on politics and my recent coverage of stuff that isn't video games and TV shows
when life is hard you have to change
“It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.”
― Tacitus, Histories of Tacitus
Over the course of my professional writing career I have often run up against various versions of the same kind of backlash. I’ll call it the Bob Dylan Goes Electric conflict. BDGE.
When I stray from my beat, readers often say “I liked you better when you wrote about XYZ.” Or, when I first started writing about video games, I heard a lot of stuff like “why is Forbes covering video games?” (And then stuff like “anyone can be a contributor at Forbes blah blah blah as though it was just another social media site—but that’s bullshit for another time).
Now that I’m writing about stuff that isn’t just video games (though I cover a lot of video games still, and TV shows and movies and books etc.) I’ve heard from various readers that they preferred it when I stuck to video games. Sometimes this is “I dislike your political stuff, I preferred when you stuck with video games” and sometimes it’s “you suck, your opinions are trash you should stick to video games.” The former likes video game coverage and I respect that; the latter thinks video games are for kids and is insulting—or attempting to insult—both me and video games writ large. In both instances, however, it feels like people telling me what to do, how to be, what I should do with my life based on their opinions.
I’m totally fine with you only reading my video game content or just not reading my work at all. That’s your choice and I respect that.
I’ve written about video games pretty exclusively for years and like many, many other people in all sorts of careers it can get a little old after a while. We want new challenges, new obstacles to overcome, new lands to explore.
What can I say? There’s a lot going on in the world that impacts my life, including the way the media has changed, including the way the left has transformed into something that bears almost no resemblance to the left I knew when I was younger. Or the rise of social media. The rise of Trumpism. The pandemic. The world changes. We must change with it—not who we are, necessarily, but how we survive.
Besides, I’ve always been a political writer. I wrote about politics, education and police reform / the war on drugs before I ever wrote a single thing about a video game. I was writing about police brutality and SWAT team excesses years before BLM was a thing. And a part of me misses writing about that stuff, rather than just posting about it on Twitter occasionally. Of course, now I often write about these issues through the lens of entertainment, video games, celebrity, etc.
When I defended Mass Effect fans who were upset by the game’s RGB ending I was writing about politics. I was writing about how the media and game journalists were smearing their own readers by calling them “entitled.” About how the media and the corporate industry had an incestuous relationship that became oh-so-very clear during that fiasco.
When I covered GamerGate, I wrote about much the same thing. I was writing from a pro-consumer angle, trying to understand that phenomenon from the gamers’ perspective also rather than just via the litany of “gamers are dead” op/eds. That’s politics. That’s political. I put my neck out on the line in 2014 and felt a little like Margaret Pole by the time that was all blessedly died down.
This was all political writing; it was just also about video games.
More recently, in my coverage of the smear campaign against Hogwarts Legacy producer Troy Leavitt, or attempts to ban or cancel Six Days In Fallujah, you can see the blending of politics and entertainment. I am writing about free speech and censorship and the media when I write about the attacks on Zack Snyder fans, or the game This Land Is My Land.
Here’s something worth noting: Most of game journalism and entertainment journalism is politically charged with a very left-woke bias these days. The only pushback I ever see is from right-wing websites and writers who have a very rightwing bias. I am trying to push back from what I consider a more left-wing perspective. Very few people are doing this because once you do, you’re not welcome in the Cool Kids’ Club anymore. The left-woke media blacklists you (I’ve been a persona non grata for years now, often simply because I defended consumers) and right-wing media is, by and large, a place I’d rather not be welcomed into in the first place. I have conservative friends who I like and admire, but “conservative media” is fucking terrible for the most part. Folk like me become homeless pretty fast, which I’m okay with. I’d rather be a drifter than a soldier.
So why have I dovetailed into Israel and Palestine recently?
Again, mostly because A) this is a subject I’ve followed for decades and want to comment on because I have things to say about it, for better or worse, and B) because game journalists have waded into this conflict and I find their takes mostly somewhere between bad and terrible (though I know many of their hearts are in the right place).
It used to be that you could have entire debates on blogs. Someone would write something, you’d write a countering opinion, they’d write a rebuttal. That doesn’t happen in video games, though, and increasingly doesn’t happen at all. But I always sort of enjoyed the back and forth. When I started writing about video games I was a little shocked at how passive aggressive everyone was. Nobody wanted to debate, they just wanted to stick a knife in your back.
