Well, next month I turn 28 and, while that still leaves two years for one of my many dreams to come true, it's still no closer to being a reality than when I was 21. The only real change is that now I'm spending most of my day sitting in a cubicle, copy-and-pasting predetermined content into a bunch of text fields and calling it "web development".
Okay, that's a lie. I don't even have a cubicle. I have a shelf.
One day upon my Twitter feed I see [s]VentureBeat [/s]GamesBeat link to this little community article. Trevor Osz reflects on how he started gaming, how he got his job at GameStop, and how he was the font of gaming facts and knowledge amongst his friends. Now, he has chosen to venture forth on that narrow yet crowded path. He yearns to be a games writer.
All I could think while reading was, "Why?"
No, really, why? Why do you want to write about games?
This was a realization that I forced myself to confront four years ago, after I graduated from College and was confronted with unemployment. I tried to join a number of game journalism social networks, all populated by wannabes and hopefuls while very few in the industry contributed. In fact, I'd say the top reason I know the name Ben Kuchera is because he was one of the few that would participate. He was brutally honest, and I appreciated that from him.
Yet when I looked upon all of these other wannabe writers, I noticed that a lot of them weren't...well, good. In addition, whenever asked why they wanted to write, they justified their desire with how long they have played games for, or how often.
Just because you like games doesn't mean you should be writing about them. More so, just because "anyone can write", doesn't mean you can write well. It's like the end of that film Ratatouille, where the critic Anton Ego realizes what Gusteau really meant by the title of his book "Anyone Can Cook". It's not necessarily saying that anyone can cook well, but a great, exceptional cook can come from anywhere.
The same is true of writing. It is something everyone is capable of at a base level, but to be an exceptional writer...that is something different.
Though the cold reality is that a lot of professional writers out there aren't necessarily very talented, either. Or perhaps they are intentionally edited down to be very factual and simple, just as most newspapers are written at a low comprehension level so they can appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That's also where games writing becomes even more complicated.
Okay, so let's say you actually do love writing. You've reflected back on your life and realized that you've always been writing, and if video games did not exist you'd just be finding something else to write about. This is the conclusion I came to, as the first thing I ever did with a computer was open Microsoft Word and try writing my own books. This habit still hasn't died, as on occasion I'll try my hand at writing a story. So yes, I want to write.
Now let's focus on video games. How do I want to write about video games? Well, that's the tricky part. In truth, I think the state of games writing is in a flux. I spoke with the late Bill Kunkel once about the industry, and one of the things he had lamented was that game reviews were an entry-level angle of writing. This seemed strange to me, but in some ways it makes sense. Give the new guy the terrible shovel-ware so the top writers can have the "quality" content. Yet you still have the same people writing reviews as you have churning out press releases. Is this right? Is the ability to find a story relevant when it comes to discussing the merits and flaws of a game? Do we want critics, or do we want consumer advice?
Then there are the increasing amounts of op/ed pieces on the Internet, focusing on a writer's thoughts on a subject. Who should be allowed to write these? What authority do these opinions come from?
It is a reality I've had to face. I've come to the realization that there are certain aspects of games writing that I don't want to do. I'm not interested in the "journalism" aspect. I don't care to find out about what sort of DLC packs this game will have, or shmoozing up to a PR representative in hopes for an exclusive set of screenshots. I don't want to write previews, which are not supposed to be critiques but feature and expectation lists. I want to critique a game, and if it is incomplete I want to give my honest feedback.
Oh look, an image that has something to do with video games
I want to be a games critic. I want to build a career akin to Roger Ebert's in film. I want to analyze and dissect what makes these games work.
The problem is, does anyone want this sort of thing? Sure, a few people managed to build a real career out of it. Yahtzee Croshaw is probably our first real recognizable games writer known for nothing more than his critiques, though he had to package them up with a crude sense of humor. Jim Sterling can also be viewed as a critic at this point as well.
Yet what I end up looking to are the many critics on YouTube. Long-form analysis such as Tasteful, Understated Nerd Rage, Errant Signal, or Matthew Matosis. Just as there was a New Wave of British Heavy Metal, perhaps there's a new wave of games criticism coming. I would truly like to be a part of that wave.
But in the end, I'm going to do it by doing what I'd be doing anyway. I'm going to continue writing about games, and I'm going to do my own video series. I've updated it here a few times, but in truth I'm only doing Ramble Pak 64 because I enjoy it. I like writing it, I like capturing the video footage, and I like editing the video together.
I don't like the audio portion of it, but what can you do. At least 3/4ths of the process is enjoyable.
That, my friends, is the secret, though. It's not about getting into an industry or making a career of it. It's about doing what you're doing. Even if you have some shitty 9 to 5 job pummeling the soul out of you day after day, draining you of the energy, making you lethargic to all things, try and find some time to do what you love.
Writing about games should have no greater goal for you than to have fun doing it. While there may always be that dream, and while it's good to at least put forth an effort such as pitching article ideas to various sites, you should not start writing because you decide to be a games journalist or writer. You should become a games journalist or writer because you love writing.
Which brings me back to Trevor Osz and his article on GamesBeat. I cannot help but sigh, both wistfully and exasperatingly.
Yes, he knows about games. Yes, he loves games.
But does he love writing?view gallery