So, by now, 1up.com readers and listeners of GFW Radio and other assorted remnants of humanity have heard the big news: Shawn Elliott is leaving 1up.com to go work with Ken Levine over at 2K Boston. To which we here at Greenspeak Central have one important, official comment: Right the fuck on! Ken Levine is a hilarious, genius god of game design...and since Shawn Elliott is a hilarious, genius god of a journalist, well, this is truly a partnership of titans. Those (rightly) bemoaning the loss of Shawn's voice on the podcast and website should buck up knowing that there is NO question--none--that Shawn's influence will be bright and strong over at 2K Boston.
Because here's the thing about Shawn Elliott: He makes everyone around him do better work.
My experience working with Shawn for years was not unlike the experience that readers/listeners get when encountering him: I never knew what I would get on a day-to-day basis. Was it going to be hilarious, goofball, cut-up Shawn, the immature prankster who made me eat gross candy? Or was it going to be thoughtful, analytical, almost stubbornly honest Shawn who *demanded* higher quality and harder work out of everyone he worked with? The truth is--usually it was both, often within minutes or seconds of each other. You heard that dichotomy every week on our podcast. He was both class clown and most serious guy in the room.
Recently, he got annoyed at the notion that I had taken over the role of Sean Molloy as the one to "keep Shawn on track", and I agreed with him that he was right to be annoyed. I mean, yes, he definitely could talk, and sometimes, yes, I would try to do the host thing of saying, "Okay, in other news...."---but more often than not, Shawn was ALSO the guy who had specific agendas for the podcast. HE was the one who would come down saying, "Let's not forget to talk about Far Cry 2 this week." Or: "Could you assholes play some PC games this week please, so I'm not the only one talking about them again?" He cared *deeply* about the quality of GFW Radio every single week, and would get annoyed or frustrated if he felt it wasn't going well. I cared a lot, too, of course! This was my baby, too, and Sean Molloy's and Ryan's too. But, as I've mentioned before, I had more of a laid-back, "let's just see what happens" approach, which served us well MOST of the time, but could backfire on weeks when we weren't really on our game. And Shawn rightly felt like some structure, some specific topics, were in order on some weeks, rather than my hippiesque, lazy desire to just bullshit. Again, the point is: He made us try harder, he made us work harder, his commitment to quality never flagged, not once, ever, in all the time I've known him.
And let's not forget he is a writer, too. My first contact with Shawn was when he did a couple freelance articles for CGW after EGM laid him off a few years ago. When I read these first articles, I couldn't believe it. Here was a guy who could write about games in a way that made you really think, who never approached a lead paragraph the way anyone else would, who clearly thought a LOT about what he was going to say before he ever started typing. Sometimes you'd go into a Shawn article thinking, "What the heck is he getting at here?" at first--only to realize a few sentences or paragraphs in that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that he is making you think about something relatively unimportant in life---a first-person shooter, for example--with the kind of insight normally reserved for "higher" works of art. And, of course, they deserve this kind of analysis. It's just that almost no one in this entire industry ever does it. This is why Shawn Elliott was so important, and so influential, and so loved by so many people, including me, in the gaming industry.
And let's not forget prankster Shawn--not that any of us ever could. I don't need to do a Chris Farley Show thing here of recounting his best moments and saying how awesome they were. You can Google or YouTube some of them. But I will say that I can't tell you the number of times those of us in the room with him (most recently on last week's 1up FM) had to literally take off our headsets and stifle ourselves because we were laughing so hard at what he was saying. Some folks didn't appreciate or objected to his "Ralphie" griefing stories/videos, but what I personally loved about them--and what I knew was his point of those all along--was the way in which he exposed the *real* griefers online--the bullies, bigots, and jerks who would come out of the woodwork to dogpile on him because they (wrongly) perceived him to be someone they could pick on. It was, quite often, a subversive work of genius. Sometimes, yeah, it was immature and ridiculous, too. But again, that's Shawn. And I'll take an erratic genius, sometimes teetering on the brink between genius and stupidity, over yet another bland, ineffective, unthinking, unchallenging, untalented "web journalist" any fuggin' day of the week.
Like me, and Sean Molloy, and Ryan, Shawn was devasted by the loss of our magazine. The four of us had achieved a perfect bond of creativity and diverse talent, working with each other to bring out the best in each other, to let each of us play to our strengths to make a product we felt extremely proud of. The fact that Ziff Davis kept us all on, rather than laying us off, when the magazine close really spoke volumes. Companies don't normally do this--keep an editorial staff around when the mag itself has been totally shut down. So, ya know, it beat being out of work. But it wasn't the same for us, even with the weekly podcast to bring us back in the same room together. And the impact of this loss kept persisting. Sean is at Blizzard now, I'm at EA, and Shawn is at 2K Boston....and hopefully all of us will find ourselves once again in creative dream teams like the one we shared together at 1up.com. And Ryan Scott? Watch for this guy to take over everything one day. Both at Ziff and maybe the world. That is my dream for him, and my challenge to him.
But this post is about Shawn. A brilliant guy, a fearless guy, a guy who never let me off the hook for anything and for which I was grateful every single day. A ringleader of clowns (there's no Max Chill or Chuff without Shawn to bring them into the fold). A beacon of intelligence in an industry rampant with idiocy. Shawn has always been destined for greater things, and this is proof of this. So we can all mourn the loss of his voice in the public arena for now, because it is a one-of-a-kind, hilarious and insightful voice. But, more important, let's be happy for the man himself, who is getting a rare opportunity in life to work directly with a smart, important designer also at the top of his game right now. Because this kind of partnership means--even if we don't get to see the results right away--that we all win.
Good luck, Shawn. You've earned this. And should there be an opportunity for Brodeo 2, or any other opportunity to mix it up with you ever again, let me know. Because I am all in.