[Rant] Hard Truths for Aspiring Games Writers
I’ve been working at Twinfinite as a games writer for about 2 months now. In my brief time here, I’ve written a bunch of features, a review, and a few news stories. I’ve experienced the stress of trying to quickly write and post an E3 news item, and the thrill of having a story I’ve broken get picked up by a larger site. I’ve also experienced the horror of clicking ‘Publish’ only to realize I’ve missed some critical information or failed to tag the article properly. Now, I have absolutely no illusions about my place in all of this. I’m not an even remotely well-known person in this field, and that’s cool. Sure, it would be amazing for this gig to turn into a permanent paid thing where I could work from home and still support my family. However, I know that’s about as likely as winning the lottery at this point in my life. I don’t sweat it though, because it’s fun to have a creative outlet and I’ve always felt that you have more memorable life experiences by saying ‘yes’ than ‘no’.
In my brief but eventful stint as a games writer, I’ve made a few observations about some of the basic guidelines which will help you get picked up at a site, and may even be useful in your offline life. It’s admittedly pretty common-sense stuff, but it can’t hurt.
[Don't be a Douchebag]
This should be pretty obvious, and it’s pretty much a standard entry into ANY article about breaking into this field…which tells me that people aren’t getting the fucking message. A long time ago, I watched a documentary about ’80s Hair Metal, and there was a really great quote from Ozzy Osbourne who was asked about what advice to give to up-and-coming bands. He said, ”Remember the names of the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet them again on the way down”. I have a bit of a theory; gamers are generally quite knowledgeable about this hobby. We all have our areas of expertise and interest. This knowledge has, in recent years, been coupled with a misguided kinship that gamers have with one particular individual who is the absolute worst role model:
It’s all too common for gamers to have a case of House Syndrome, in which it is believed that it’s okay to treat people like crap if you happen to be good at or know a lot about something in particular. Well, it’s not okay. The fact is that if House were a real person, he would be spending all of his free time looking for new jobs. Being a jerk to people just because you can beat Ikaruga on the highest difficulty isn’t adorable and it doesn’t make you deep. It just makes you a jerk.
[Leave your Bias at the Door]
It’s okay to be opinionated. Hell, I’d argue that it’s essential to being an interesting writer. We all bring our preferences to the table, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We have our preferred games, consoles, series’, genres, etc. For example, I’m a big fan of PC gaming, I don’t have any desire to own any of the main consoles, and I thought Bastion was kind of overrated. These are my preferences, but at the same time I can recognize and appreciate that there are people who are all over the spectrum. If you want to write for a video game site you need to temper your preferences with rational thought. In the comments section of reviews and on message boards, you can get away with picking your side and trashing the other. When you are on the creation side of things, that kind of stuff gets really old really fast, and you end up looking like these guys:
[Social Media is your Friend ... and your Worst Enemy]
Based on recent events, this one should be pretty self-explanatory. Suffice to say, social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are absolutely essential to getting yourself noticed. The only reason I heard about this Twinfinite gig was because I followed them on Twitter and struck up a dialogue with the staff.
We all have things, sites, and people that we particularly don’t like that much, and we bitch about them. There’s nothing wrong with that and I guarantee that staff at every site do it to a certain degree, but for fuck’s sake don’t put it out there on a public forum. This community is way, WAY too small to be swinging your douche-hammer around and making enemies — particularly if you’re a minnow like me. Sure, if you become a big-shot then maybe you can get away with that kind of thing but it’s generally considered what my dayjob boss calls “a career-limiting move”. You see this type of thing a lot on people’s Twitter feeds: “My tweets are my own and do not represent that of my employer” — usually followed by the website URL which said person works for. While it’s a nice idea in theory that you can compartmentalize what you are saying as a private citizen versus as a representative of a place of employment, the truth is that you ARE representing that site whether you like it or not.
It may not be fair, but in the real world Charles Barkley IS a role model and bad behavior on your Twitter will reflect on people’s perception of your site. A common refrain for people who find themselves in this kind of trouble is to cite ‘free speech’. Well, here’s the thing: Yes, in a free society you have the right to express whatever views you want. However, that is no guarantee that there won’t be consequences for expressing those views. For example, you can go on Twitter and make sexist comments if you really want to, but your boss is equally entitled to fire your ass for doing so.
[Know Thyself (AKA: Originality is Overrated)]
Develop a clear sense of what you like and be able to articulate it. Everyone has unique preferences and odd tastes. Embrace it. The biggest barrier I felt when I first started writing was that I would obsess about whether what I was writing was original enough. It took a long time, but eventually I realized that originality is not what makes a writer interesting. There are countless numbers of video game sites of all types and sizes, and we’re all pretty much chasing the same news stories and discussing the same issues. For Christ’s sake, THIS article is not saying anything that hasn’t been said by better and more experienced writers before. I acknowledge that, but I also posit that this topic has never been addressed by ME. and that makes it interesting.
The point is this: Worry less about whether you are covering something nobody has ever done before, and more about finding your voice. In fact, pick the most unoriginal topics you can imagine and write something about them. Let’s hear your take on why Psychonauts is underrated, or how Aeris’ death (um…spoilers) is the saddest moment in gaming. Hell, while you’re at it do a top 10 list of great boss fights or badass heroes. Scrape that barrel for topics. Those topics aren’t what matters, because it’s your perspective that’s unique. Nobody on this planet has ever had the exact same point of view as you, and the key is to tap into what you believe and express it.
[The Bottom Line]
If you’ve made it this far into the article, I sincerely hope I’ve managed to make an impression. The truth of the matter is; writing for a video game website is not much different from any other professional job. You know, that’s pretty much the key word right there: PROFESSIONAL. While we are writing about a hobby that we enjoy and have a ton of fun doing it, this is the real grown-up world where you need to play nice with others, respect each others’ differences, and have a clear sense of who you are. You take care of those things, and it won’t matter whether you author a simple personal blog or end up as a big-shot reviews editor. You’ll be just fine as a writer and you’ll be a richer person for it.