I find myself more enamored with game journalism today than ever before. At my earliest jobs I was consistently told that I would inevitably burn out and grow to hate this job, but six years later I find that hasn’t happened. Sometimes the stress makes me feel like I’m having a heart attack, and sometimes the excitement of a new story idea literally makes me a little worried I might throw up.
But I wouldn’t change it.
In a vocation as incessantly self-examining (and I mean that in a good way) as game journalism, I thought it might be useful to share with people why I actually really love this job.
I’ve read the blog about Why X Writer is Terrible at Game Journalism. I’ve read the blog about Why Game Journalism Itself is Terrible. I’ve read the blog about Why X Writer is Quitting Game Journalism Because-The-System’s-Rigged-Man.
Here, for once, is a blog about why one of us loves it.
Community – One of the most wonderful things about the game journalism business is the community of colleagues that has developed. It’s a strange group of quite often strange people bound together by a mutual love of this odd little pocket of the writing profession.
It’s a community that is – intentionally or not – constantly outperforming itself. Just about every week some writer has written something that puts us all to shame, and we’ve all got to go back to the drawing board and come up with something even bigger, even better. I’m driven by that never-ending push forward as much as anyone, and it’s made me a much better writer than I ever hoped to be when I started out.
Ambition – That’s because when I started I didn’t really have any ambition. I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to be a game journalist when I first struck out. I think it was simply that the 1UP Show made it seem so glamorous to 17-year-old-me that I was smitten, but it’s been a journey that’s made me a better person.
I come from a place where to create anything is odd, and where odd is bad. Thinking back, I can’t remember anyone I knew as a kid who created something. I come from a sarcastic family where to try is to risk showing that you care, and in doing so make yourself vulnerable to ridicule. Many in my family were mean, cruel people who praised nothing and mocked whatever slip-up they could get hold of. Bullies, essentially. They indirectly taught me to take the path of least resistance and try to cultivate an image as the calmest, coolest guy in the room. I can’t remember ever having the urge to create anything at all.
Now that’s changed. I want to build things, and I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to build in the future. It just so happens that what I build are non-fiction stories. I still constantly have to push back against the voice in my head that says I’m not capable of doing something cool, and the embarrassment of failing will cost me more than I stand to gain with success. But I have vastly more ambition now than I did when I was younger. Video game journalism didn’t beat down my spirit, as so many predicted, it emboldened me.
Posterity – Game journalism has a nasty habit of self-deprecation masquerading as humility. Nothing we do matters. We just write about electronic toys. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t like to look at it that way. From that stance, the vast majority of people on Earth don’t matter at all, and that’s a really dark view. Few people are blessed with relevance to the species.
Instead, I like to think about the future. I like to imagine that at some point 200 years from now an Internet Anthropologist (a specialist in sifting through centuries of accumulated informational rubbish on the web) might be interested in the electronic game industry boom at the turn of the 21st century, and look to one of our articles for help in parsing the series of events that led up to their time. I like to think about a 2212 A.D. grad student writing a paper on early video games and using one of our articles as a source on some futuristic JSTOR. If nothing else, our articles will form the scaffolding that props up the all-encompassing Wiki-future.
Most of all, I like to imagine that at some point in the future they might think that what we did was cool: Writers of the early Information Age or the early Video Game Age. The same way some of us think that folks who worked in early television or radio were kind of baller for working on what they believed in despite great uncertainty (and game journalists know about uncertainty probably even better than they did.) Because we’re not just writing for today’s readers. Many of our articles will survive…unless you wrote for GamePro.com.
Freedom – I don’t doubt that those people who told me I would grow to hate game journalism would have been right if I did nothing but write hype pieces about upcoming games and reblog news. I’ve been there. It can be fun, but it’s not very fulfilling. Luckily, we’re working in the greatest epoch video game journalism has ever seen, and the amount of freedom I have is outrageous.
Right now there are multiple publications I can think of that will pay a reasonable rate for ambitious, innovative articles. If you’re willing to put in the leg work to break new ground then there are publications that will pay you for it because this is a wonderful time when reputation has become as important to many outlets as pageviews.
Beyond that, the range of pieces we’re able to write is outstanding. In the last couple years I’ve been able to do science writing and international reporting simply because I found a way to focus it through the lens of video games. I never would have been able to cover those topics if I freelanced for a newspaper.
People decry the standard games coverage: news, reviews, previews, and features. But what they’ve missed is that “feature” has become code for “other thing.” There’s nothing standard about it. In any given week I see more unique features than I have time to read.
In closing…game journalism has made my life better, and continues to do so as the years go on. Because the gaming industry is a frontier of opportunity that gives ordinarily dull people like me the chance to do something unique with our time on Earth, rather than working on garbage trucks (the Groen family business).
There are those who will tell you that journalism is the opposite of creativity and art (usually after getting a bad review.) That we’re leeches. Ignore these people and go write an article that brings knowledge into the world and conjures emotion that didn’t exist before.
I don’t believe I would be saying things like this if it weren’t for games journalism.