Alexander Macris started an online gaming community called “War Cry” out of his dorm room at Harvard Law School. This grew into The Escapist, which hosts gaming and media news and videos such as Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s withering Zero Punctuation animated videogame reviews. Macris, now publisher of the Durham-based Escapist magazine, spoke to The Chronicle ’s Linda Yu at the inaugural Escapist Expo in Durham about gamer culture, The Escapist and attending law school.
The Chronicle: How did you start the Escapist?
Alexander Macris: I started an Internet company called “War Cry” from my dorm room in law school and we grew that for a few years, but had some troubles following the Dotcom crash, switched to doing online game consulting and marketing for a few years and in 2005 went back to publishing and launched The Escapist.
My only real job in life has been the Escapist. I was a student of history and then I was a law student and then I started an Internet media company.
TC: Just curious, where did you go to law school?
AM: Harvard. Harvard Law. If you want to be really snooty I graduated Magna Cum Laude.
I would say, only go to law school under two circumstances. If you really, really want to be a lawyer—and most people don’t, they just think they can make good money as a lawyer—or you get into such an amazing law school that you can do anything you want with the degree. And under any other circumstance you should not go to law school because the student debt will not even make it worth your while. You’ll be stuck with a debt that forces you into a job you don’t want to do.
I was very fortunate. I went to law school because I couldn’t find a job. I was a history major and I was like, “I can’t find a job!” and I was very fortunate that at the last minute I got into Harvard Law. Since I had that fancy degree I was able to raise money with credibility. I raised $500,000 for my business before I graduated from law school because they were like, he must be really smart—he went to Harvard Law School.
If I hadn’t been going to a top-tier school I could never have done that and [would have] ended up in a second tier law firm making okay money but having a shitty life. Because lawyers are some of the most unhappy people on the planet. The divorce rate at my law firm that I summered at was 70 percent. You will very frequently meet a successful businessman or an investment banker or consultant who will say, “I used to be a lawyer, but then I became this other thing.” You will never meet someone who was a successful businessman, banker or professional who gave it all up to be a lawyer. And the reason is because being a lawyer sucks.
TC: Anything you have to say to people who want to start their own publications?
AM: I would just say start as soon as you can. It only gets harder in life to start a business. Don’t let expectations of other people that you’re too young stop you from doing it. The older you get, the more responsibilities you accumulate, the more you’ll get used to a particular standard of living. It only makes you more risk averse. Whatever you think you ought to be doing, start doing, don’t wait.
TC: What first got you into gaming culture?
AM: I was five years old, and my brothers taught me to play Dungeons and Dragons. It never occurred to me that games were nerdy, since it was what my big brothers were doing, and your big brothers are always cool when you’re five years old, right? That’s who you want to be. For me, that’s what the cool older kids did, and I grew up with it. A Turbo Grafx, which was an esoteric Japanese console that we used to play, and a Commodore 64 were my first videogame experiences. In college, I was very into PC gaming and in law school, I was very into Massive Multiplayer gaming.
TC: Videogames have become more and more mainstream these past few years. How has that affected the Escapist?
AM: It’s funny, when we started the Escapist in 2005, we made this public declaration that videogames were the most important entertainment media of the 21st century and that they were going to be to the next generation what rock and roll had been to the ’60s—they were going to be the defining entertainment medium of the youth. And we were totally right!
We were proven right and enjoyed great growth because of that but now we’ve come to this strange place where videogames are so mainstream that our sense of identity as a niche publication is almost threatened by how mainstream games are. When your mother plays games, can you say that you’re a gamer and she’s not? So we really have to think broadly about what it means to be on The Escapist. We’ve really come to realize that what makes videogames so appealing to people is that they’re an exciting escape from the everyday, and that’s really what our focus has become.
TC: Any thoughts on the Escapist Expo itself?
AM: It’s been spectacular. It was very stressful going into the convention itself, and going into it we had several people on my staff that really, really had to work exceptionally hard and bear the serious brunt of the workload to make this happen. But they have been absolute troopers and it’s been great.
TC: Are you planning to have another Escapist Expo?
AM: I think so. It’s gone really well for us. The attendance has been close to the capacity of the conference center, so I feel good about that. It looks like we’re going to make a profit, so I think that there will be an opportunity of doing it next year.