night email responses from Yoko Taro where he dunks on you. It’s the Discord calls with speedrunners you used to watch off the job outlining how they turn the act of play into something fractal and amazing. It’s telling Naoki Yoshida that you and your girlfriend (at the time but still one of The Best People) held a wedding in Final Fantasy XIV and having him wish you the best. It’s listening to archivists outline the fragile nature of our medium, and having their passion sweep you away into an everlasting fervor. It is getting to send questions to the people who changed your life. It is getting to thank these people for what they do because their work makes the world more interesting. Anything different is good and I very often had the privilege of talking to difference makers.
Working at a large website means trying to use the platform responsibly. I hope I did. This industry routinely fails the most vulnerable and creative designers, and it breaks my goddamn heart. I tried to feature as many of those people on our pages as I could. It has always felt insufficient. Kotaku, like any website, is one that lives partially off traffic. As a writer who grew into someone chiefly leading AAA reviews on this site, I started to have less and less time to cover smaller titles. Yes, Stephen let me do it, and he didn’t much care about the metrics but that doesn’t mean that the numbers games didn’t often pull me elsewhere. Sometimes, you just gotta write about Red Dead Redemption 2. This is a business and the model, which is frankly broken, is unfair to smaller game developers in a way I don’t know how to fix. The curse is that you’ll do something—write about a cool game, stream an under-appreciated classic, ask a question you don’t see other sites asking—and spend your whole life wondering if you did enough. I’m callous enough to say I know folks who haven’t, but I’ll leave it to you to determine if I managed to pull it off.
This is not why I am leaving although it’s a factor. Mostly, my next gig seems really cool. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I had to take. I admit there’s the other stuff too. The Adults in the Room. Things are different now. You can see it on the pages themselves. There will be pockets of the internet cheering Kotaku’s “demise” or some such word as some of us leave as a result of this. They’ll mention some shit from before most of us even worked here as the reason that’s good and just. It will probably involve cartoon tits. But it’s not the specter of “get woke, go broke” that’s haunting G/O Media.
Good work happens here. It happens because good people work at Kotaku. Mike Fahey, who has endured more than any good man should, continues to write with his characteristic mix of love and enthusiasm. I’ve never known anyone so capable of sharing their excitement with readers. Luke Plunkett is just all-around one of the best people I know. He uses his night shifts not only to report the latest news but to call out a lot of bullshit. Brian Ashcraft ensures that our lens isn’t simply focused on America. Ethan Gach is always on hand to help; I couldn’t have asked for a better partner as a union rep. Chris Person scours the internet to make players the stars of the show. Paul Tamayo? I don’t have the words, but he knows that I consider him one of the best friends I could have ever asked for.
We have new writers now too. Ian Walker was already great at covering fighting games (Long Live Compete!) but has shown the innate hunger of a good reporter. Ari Notis, who handles our service posts, is always looking for ways to help readers have the best experiences possible. Zack Zwiezen is not “new,” but he is deeply enthusiastic in everything he does. A bit like Mike. These folks will do well.
There are faces that you don’t see as much. Riley MacLeod has a keen eye for how games fit into our culture and uses his frighteningly huge catalogue of life experiences to put them into new contexts. Chris Kohler and our new editor Alexandra Hall have an encyclopedic knowledge of games history. Last, there’s Natalie Degraffinried. Folks will never truly know how hard she has worked to reshape how we handle our reporting and make the site a better place. She is a killer editor who pushed me to improve, as she helps anyone who has met her improve themselves. Kotaku may be losing voices lately but the crew here remains solid. Given the room to throw elbows around, they’ll kick a lot of ass.
Recently on Twitter I quoted Barrett from the Final Fantasy VII Remake: “A good man who serves a great evil is not without sin. He must recognize and accept his complicity.” There was some incredulity: how could I quote Barrett while also working for a corporation? Aha, Heather, you also live in a society! Well, shit... you got me.
G/O doesn’t own any planet destroying mako reactors that I’m aware of and the reason I felt peachy posting the quote was simple: I was surrounded by people content to fight for themselves and for readers. That’s no more clear than in the work of the GMG Union. The truth of the labor movement as a whole is that is it is a war where you win inches against the rich. But you do win. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards jagoffs getting their comeuppance. The union helps aid in diversity matters, negotiates safe exits for colleagues when needed, and works hard to ensure contract clauses like successorship are the rule and not the exception in our industry. It has done good things in the face of some very bad things. It has done good things even at G/O. Say whatever you want about Gawker, but that newsroom unionizing was unabashedly good with long term ramifications for the industry as a whole. There’s been no greater honor in my time here than being a member of the union. Solidarity. Forever.
I love writing and the chances I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate to be a trans woman employed safely in a country where most are not. I’m grateful to have held what some people consider a “dream job,” whatever that is. It maybe is a dream job, but there’s a catch: this work kills you in a thousand different ways. Every day, you lose pieces of yourself. Maybe I’ll be back at it some day—writing is the marrow in my bones—but it won’t be under this management. My apologies for not finishing the Metal Gear retrospective. We got to Sons of Liberty, and that’s the best one. And before you pop off in the comments: yeah, Snake Eater is pretty great too.
I’ll miss this. Shooting the shit live with Paul on Twitch, sliding into Tim’s eerily dark office to talk about incredibly obscure nonsense, working with Natalie to hone pieces into something razor sharp. It was like working on a pirate ship.
Here’s some final rules for being a good pirate if you want to do this. It’s the Blue Rogues code and will guide you well:
Always Be Audacious!
Make Decisions Swiftly!
Take Treasures and Be Thankful!
Do Not Tolerate Cowardly Acts!
Always Challenge He Who is Stronger than You!
Never Give Up!
This sounds like fantasy nonsense but it isn’t. It actually makes a lot of sense. Be brave, be decisive. Count your blessings every day and be thankful for them; remember how easily they can be lost. Speak up against bullshit. Never punch down. Keep going. Those are the rules for the ride. Use them well.
I’ll see you in the skies.