Welcome to PodWatch! A series from writers who want to share their insight of the Video Game Podcasts industry. Got a podcast recommendation for us? Share them in the comments section below!
One of the hardest balancing-acts in video games journalism is the overlap between gaming and events that happen in the non-gaming world.
There have been plenty of times when journalism has reported on social and political issues and received quite aggressive pushback.
Some people push back because they use video games as an escape from those issues. Some push back because they are ill-informed and the topics challenge their world-view. Some push back because the issues being talked about challenge the power they hold on society through their political or religious beliefs.
The intensity of the pushback results in most mainstream video game outlets choosing to stray only sparingly into those waters. Their concern is that these people, regardless of opinions, are customers and revenue streams to them and so aggravating them too much would undercut their financial stability.
Whilst I personally don’t like that, it’s a sad truth for any outlet operating under capitalism.
I will say, however, that the industry is getting better; they are far more willing to talk about sexism, racism, homophobia, employee exploitation, and major political events than they were ten years ago.
I put this squarely down to key personalities in the industry who led the charge., unafraid to talk about the issues, regardless of the pushback and abuse they received.
These are the personalities and people I now actively seek out. I want to consume the content they put out as I know they will talk about the issues that are important to me and enable me to stay informed.
So let me share these podcasts with you:
Waypoint Radio + Alumni
Whilst Ubisoft swears blindly that politics don’t exist in video games, the Waypoint Radio crew are here to say otherwise.
If something important is happening in the world, be it the war in Ukraine, the elections in the UK, or whatever horrible thing is happening in the US on that particular week, this podcast will address it. Often it’s the first point of call before they head into talking about video games.
It’s important to point out that these aren’t some naive video game professionals having an ill-informed punt at an issue. The hosts, both current and former, all tend to be highly intelligent, well-read individuals. Several have been academics, whilst others have been on the front lines championing these issues for years.
The current podcast features Patrick Klepek, Rob Zacny, and Renata Price, whilst previous hosts of note have been Austin Walker and Danielle Riendeau.
Both Austin and Patrick worked at Giant Bomb and were instrumental in talking about gamergate and related issues during their time there. They were not popular, to begin with, but Giant Bomb's leadership backed them both and the majority of the audience learned to see it as the issue it really is.
Danielle and Rob both came from an Idle Thumbs background, while Patrick, Renata, and Rob all worked at Kotaku. Their opinions were always on display there as Kotaku has been one of the few mainstream outlets not afraid to break a bad story.
The experience they have with these issues leads to extremely informed and nuanced discussions that I always come away feeling better about. From Austin’s own academic input on issues like racism to Patrick's deep dive into what it is like to work on a shooter game during a time of constant school shootings, to Rob's deep knowledge on just about everything, it’s never a shallow discussion.
It’s also not a preachy show either. The crew has successfully balanced keeping the podcast light and entertaining whilst still being able to stop and take a moment to talk about really horrible issues.
If you are wanting an easy way to keep informed on the world's major issues whilst still hearing about the latest gaming news then I strongly recommend this podcast.
It’s hard not to call Podquisistion the more radical version of Waypoint, and I don’t mean radical in a bad way either. The hosts, Jim Stephanie Sterling, Laura Kate Dale, and Conrad Zimmerman are the closest things we have to video game activists.
They have been very vocal, regardless of the consequences, about some of gaming's biggest issues for well over a decade now. Sterling was calling out the exploitative nature of micro-transactions before it was cool. Laura isn’t just a vocal supporter of LGBTQIA issues but also for accessibility issues in gaming, and Conrad is a ‘mercenary artist’ with a flair for pointing out how damaging the system is.
What is probably underappreciated by most is that this group of individuals succeeded in an environment where being this vocal gets you cut off from things. The hosts have been blacklisted from publishers, developers, and outlets because of the criticisms they dared to make about exploitative game mechanics, worker abuse, lack of representation, and the outright erasure of the disabled gaming community. The industry has tried its absolute best to put a stop to these hosts' careers in gaming and in the early days that can’t have been easy. The podcast used to have a host that had to leave because their career was suffering.
It’s a great listen if you are empowered to be hearing this sort of criticism and the show is nothing less than a laugh a minute. This is one of the few podcasts where it has been so funny I’ve made my partner listen to bits of episodes.
Approaching the issues from another direction we have Studying Pixels. A podcast by two academics, Dan Hughes, and Tobias Klös who dedicate entire episodes to dissecting major issues and how they intersect with gaming.
Some standout episodes have covered toxic masculinity, fake news, and the swastika. The hosts will talk about an issue at length, bringing expert guests and research as well as their informed opinions to the discussion.
I find it to be a very calming and educational podcast that provides a level of discussion I’ve not come across before. If you like a podcast where you learn something I strongly recommend this one.
Not every episode is solely about big issues, however, as it’s still a video game podcast with episodes dedicated to the latest news, releases, or lighter topics.
Why this is important
In writing this type of article I’m not saying that everyone else in the industry is bad and is avoiding the issues. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that a lot of these podcasts are owned by companies who don’t want them talking about these issues. The sad truth is that those who control the video game industry financially are quite conservative and insensitive to these issues.
For example, Jeff Keighly who hosts the industry's biggest event, the Game Awards, came under fire last year as he attempted to avoid addressing the industries biggest controversy ever (Activision-Blizzard scandal). He only made things worse by trying to get people to just ‘focus on the games’ a move remarked as ‘trying to be like Sweden in World War Two’. It is clear that Jeff saw that the future of his platform could be put in jeopardy by talking about the dirty laundry of his key stakeholders.
In another similar situation, IGN, the world's biggest video game site removed an article written by their American team that talked about providing aide to Palestine during a period of sustained attack by the Israeli Defence Force. Whilst the employees of the company and the wider media were quite rightfully upset at this, IGN’s management pulled it out of fear of being seen as pro-Palestine when they have offices in Israel.
It’s actually quite difficult to be principled, and vocal about your principals in these sorts of situations, and it's the reason why you won’t find a lot of people dedicating themselves to covering the more unsavoury topics in the industry as the consequences can be career limiting. These podcasts aren't afraid to do just though, so do check them out if you're of the mind to enjoy this kind of content.
Have a podcast recommendation to share? Drop a comment below.
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