The Dumpster Fire That Is Video Game Criticism Keeps Gita Jackson Warm
"If you want to see diversity made real, you have to step forward and tell someone they have permission to create."
It’s been a crazy year for Gita Jackson. After publishing a number of exceptional pieces about video games, and taking on an editor role at Paste, she was just named “Video Game Blogger Of The Year” by Critical-Distance. No one can tell you why she deserves this honor better than the folks over at C-D.
“Blogger of the Year grew out of an informal tradition in our end-of-the-year retrospectives, designed to call attention to exemplary critics who pushed the discourse forward in the past year,” says senior curator Kris Ligman. “Past recipients include games scholar Brendan Keogh and Giant Bomb’s Austin Walker. The award itself confers no privilege — we don’t offer a cash prize and Gita isn’t about to end up as a character in the next Peter Molyneux game (at least, we hope not). What Critical Distance’s Blogger of the Year title does offer is the distinction of having been selected by and from among your peers.”
Critical Distance Lead Curator Eric Swain adds that, “There were a lot of reasons to choose Gita this year, but if I had to point to a single thing that convinced me she was our Blogger of the Year, it would be her “We Are Not Colonists” for Offworld. You could consider it a kind of thesis statement for the overriding themes of 2015, and that’s why I placed it at the very start of our year-end retrospective. Gita’s piece reminds us that the history we’ve been taught about games is not the whole story.”
Inverse sat down with Gita to talk about talking about video games. She had thoughts.
You just got recognized for doing incredible work in a very small field. How does it feel? Are you headed to Disneyland?
Still can’t quite believe it. I’m eating pizza in bed right now. This isn’t the first time I’ve done pizza in bed this year. There are at least 10 days of pizza in bed this year. It’s weird to have won an award? I am successful now? My credit card company has also been calling me for a month straight, three times a day, every single day. I don’t blame them, they need the money I promised them, but hey, freelancing is strange. I can’t seem to convince people that it’s hard. Everyone wants to talk about the cool parts like writing for cool publications but it’s also hard to have a shit sleep schedule and no friends. I’m so out of touch with what I look like to other people. The Blogger of the Year thing was a surprise. I knew I’d been nominated, but I was busy trying to figure out who I was going to lose to. Austin Walker won last year, and those are big shoes to fill.
Not to explain you to you, but I’ve felt like Gita Jackson’s work is defined by picking an impossibly specific angle and diving in head first. The running theme of your work, to me, has always felt like overkilling a detail, and in the blow-up asking what we can take away that matters.
The stuff that’s most interesting to dive into is these impossibly small things. I talked to artists and they want to talk about their design process because no one ever talks to them. I have so much golden material from Fullbright and Tale of Tales and Necrophone Games but there’s just not enough time. I started writing about fashion because that leads to character design because that makes it approachable, especially to young women. It’s so interesting how games teach us to read them. With all media we need to read the skill and language of the image. I did a very specific dive at the end of college into the films Can’t Hardly Wait, Empire Records, Reality Bites, and Scream and just looked at how they showed womanhood as tragic or emotionally devastating. The devil is in the details, and showing everyone the little ways you’re being taught is so important.
How does the end of your year compare with the beginning?
In the beginning of the year I had a fire under me, and as the year progressed I felt less and less like that. I started feeling discouraged. January to summer is a rise, and July to January is lesser, and that happens to a lot of people. I’d had people I look up to saying things like “When I was where you were, I was nowhere as near as famous as you.” That’s such a strange idea; fame in this position. I just watched the documentary Amy and she could never escape fame because there was a camera in her face all the time. I’m aware that I have fans and an audience, but the quote I think about is Huck from Real World: “I am now famous enough to get recognized in a Burger King but not so famous to not have to eat at Burger King.”
I think about this in regard to YouTube stars. People with 10 million YouTube subscribers probably don’t get recognized. Markiplier has one picture with a fan on his entire Twitter. He lives in LA and is probably painfully aware of his status.
I’m from New England and you learn, growing up, to not be impressed by money. Everyone was so rich, and everyone at college was so rich. I’m used to seeing lots of things I can’t have. You end up not wanting that much success after meeting people like that. I want to be a mom. I want to have kids. But I don’t want my kids to not understand hardship or budgeting or connections to the world or money. I want to be stable but I want them to understand stability.
