Alumnus Evan Lahti ’07 shows the power of journalism in the world of gaming
Dec 30, 2021
Evan Lahti ’07 of Ypsilanti, Mich., is the global editor-in-chief of PC Gamer, “the global authority” on computer games for more than 20 years. A journalism major, Lahti shared how North Central helped start his career and how he handles a big job that involves far more than playing video games all day.
How did you get started as a PC gamer and what are your favorite games and/or genres?
I'm a huge fan of first-person shooters like Rainbow Six Siege, Counter-Strike, and the Battlefield series. I love the skills that they draw upon—communication, teamwork, physical awareness, and positioning, while also being a great context for bonding and hanging out with friends. I try to play as wide a variety of games as I can because I want to be aware of everything that's happening, but it's impossible. There are about eight or nine hundred PC games released each month on Steam, which is sort of like the iTunes or Spotify of games. Dozens of those will be relevant to our audience, worthy of coverage or playing in full, and that's plenty. PC gaming is incredibly vibrant right now, we're in an ongoing golden age in terms of the democratization of game development and how much easier it's become for anyone to make games.
I owe my enthusiasm for computers to my uncle, who built PCs in his basement. Seeing the innards of a PC splayed out sort of demystified them, I guess. Like “Oh, these aren't abstract machines, you can tinker with them, put your hands right in their ribcage and mess around.” And honestly, if you can operate a screwdriver, that's even more true now than it was in the 1990s—anyone can build a computer!
A big early step in your career was writing for The Chronicle. What got you interested in journalism? What kind of articles and features did you work on with The Chronicle?
Journalism empowers you to ask questions. It's a privilege to be able to contact anyone in the gaming industry—an art director, a PR person, a prominent esports player—and ask them something on behalf of our audience. I love the utility of journalism, how practical and everyday it is as a form of writing. It's a field where you get to swing the bat a lot of times, you get to iterate a lot through the high frequency of writing and publishing. I don't know how authors or other writers work on the same thing for a year or more, honestly.
One of the most rewarding things about working on a college newspaper was being part of a small team and the feeling of completing a group project each month—those skills directly translated to creating a magazine when I started at PC Gamer in 2008. It helped me develop a notion early on of carrying a story to completion from beginning to end and what that meant. It also helped me understand the importance of thinking about all elements of a story—its layout on the page, its imagery, where the story would sit in a section—at the outset of the process, which is definitely a mindset we value.
Who were your most influential teachers while you were at North Central, and how did they help you on the path to where you are now?
(Professor of English) Zachary Michael Jack was a great mentor. I got a lot out of his class on style. I think the whole interdisciplinary experience at NCC is something I'm grateful for because I got to become more of a generalist, something that really benefits you as a journalist and editor, a context where it's helpful to know a little about a lot.
Certainly Prof. (John) Madormo's course on media law was invaluable. Understanding libel and defamation is a crucial part of our work. As the gaming industry and our audience has matured, we've become less of an enthusiast, product-focused media and more concerned with the culture and business around gaming itself. Each week we're publishing stories focused on challenging subjects like labor practices in the gaming industry and the number of sexual harassment lawsuits that game studios.
What, in summary, are your duties as editor of PC Gamer?
I set the editorial strategy for a team of 27 editors across different sections of coverage. I influence and direct which stories we pursue every day. I build style guides for our team and set policy. I mentor writers and editors to help them strengthen their voices.
Can you briefly explain what happens at the PC Gaming Show at the Electronic Entertainment Expo? What goes into producing a huge event like that?
The PC Gaming Show is the biggest thing we do each year. It's a livestreamed showcase of unannounced games that we produce as part of E3, the biggest gaming expo in North America.
What that boils down to is a six-month process where we talk to everyone in the games industry, ask them to show us what they're making, decide whether it's cool enough to put in front of an audience, and then write a 90-minute show to contain it all.
What is your process when you are reviewing a PC game?
Reviewing a game is great because it's one of the rare moments we get to focus on a single thing and dive deeply into it. We play the game, obviously, taking notes and capturing video footage of the most interesting moments while playing for later reference. We also capture screenshots, like in-game photography, to showcase our experience. At the end of all that we write drafts and edit them with our colleagues until we're happy, or until we hit deadline. Then we're focused on promoting the review, positioning it online against our peers in a way that makes our story stand out as much as possible.
How has writing about PC games and the industry they exist in changed you as a gamer? Do you look at games differently or play them in your free time in a different way?
There is a feeling of guilt sometimes when I'm playing something purely for my own enjoyment because there are so many games competing for our attention, and this nagging sense that we have the responsibility to play absolutely everything.
People reading this may be gamers themselves but almost surely have gamers in their families. Either way, they’d like to stay current, so can you tell us what to look for as far as major trends in PC gaming in the next few years?
The release of the Steam Deck, a portable handheld PC much like the Nintendo Switch, in early 2022 is something we're anticipating a lot. Otherwise the semiconductor shortage continues to be a plague - some of my peers in media dedicate their whole week to telling people when and how to buy a PlayStation 5. Unfortunately, the shortage of graphics cards and other gaming devices will continue into 2022.
To the uninitiated, it may seem as if you have a dream kid’s job—playing video games all day. Tell us the truth: what does it take to succeed in writing about games?
It's funny how often I have to still bat away that impression from friends or family members. Thanks for asking that. Working in game journalism isn't fundamentally different from other online media jobs. I write lots of emails, attend lots of meetings, and edit maybe 20,000 words each week. We publish news, features, reviews, interviews, buying guides, and videos.
Online media is a really dynamic space: we're competing with big publications and a sea of individuals who are producing short videos and commentary on games. Like any form of criticism it helps to have a sharp perspective and voice. The audience wants to read stuff that challenges their understanding of the hobby and enhances their enjoyment of it. One of the things we look for in anyone joining our team is tenacity, a readiness to reach beyond what's sitting on the surface of the internet and find stuff being made or being said in the weirder corners of gaming. We highly value writers who can tell stories that matter to people who don't play games–I just asked one of our editors to profile one of the esports players for Farming Simulator 22, a game about operating incredibly technical farm equipment. It's wonderful that a game like that can support an esports scene, but I think we all, regardless of whether we ourselves are hardcore combine drivers, want to know who's playing Farming Simulator at a competitive level and how they got there– that's an intrinsically interesting person, I guarantee it.