The Escapist‘s Editor-in-Chief Russ Pitts has taken a “voluntary leave of absence” from the site after posting a controversial article related to Gamergate. The resulting fallout from this article led to an exchange on Twitter between Pitts and indie developer Zoe Quinn, an early Gamergate target, with Pitts telling Quinn that he “genuinely thought you’d probably be over this being all about you.”
Pitts is stepping down as The Escapist’s EiC for an unspecified period of time, along with its parent company Enthusiast Gaming. He will also completely withdraw from his role with Take This, a mental health charity he co-founded with his wife Susan Arendt. Pitts has said that this move comes due to him needing to “win back the truth” of those who supported him.
Pitts was criticized for publishing ‘How Do We Finally Talk About Ethics?’, an article that condemned GamerGate though also made sweeping statements about how games media websites operated. “But some of us (and sometimes all of us) are willing to take a shortcut, improperly source a quote, give a higher review score to a friend, or outright copy a review from someone else,” Pitts wrote in the now-deleted article. “It’s inexcusable. But it happens. And readers deserve to expect better precisely because journalism is so important to the industry, not in spite of it.”
This attracted the attention of Quinn, the Depression Quest developer whose relationship problems were aired in public and used as a launching pad by Gamergate. With Quinn having been at the center of the Gamergate controversy when it started in 2014, she criticized Pitts for not having reached out to her. In response, Pitts tweeted: “Sorry Zoe. I genuinely thought you’d probably be over this being all about you. I’ll be sure to check in next time.”
Pitt’s comment to Quinn was widely criticized, with many condemning The Escapist EiC for feigning ignorance over the reality of the situation. “It litterally [sic] started over her, the entire “ethics in journalism” dogwhistle was cover for a harassment campaign that orbited around her,” one user replied. “You understand this context, Russ, so don’t play like this is all in her head with this gaslighting bullshit.”
In a statement published to Twitter, Pitts wrote: “Last week, in addressing a member of the greater games community, I used words that diminished her experience as a survivor of abuse and disrespected her astonishing and inspirational struggle. My words hurt her. I hurt her. I hurt everyone who rightfully admires her for her resilience in the face of an unbelievable amount of suffering. I hurt those who look up to me as a leader in this community. I hurt those who believe in the work I am doing. I hurt my friends, my family, my team. I hurt you.”
He continued: “Given the events of the past week, the board of Take This and I have mutually agreed that now is a good time for me to step fully aside to remove myself as a distraction from their good work protecting people at-risk. Effective immediately, I am resigning as chair of the board at Take This, and from the board entirely. Our journey together has ended.
“Further, I will be taking a voluntary leave of absence from Escapist Magazine and Enthusiast Gaming in order that I may focus on the work of understanding and addressing my own failings so that I might win back the truth of those who have supported me. Hopefully I may also find some meaningful way to use my words again for good, instead of harm.”
The full statement can be viewed below:
Shortly following Pitts’ article, The Escapist also published a teaser for a new video series titled ‘Recon,’ in which host Victor Lucas interviewed a female Riot employee over the company’s recent sexual harassment scandal. With the employee appearing visibly uncomfortable, many condemned The Escapist’s decision to air the footage. Lucas posted an apology on the site, though stated that the show’s launch would still go ahead.
The Escapist was relaunched back in 2018, with the site having previously come under fire for its support of Gamergate. Pitts was one of the original editors of the site, before going on to eventually co-found Polygon. In a Medium post announcing the relaunch, Pitts claimed that he would be “leaving politics at the door.”
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