I’ve been covering video games since 2008 at website The Koalition, so I felt I owed it to myself to read this memoir from veteran Video Game Journalist Russ Pitts. In Sex Drugs and Cartoon Violence, Russ details a decade of his life where he covered video games as a journalist. During the course of this decade Russ worked at two notable media outlets; the first being The Escapist and the second being Polygon.
Buy this book (US)
As someone who’s been to many press junkets, I find the absurd stories told in this book relatable. Russ Pitts manages to make light of the bizarre marketing stunts that video game PR teams are often forced to orchestrate to impress journalists. In the book, Russ writes about one occasion where he was flown out to another state for a few days (all expenses paid), forced to endure an over the top parade of fireworks, explosions and roleplay – just to see a game demo that he’d already played months before at the E3 Expo. All this in the hopes that Russ would write about their video game product for the site he wrote for at the time.
Russ doesn’t pull any punches when putting these ridiculous PR stunts on blast, and I appreciated him for exposing this side of the gaming industry. One of my favourite chapters focuses on the time that the E3 expo was held in Santa Monica instead of Los Angeles. Anyone who has attended the annual event can probably tell that moving the Expo to anywhere outside of the L.A Convention Centre may be a disaster for those who have become accustomed to going to L.A every year; but beyond the inconvenience of having to travel somewhere completely different, Russ Pitts (who attended) speaks of the disorganisation that lead to the worst year in the expo’s existence. This was a joy to read as someone who understands what goes into covering the E3 Expo as a gaming enthusiast or journalist.
There are many interesting nuggets in Sex, Drugs and Cartoon Violence; including the story on how Russ Pitts broke popular video reviewer Yahtzee into the industry, who then became the face of one of the most popular video review shows, Zero Punctuation. These jewels that Russ lets go provides an understanding what it takes to make the wheels turn at a video game media publication.
Later on in the book, Russ writes about his departure from The Escapist and then how he joined the founding team of writers at Polygon. He then goes on to tell how he separated from Polygon after just a couple years. These are stories that will leave readers waiting for the juicy details, but sadly Russ doesn’t paint the full picture here. At the time Sex, Drugs and Cartoon Violence was written, these separations were clearly still too recent to dish the full dirt on. It’s easy to respect the fact that Russ has to protect people, as well as his own integrity. However, the vagueness of these explanations will leave the reader frustrated at not knowing the full details. On the upside, if you follow the industry closely enough then it’s possible to research some of these stories and get a better understanding on the situation anyway.
Ultimately, Sex Drugs and Cartoon Violence is a solid reading experience for those with an interest of the inner-workings of the video game industry, especially from the media point of view. The book could have greatly benefited from another round of editing, as there are some typos to overlook. Usually in a memoir a few typos are typically forgiving, but for a memoir from a former editor-in-chief it can be immersion breaking. These few typos aren’t enough for me to not recommend this book to anyone who is a true gaming enthusiast though. If you’re as invested as I am in gaming, this should already be required reading.