I am and always have been a generalist blogger, meaning I write about a wide array of topics and subject matter. At Forbes, this is limited to video games, TV shows and movies in the “nerd culture” swimlane, but my swimlane has always been much wider and more “generalist” than most Forbes contributors, which I’ve enjoyed and have been grateful for. And at Forbes I will continue to cover those topics and remain fairly—but not entirely—apolitical.
At diabolical I am going to be more combative, more argumentative, more politically driven. That’s what this newsletter is for, though it’s also for movie reviews, book clubs and so on and so forth. Ultimately, I’d love to have this newsletter and my YouTube channel be my main platforms so that I can write about whatever I want, and hopefully cultivate a readership/viewership that enjoys having discussions and debates about a wide range of issues. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with my takes. And sometimes I’m absolutely wrong about things. That’s fine. You can tell me to go fuck myself and I’ll be okay, though I might tell you the same thing. I have a short temper sometimes, though I’m mostly a jovial sort.
What I’m not going to do is change what I write about or limit myself to one topic because some readers are mad that I’m covering other topics also. That’s what I call “reader capture.” A writer finds themselves free of editorial constraints—but chained to the preferences of readers who have a very specific idea of who you should be and what you should write about. Bob Dylan should be an acoustic artist singing folk tunes and if he picks up that electric guitar he is dead to me. BDGE.
I genuinely want to know what you all want to talk about, what kind of content interests you and what you like to engage with. I know some of you read me for the TV reviews, some for the games coverage, some for the politics and some for bits of this and that. Welcome one and all!
I certainly never set out to turn off readers by discussing a controversial subject like Israel vs Palestine. I try, pretty painstakingly, to present both sides of the story (because I genuinely believe that both sides have a right to exist in peace). I probably won’t spend much more time on it going forward (for now) and soon enough I’ll be penning a Handmaid’s Tale review, laboring through another episode of Fear The Walking Dead, editing a video on upcoming video game releases and writing up something about PS5 exclusive Returnal, which is super dope but also super stressful for me for some reason. I need to work through that because I want to keep playing but it’s stressing me out! Am I just getting old? I’m almost 40, people!
It’s probably not smart to not focus on one thing. Big video game streamers often find success by playing just one game for years, hours and hours every single day. They build a community based around that. I would rather die. I would rather dig ditches or rob banks than play one game for hours a day. I know that focusing on one subject is smart because my colleague Paul Tassi has found enormous success covering Destiny 2. He has surpassed my Twitter follower count by an enormous margin (I think I lose a follower for every one I gain!) and he gets way more traffic thanks to his loyal Destiny-based audience. He’s very good at that.
I’m a generalist. I want to talk about A Clockwork Orange and why it’s wrong to cut Donald Trump out of Home Alone 2 (even though I despise the man) or why it’s tough to be a Marilyn Manson fan after the Evan Rachel Wood revelations and why censorship is violence and so on and so forth. Frankly, if anything, I feel like my curiosity and desire to explore a wide range of topics has been muted in recent years. After GamerGate and then Trump winning a part of me just had to shut down. I was content writing Fortnite guides, though I was sad that Game of Thrones was over (and in such a disastrous manner) and that some of my favorite topics were no longer viable.
So I’ve been waking up to new ideas and new projects and new ambitions lately, partly due to my financial situation and partly due to other factors. This probably isn’t smart. This probably turns off as many people as it attracts. What choice do I have other than to be me or give up this whole hustle and go get a respectable job?
So my sincerest apologies if my recent diversions into culture wars, politics, geopolitics and so forth are a turn off. I hope you just skip those posts or videos and read/watch the ones that interest you instead. I’m not trying to drum up false outrage, either, though no doubt I’m poking the bear (I’m already blacklisted so why not?)
I simply have my opinions. I think they’re decent enough, though I’m obviously biased. I’m trying to be as realistic and and as nuanced as possible in a world that values strident, black and white, with us or against us takes and tribalism a great deal more than independence and free-thinking.
I hope you’ll stick around and walk some of these trails with me, but I understand if you don’t. Peace and love, O my brothers and sisters. Love and peace.