Exclusive Interviews

Russ Pitts Expands On The New Escapist and the Joy In “Making Things”

The Escapist was dead. Much of the site’s former glory, from its idiosyncratic content creators to its lively forums, was dormant. Outside of a few Zero Punctuation videos, the site did not pull the same traffic and admiration it used to. For an outlet that once stood at the forefront of independent game journalism, the mid-2010s saw the site hit its lowest ebb. GamerGate and its far-right ilk had damaged the forums, and the site seemed to be living on borrowed time. Until last month, that remained true. Thankfully, things can change. Suddenly, in an impassioned Medium post, former Escapist editor Russ Pitts declared that the site, under his and Enthusiast Gaming’s care, would start anew by focusing on what really bound gamers together in the first place: games.

To say the response was mixed would be an understatement. Immediately following Pitts’s statement, a false narrative snowballed: The Escapist would be apolitical. “Someone paraphrased my post using that term, and others picked it up without reading the source material,” Pitts explained. “Par for the course, really.”

In the Medium post, the exact phrasing Pitts used was “leave politics at the door.” Why, then, did the social media crowd believe this comment related to apoliticalism? Pitts’s theory regarding the wider media’s reaction is as follows:

“There’s been a lot of insincere discourse in games. People say one thing and mean another. Or engage in what appears to be reasoned debate in an effort to simply annoy you, or make you look bad. That’s where people are coming from. Having waged this war on ‘reasonable people’ or ‘nice guys’ who only want to destroy because they’re bored or have a grudge. It’s frustrating, but it’s where we are. So I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable people might read what I wrote and wonder if I really meant it. Spoiler: I did.”

Despite a rocky start, Pitts’s attitude remained positive. “People are definitely interested in the brand. I think that’s ultimately a good thing.” So far, speaking solely in terms of recruitment, Pitts exclaims, “It’s going well!” Pitts has already recruited former Escapist resident Bob Chipman and retained the services of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame. With Pitts’s contacts, as well as an open contributor system in place, The Escapist has its foundation to flourish.

One of the first major tasks for him is to maintain The Escapist’s infamous community. Whilst the forums and community rules “will be changing,” Pitts invited “as many of them as will have us” to return. Pitts clearly has a lot of admiration and respect left for the community, concluding that they are “a big reason for [the site’s] continued relevance.”

Throughout the short interview, Pitts kept returning to the phrase “[allowing the] work itself answer those questions.” The new Editor-in-Chief has clearly had enough with idly talking; he wants to get to work. Pitts is steadfast in ensuring the site does not regress to the mistakes of old. Concerns have spread about the site becoming another hot-bed for extremism, which flies in the face of everything Pitts believes in, both as a person and as an editor. “There’s a school of thought where if you’re not openly against a thing, then you must be for it,” Pitts explained. “So if I say ‘we’re going to leave politics at the door’ but don’t also say ‘screw the alt-right,’ then, according to this school of thought, I must be OK with the alt-right.”

“Obviously, that’s incorrect.”

Whilst the downfall of the The Escapist unfolded, Pitts was no longer part of the site. Pitts’s post-Escapist years were fruitful. Alongside his feature editor role at Polygon, Pitts started mental health charity Take This with his wife, Susan Arendt, before spending time “making movies.”

Despite his work ethic, Pitts, according to his Medium post, had not written anything for the past three years. A return to gaming—at least gaming journalism—did not seem likely for him at the time, never mind returning to a site he left seven years ago. “I never imagined I’d be back here,” he confessed. “I figured I’d eventually come back to writing, but not about games. I’ve been happy making films. It ticks all the creative boxes for me.” His return was not pre-meditated or planned either, with the opportunity literally “dropping into [his] lap.”

“This isn’t something I was sitting around trying to finagle a way back into. […] In some ways it feels like a step backward. Like, from a purely career evolution move, I’m EiC of a gaming website again. I’ve done that. Why do it again? But then again, joining Polygon as ‘merely’ a feature editor after being an EiC was also a step back in that same way, although I feel it was a good move.” Despite holding the same job title, The Escapist is very much a different beast than when Pitts was at the helm. In many ways, his job now is both journalism and restoration.

When asked what he finds enjoyable these days, Pitts merely answers “making things.” One thing is for certain: with The Escapist, Pitts will be happy. As it always has, the site will remain as a pillar in gaming journalism, churning out and creating its own style of content. If the site can mirror the creativity of old, it will surely have one happy Editor at the helm.

More details about the editorial staff and new vision of The Escapist are available here.

Be sure to check out Damien Lawardorn’s meditation on politics in games and follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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