Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"So what's it like...?"

In the past just-over-three months, many friends and acquaintances have all asked me the same question:

"So what's it like, working at Kotaku?"

In terms of the day-to-day details, my colleague Kirk Hamilton's look at a week in the life is, while obviously different in the details, pretty similar in the big picture.

Yes, it's frustrating dealing with the comments, and with the darker side of gamer culture.  But while I loved cultivating an audience here and curating my own discussions, and while I've loved guest posting at The Border House and so on, this castle is safe.  It's a place where I built the walls and set the terms.  And the end result is that the vast majority of the time, I preach to the choir.  My words fall on ears primed to be receptive.

I love you guys, but you don't really need my message.  Kotaku readers do.

The comments can be massively discouraging.  And on a piece like Patricia's recent forte, they are downright disgusting.  We all know this script: writer dares to point out instance of sexism or racism, writer faces enormous backlash, the worst core of nerd culture throws a tantrum.  A week later it's all died down but that writer, particularly but not exclusively if the writer is a woman, a person of color, or identifies anywhere under the LGBT umbrella, faces a more hair-trigger audience every time because now they're "oversensitive."

A tussle with David Jaffe's fanbase is entirely not how I would have preferred to start this segment of my career.  The after-effects of that one still sting.

But the problematic language, behaviors, and culture aren't going to go away by everyone nicely not saying anything about them.  It's hard.  Sometimes it's exhausting and sometimes it's deeply, truly scary.  But that's what fighting the good fight is, I guess.  It's going where you're needed, and not where you're comfortable.  So it's one of those instances where if I'm pissing off some people, I must be on the right track.**

For what it's worth, I've gotten some tremendously uplifting tweets and e-mails from readers in the last three months.  I try to respond to them all, although I'm dreadful when faced with a sea of e-mail, and I save them.  My favorite still was from a grandmother in her sixties, discussing my opinion piece on the ending of Mass Effect 3.***

As for the rest of it?


I was something like 17 when I thought, "I am going to go to E3 someday."  That particular goal was long-gone from my agenda by the time I was graduating from college.  And yet here I sit now, in 2012, with a flight to catch to LAX at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning.

It's both wonderful and horribly intimidating that people care what I think.  And not just the people who play the games, but the people who make them.  I make an off-the-cuff tweet about a game and find it picked up by the studio director, the game's producer, and lead the combat designer.  I still feel like a jackass of a name-dropper sometimes when I listen to myself describe who I talked with in  a given day, and yet that's how my days go.  What a weird reality.

With great power comes great responsibility, and so on.  I try hard to improve the silence when I speak, or at least not to be a jerk.  Sometimes, no matter how good my intentions, I fail.  But I like to think that on the whole I do all right.

Working at Kotaku is the most terrifying and exhausting job I've ever had, and over the past few months I've been falling completely in love with it.  I'm a classic introvert who's never particularly sought the spotlight, so sometimes I really need to try hard not to think about how big a megaphone I have.  And then sometimes it's a crazy rush.  When I was live-blogging the Mass Effect panel at PAX East, in the software we were using I saw the number of concurrent viewers just keep climbing sky high.  Stephen, my boss, looked at the massive and passionate crowd and joked, "So hey, no pressure..."  But when that viewer counter hit 20,000, instead of thinking, "oh shit, don't screw up, don't screw up," I did a mental cackle and thought to the universe, "BRING IT."

I'm trying to channel the "Bring it!" me more often.

I've realized recently that my approach to the way I play games says a lot about my approach to most things.  In the bazillion rounds of ME3 multi I've played, I always play infiltrator.  I max my tactical cloak, my defense, and my damage.  I take very few shots, as compared to the other three players in any round, but even if I only have the 25 kills badge, I will have guaranteed 10 or 20 headshots.  I pick and choose, carefully, and aim to be effective when I act.

Kotaku... isn't like that.  It's a constant stream of acting, a constant need not only to be aware of my surroundings but able to leap up and take action on anything at any time.  While I do consider myself adaptable and pretty good at making plans on the fly, the incredibly short turnaround from thought to action has been a challenge for me.

