Why I Can’t Boycott E3 To Protest ESA’s Support Of SOPA/PIPA

by Scott Nichols

There seems to be a growing call for game journalists to boycott E3 in response to the ESA’s support of the SOPA and PIPA bills. Now, these are toxic bills that will fundamentally harm the function of the internet. However, for my part, I can not participate in an E3 boycott.

For one, there is the fact that SOPA and PIPA will, in all likelihood, be decided before E3 takes place. This leads to a potentially tricky situation. What if SOPA and PIPA don’t pass, but the ESA doesn’t pull its support? Do you maintain the boycott on principle even though we got the desired end result? I would think that anyone serious about the boycott would have to maintain it. After all, a threat is only good if you can actually follow through on it.

I’m also not entirely sure that those calling for a boycott have fully thought through what that means. Yes, that means you don’t attend E3, but it’s more than that. The point of not attending E3 is to deny them coverage. As such, to truly boycott E3 you also couldn’t report on any news or announcements that come out of the show. To me, that would be a failure in my job as a journalist. That job being to report news and information for the benefit of my readers.

Now, I have heard the rebuttal, “but E3 is just a big PR-fest, so how much of it is ‘news’ really?” Ok, yes, there is a significant PR presence at E3, and if you can’t separate what is PR from what isn’t then avoiding E3 is probably the safer choice regardless of what legislation is being considered. But as journalists we should be able to make that separation, and make it clearly in our writing. Between hands-on time with games and working your way into interviews with developers rather than just their PR representatives, there is valuable insight worth reporting at E3 beyond the typical PR bullshit. I’m not ashamed to say I stalked the 2K booth last year for a good hour and a half so that I could ambush Jordan Thomas during his lunch break and get an interview about the inclusion of a prominent LGBT character in XCOM. Of course, not every developer will be so agreeable about a spontaneous interview or questions off of the PR bullet points, but as a journalist I believe it is my job to at the very least try, which requires being there in the first place.

Those are general reasons, but there is another more personal one that, I must admit, supersedes them all. One of the things that makes SOPA and PIPA so dangerous is that they could, ultimately, interfere with my job as a freelance writer. Even if some of the domestic language in the bills is ironed out, I still do a fair amount of writing for sites based overseas that could fall victim to SOPA and PIPA’s overreaching clauses. I have worked too hard these past years to get where I am with my writing; my work is literally everything to me. And in that light, E3 is probably going to be one of my biggest work weeks of the year. If you are serious about boycotting E3, and I mean really serious, then more power to you. But considering that I oppose SOPA and PIPA for their ability to hamper my job, forgive me for not willfully hampering it myself in protest.

Instead, my act of defiance will be to write. I will continue to write and inform and report and review while I still can. And when I’m at E3 perhaps I’ll find myself with the opportunity to track down someone from the ESA to question about their position on SOPA and PIPA. I could even take suggestions from boycotters for hard hitting questions to ask. But then again, maybe it would be better if they were there to ask for themselves.