Hello, Kotaku. We meet again. But this time, nobody can stop me.
I kid, I kid. Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding writing this post—the one that acknowledges I’m back, and also, I’m in charge now. At first this was easy: Being hired two weeks before E3 meant I had little time to do anything but plan for the show. But now it’s weird to keep publishing stuff without announcing myself more officially, so. Here I am, and this is it.
It’s a scary proposition to write this post because it means laying out my vision for the site. And writing it down like this means that you know what it is that I want to do, but more crucially, get to judge if I’m living up to the standards that I set out. That’s terrifying, because what I want for Kotaku isn’t just ambitious. Of course I want more readers, of course I want to publish fearless writing, criticism, and reporting, and of course I want to foster a community where everyone feels welcome. Somehow, that’s the easy part—many of these things are a continuation of what Kotaku is already known for.
But also, I want to dismantle and redefine what a video game website can be. I do not like what I see. Where to even begin?
I hate that nearly every website’s day to day is predicated on the release schedule and news cycle set by publishers. I hate the coverage cycle of big-budget video games, and how a game is never more important than when it doesn’t exist yet—or when it just launched. I hate that so much of what video game websites consider worthy of coverage is often written for a specific type of presumed reader. It does not matter if a website is considered “progressive.” It says everything that, when writing about certain issues, video game websites often have to take care in explaining basic-ass concepts like “racism is real.”
At some point, having to explain power dynamics over and over again is not a question of informing the readership. It is a tacit acknowledgement that our audience likely has a specific background. And consequently, that reality means that even as we cover more mainstream subjects or marginalized identities, the writing is not truly for that wider audience. This haunts me. The presumed reader looks or sounds nothing like me, and yet here I am, leading a video game site.
It’s not a matter of being “woke.” It is a matter of survival. Video game websites, as they exist now, repeatedly fail to represent the wide swath of people who play games. And every year that passes, this failure becomes more and more evident. “Everyone” plays games now, yet most of these people hardly frequent video game websites unless they need to know how to do something.
And if we do reach this mythical mainstream gamer, it’s likely because Google willed it—not because we’ve cultivated that dedicated readership. Since social media websites throttle who can or cannot see our work, we spend our time worshipping the fickle SEO gods. Your favorite game website is likely quietly bankrolled by guides and service writers who try to predict what people will search next, not news writers, critics, or reviewers. Playing that traffic game and being good at it, of course, is only a temporary salve. Yesterday it was Facebook, today it’s Google, tomorrow, who knows.
Hilariously, gaming websites fail the capital G gamer repeatedly, too. The perpetual focus on what’s coming next is not compatible with the idea that we are here to cut through the hype. Don’t preorder games, we say, while dutifully covering the big event that exists to get you excited about the next big thing. Meanwhile, advances like Xbox Game Pass destroy the release cycle modern gaming websites have relied on for years. What’s new and shiny has no bearing on what will actually take off with the public, as evidenced by Among Us.
“New” in and of itself might be an outdated concept in the age of remakes, remasters, and re-releases across generations. The last two years have had a dearth of showstopping game releases between coronavirus and a new console generation, yet at the same time, there are more games than ever. Old releases, not new games, perennially top the gaming charts of late. I’m beginning to think my future grandchildren might still have to play the same duct-taped version of GTA Online that I have.
It’s tough to wrangle all of this, but it’s not like websites don’t try. Here at Kotaku, we have this concept of “embedding” within games, best described as an effort to continue covering games as they evolve and grow. When I was at Polygon, we called these “living games,” but the same basic idea applies. Games get updates, audiences change, we try our best to reflect that on the page as it actually exists, not as PR says.