I've also been dealing with the difficulties of removing the line between my private and professional lives.  It's easy, when you go to an office and people call you Katherine and you do one clearly defined job, and then you go home and turn on your laptop and talk with people about the games you play, and those people call you Kate.

It's a little messier when you leave Katherine and the office behind you entirely, and when Kate sits down at her gaming PC every morning at 9:00 and proceeds to work until the work is done.  When replies to my tweets don't just come from a core 150 or so people with whom I've formed some kind of relationship, but from 700 or 800 people I've never heard of.  When I have to create two different Facebook accounts, because I don't want the potential crazy from my work to spill over and bother my family.  (My spouse and in-laws didn't choose this. I did.)

In another way I really like it, because I'm allowed to be more honest.  During a work-day in the old office, I was sitting there thinking (and occasionally writing) about games and other geeky things, but I never could say so.  Not a soul I worked with spoke the language of Internet at all, where to me it's become a mother tongue.  I wanted to be writing but I had to make it a lower priority.  Now, if I think a game is awesome or a trailer is terrible, I switch to the tab with work chat in it and I say, "Wow, that Hitman: Absolution trailer with the 'nuns' is fucking abominable," or I say, "I really hope this Larian game comes out well."  And then I go tell the world whatever I'm thinking, too.  That part's awesome.

But it's still an adjustment.

I have learned more since February than I could even have imagined, and I imagined I'd learn rather a lot.  There's a whole language still to absorb, about games I've never played in genres I've never been interested in.  I've been taking on new challenges in more ways than one.

My parents always said I was probably going to grow up to be a writer.  None of us could ever have foreseen exactly how that would end up playing out.  This never was my dream job, because until the last year or two, it never even occurred to me to dream it.  The idea was just too farfetched.

And yet, here I am.  What a rush.

** This is not to imply that I want to piss off everyone.  Not only am I conflict-averse, but there are some people out there who I respect enormously, and when I receive negative feedback or criticism from them I immediately feel dreadful and desperately try to re-evaluate.  Luckily, those folks still seem, in the main, to think that I'm doing okay.  Knock on wood...

*** And, look, not gonna lie, I'm still absolutely tickled pink about this.


  1. You're the only reason I read Kotaku, I'm not going to lie. I don't read the comments, but I can only imagine. Keep fighting the good fight -- you're amazing!

  2. Even the greatest strike out once in awhile. You're batting pretty damn well as far as I've been able to tell. I can read Kotaku without cringing thanks to the change since you and your fellow new hires showed up, and that is no small thing.

    Contributing to comments, or even reading them is still a bridge too far for me, but I didn't think it would get even this far, so I'm prepared to be proven even more wrong!

  3. Kate, there's a professional reason and a personal reason on why I was excited you got this gig.

    Personally, it's a friend of mine who is awesome who got an awesome gig.

    Professionally, and more important than my own reasons, a major media outlet for the art form I dedicated my life to practice has a voice attuned to the voices and issues beyond Caucasian cisgendered male.

    Border House is 100% focused on these issues and I don't want to diminish that. But your roll at Kotaku brings that perspective in the general diaspora. You help make issues of diversity important as a constant beacon effecting the larger community, not just the weekly or monthly check-in.

    You are not the only person I know who does this, and there needs to be more people, but you are a very significant one. These reasons are why I am extremely proud of you and your work.

    Keep up the good work Kate, and don't let the commenters get you down.

  4. I don't read regularly read kotaku (or much of any gaming sites), and I doubt I ever will. But I'm just really excited about how much you're enjoying it. Please be careful about burnout and don't work yourself into the ground, ok? Also, I hope the love lasts forever.

  5. yes! Kotaku needs you! But it also sounds exhausting. 

  6.  But when that viewer counter hit 20,000, instead of thinking, "oh shit, don't screw up, don't screw up," I did a mental cackle and thought to the universe, "BRING IT.

    In our martial arts class, sometimes it takes years to get students to that point.   Fantastic!