What do you think sets you apart as a writer?
I love writing. You get a sense reading a lot of video game writing that people love games but don’t love writing. I love writing. That’s what comes first. I belong to a genre of young female writers now that love fashion and games and having a critical eye. I was a cinema studies major and I’m very interested in television. I’m into economics right now because it’s important to understand how money works, because things always seem so fucked? Everything looks like a trashcan fire and I want to understand the trashcan fire. We can recognize a bad thing is bad by context and experience, but we don’t have the specific language to explain why things are bad. It just makes me want to read more books. I want to understand things, but I want to understand them specifically. I want to have an opinion but know that I’ve researched that opinion. I think that’s why I get so hyper-specific in my writing, I feel like I need to support every idea too much. I need to prove it or else I’m failing my readers.
Why is GameWriterTwitter such a well known trashfire of in-fighting?
There was a big thing today with Penny Arcade that was bad and now everyone is mad. What makes everyone upset is that there’s not a lot of news. Games companies keep mum on what’s happening or there’s nothing they release except specific times of the year. So most of the year, you have a thumb up your ass waiting for something to happen. Twitter is also where we go as our “news room” to cover things and test ideas. I see that in other industries but not on this level.
Every niche community loves gossip and fighting. If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you know that’s true. And it’s so disconnected from other journalisms. Everyone else sees us as fucking babies, and like, that’s correct. We all hate each other, deeply. We get so shady because we aren’t free to point out when someone is a jerk, but it’s so small that it can hurt your career. We aren’t free to make sacrifices like speaking our mind. It’s a thing that’s a cycle of vagueness and call-outs and we made it this way; now it’s impossible to escape. So many issues of journalism at large are microcosm’d here, but it’s just particularly bad here.
I’m so sick of op-ed pieces that compare things to GamerGate. Slate compares Jessica Jones or Kylo Ren to GamerGate and not everything is an analogy. Some things are not a glib analogy. There are more 15 year olds on Tumblr that want to fuck Kylo Ren then want to fuck GamerGate. You understand?
What I’m trying to do in my writing is fight that: to not just settle on the simple thing to say. An important thing in an adult’s life is to reconcile that two contradictory ideas can be true at once. That’s just how life is. The fashion articles are glib and heady and I write intense literary stuff about fucking video games. It does people a disservice to give people the simple answer. If you present things as anything less than complicated, you aren’t helping.
I see a lot more creators doing diverse things without needing the pat on the back. Star Wars deserves accolades for that. Black people were all over that. The scenes at the Rebel base, all of the people were of different races, but they also had speaking roles. The Asian dude had a speaking role, he wasn’t just background. The creators spent time and thought about this, but Abrams wasn’t out their self-proclaiming what a great guy he was for doing this.
I’ve been saying elsewhere that 2013 until now has felt like a very public, mainstream fight for representation, and that it already feels to me like 2016 will be focusing on tokenism and motivations and to what degree tokenism is “bad”?
It’s the end of asking if things are feminist and starting to ask if this person of color is the right person of color? Ugh. Yes, you’re probably right. I think in wider media and in video games we need to get non-token characters by not relying on white creators. There’s a lot of people in games among multiple circles of diversity bringing big things next year. Don’t tell people to make their own game, but you also have to give people the tools to build these things, and that requires mentors. I only got where I am because I’ve had the right mentors. Men have been amazingly supportive and some of them have been cheerleaders reminding me what I’m capable of, and now I’m trying to pay that forward and guiding younger voices. If you want to see diversity made real, you have to step forward and tell someone they have permission to create.
What’s your 2016 look like?
I’m trying to move away from games and into coverage of everything else. People underestimate what it means to be good at parties, to network, but I’ve gotten so much better at that and I’m itching to use it. I’m very keen on contributing to books now. I was in The Secret Loves of Geek Girls which is a collection of stories that also features Margaret Atwood. There’s a piece in there about my boyfriend which I didn’t tell my boyfriend about until it published, and I didn’t tell my mom I had a boyfriend until the night before she was going to get the book. I also had a contribution to Shooter which everyone should check out. For 2016, writing with the intention of being financially stable would be great. We’ll see what happens with that. This is the year I kick the baby bird out of the nest. I have concrete proof that I’m a good writer and people like me, so despite what I said about hating fame, this is the year I’m going to flirt with it.