Garwulf’s Corner — Medium Introduction: “The Column that Russ Pitts Doesn’t Want You to Read!”

Robert B. Marks

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In addition to all that is documented here, I have to ask for some help — due in part to delays in the court and Enthusiast Gaming trying to drag everything out, as far as I can tell, we are now at the point where we can no longer meet our expenses for this month and the next, and I’ve got a delightful, adorable baby girl to provide a future for. To make matters worse, due to this libel and the lack of any retraction or settlement I can publicize, I am extremely limited in where I can work and for whom. So, as much as I hate doing it, I have to ask for charity — any I’ve resurrected a GoFundMe, and every contribution, no matter how small, helps (unfortunately, it’s also one of the reasons why these will appear behind the Medium paywall). So, please help me keep a roof over my family’s head while I get this libel matter finished.

I wish it was only my (often questionable) sense of humour that led me to this title for an introduction to the relocation of my Garwulf’s Corner archives, but I think it’s probably true.

So, why are the Garwulf’s Corner archives now coming to Medium? Well, to answer that, you have to know about The Escapist, and the libel lawsuit, and the war I’m having to fight to protect myself and everybody else who had contributed to The Escapist alongside me from Russ Pitts (real name Christian Russell Fletcher).

When I left the Escapist, it was time to move on. The magazine had gone into a death spiral, and I couldn’t keep providing new content if I was only making a few dollars a month at it (bills and a mortgage have to be paid, after all). So, in September 2017 the final installment went up, the Escapist went dormant shortly after save for the several volunteers who cared enough and had the luxury of writing for it for free, and I moved on.

Then the news came — the Escapist had been bought by Enthusiast Gaming Inc., and they had appointed Russ Pitts, a former editor who had acquired a not small amount of the content that had made them famous, to be its new editor-in-chief. What none of us — save a select few who had worked with him before — knew was that Pitts was about as nasty a piece of work as they come. The previous time he had managed the magazine, he had tormented and terrorized his staff, and held a long grudge against anybody who had stood up to him, such as Joshua Vanderwall, the editor-in-chief who I was writing for. He was holding a grudge, and as soon as he was appointed to the editorship, he used that position to carry it out.

What Pitts announced, along with the legal documents in which all of this is documented have been published and discussed elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it here. What is important is that none of it was true — the official editorial stance was centrist, and there wasn’t an extremist among us. That didn’t matter, though — I think at least half my career was destroyed overnight. I could no longer talk about my proudest work for fear of how I would be labelled (a particular concern, as most of my readers will know that I am openly Jewish). I did the cowardly thing: I stopped talking about it or referencing it. Liana Kerzner, who was far braver than I, did talk about her work for the Escapist, and immediately lost some of her credibility with her students (and she is a Jewish left-wing feminist).

What made me different from all the others was that I had been drifting lawyer-wise for a while, had received mentorship from a lawyer, and had actually made the decision to try to get into law school. This meant that while almost nobody else could shoulder the burden of initiating legal action, I could. And I did.

As my libel application changed into a full-on action and began the process of making its way through the court, Russ Pitts launched the second iteration of the magazine and became, at least as far as I can tell, the worst editor-in-chief The Escapist ever had. He was openly hostile to forum members, posted threatening statements on Twitter, and his reaction to a plagiarism controversy was to write a condemnation, and then turn it into a stunt wherein he challenged his readers to find all the sentences and paragraphs he had plagiarized. What finally took him out of the game was an editorial on ethics in video game journalism in which he spent a large portion of the running length ranting about GamerGate, and then declared that talking critically about video game journalism was impossible because of it. This in turn reawakened the past trauma of Zoe Quinn, who called him out, and he in turn told her to get over herself. In the backlash that followed, he apologized and stepped down.

It was the beginning of February. It had taken only six months for Russ Pitts to relaunch The Escapist, drench it and himself in gasoline, and light a match.

That was what the public saw, anyway. My view was a bit different. Alongside everything else that was happening, there was the question of the rights to the second year of Garwulf’s Corner. Those had been hosted as part of a business arrangement with Defy Media, and all the rights for the entire column had been retained by me so that I could publish them in a collection under my little publishing company (something rendered impossible after Pitts libeled us all). So, I reached out to Enthusiast Gaming through their lawyer, informed them of the rights situation, gave them an extension to the end of 2018 in which they could continue hosting the second year of the column, and asked them if they wanted to negotiate the hosting rights past that date.

Shortly before Christmas, a little while after I had made the court documents public in an effort to bring some public pressure to bear, I received their answer — the entire column was removed from The Escapist archives.

It was a petty and vindictive act, right in line with what I’d discovered and made public about Russ Pitts’ character. But I think it was also an attempt to destroy evidence.

You see, Garwulf’s Corner proved that I and my colleagues at The Escapist were not the extremists that Pitts had made us out to be.

But at the same time, whether Pitts realized it or not, it was more than that — it was proof that the entire far-left philosophy on how to address pop culture was wrong.

It was proof that pop culture did not need to be a battlefield. It proved that all you had to do to talk about ethics in video game journalism was to just talk about them (as I did in at least one installment), and that if you came to the reading public on the internet with the intention to throw some ideas around, they would not only meet you half-way, but be waiting there when you came around again. You could have civil discussions about hot-button topics like the white privilege debate, sexism, racism, diversity, or harassment of video game developers. It proved that the entire founding principle of outrage culture — that you always needed anger to change things for the better — was wrong.

I spent most of the first five months of 2019 incapacitated by poor health, culminating in a pneumonia that took 12 weeks to recover from. By the time I came out of it, Russ Pitts had resigned his position at Enthusiast Gaming, and in an act that required the biggest balls I’d ever seen, painted himself as the victim who was coming to grips with having done “a bad thing” (apparently, being mean to somebody on Twitter was worse in his mind than libeling over a dozen people with potentially career-destroying consequences, and perjuring himself while he attacked freedom of speech in court documents in an effort to escape the consequences) while claiming that he had experienced and witnessed psychological and sexual abuse (having been given a peek at the actual complaints against Russ Pitts by the Escapist staff at the time, I know for a fact that the one who was being psychologically and possibly sexually abusive was Russ Pitts — those were shared with me in confidence, and I am sadly not able to publish them). I still felt as though I couldn’t repost or republish the column — the lawsuit needed to come to an end first, or else they risked being published under the same shadow that the libel had cast over me and my fellow contributors.

But here I am, publishing them anyway. I guess what swayed me in the end was that as it dragged out, the absence of some of the proudest pop culture writing of my life from anywhere but the Wayback Machine combined with the slow pace of the libel suit and the settlement discussions was bringing me down. As this happened, my wife told me that she thought I should start publishing them — “it isn’t right that they aren’t there,” she said.

So, what is going to follow over the next several days is the full run of Garwulf’s Corner on The Escapist. But, I’m also going to add some extras — included in this will be some of the unpublished installments that were in the pipeline when the column was cancelled the first time around, which had previously only appeared in An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture. And, where necessary, I’ll add some new updates.

And, most important of all, regardless of if you agree or disagree with my point of view in each column, please comment. I’ve also believed that the job of the columnist is to be the first voice in the discussion, and then to step back and let speak. We can have a marketplace of ideas in pop culture — all we need to do is try.

Robert B. Marks

Written by

Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher. His pop culture work has appeared in places like Comics Games Magazine.

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