Video game reviews are a big part of my job as a writer at GameFront.com, and undoubtedly they’re a part of just about every writer’s workload in this industry. They’re usually the easiest content to produce and also some of the more heavily read pieces — it’s a straight opinion, and contentious opinions about games often generate lots of reads and the occasional controversy.
I’ve done my fair share of reviews by this time in my career. Something I’ve been seeing more and more lately, which is an interesting development, is the response reviews have been garnering among the readership at Game Front. To be honest, I’m not used to many people reading my work, in large part, and as we gain more readership, I’m spending more time reading responses from others and their comments, and engaging in conversations with them.
The biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from this is that readers seem very appreciative of balance in reviews. It’s almost counter-intuitive, in a way; the best responses I’ve gotten so far have not been from people responding to a particularly funny or “harsh” review, as one might expect. They’re instead from the reviews on controversial but popular titles, in which my striving to take a balanced approach to the experience has come to the forefront.
The relevant portions of the Internet blew up a little bit today over an article that pointed to noted games journalist Geoff Keighley, using an out-of-context photo of him speaking next to a big ad for Halo 4 on one side, a pile of Mountain Dew and Doritos on the other.
The purpose of Rab Florence’s article in Eurogamer, which can be read here, was to point out the troubling relationship much of the gaming press has with the gaming industry. Journalists and PR folks are friends, he notes, and there are plenty in our industry that look like shills for their’s. And this is fundamentally at odds with what your job is supposed to be whenever you practice journalism. It’s akin to fraternizing with the enemy.
I can’t say Florence is wrong, and there was a time when I would have argued just as vehemently the points that he presents in his article. Having worked in this industry for a while, however, I’ve come to be a little more lax in my position on the matter. Much of what makes up the “games journalism industry” isn’t journalism, and to treat it as such, to judge it as such, and to wring your hands over it as such, is a waste of time.
I know, kind of a lot of video game blogs lately. I’m knee-deep in one of the busiest months of freelancing of the year for the medium, so it’s about all I have to talk about right now. That should be changing pretty soon as I start to do some more fiction work and other things. In the meantime, this is going to have to be about video games again.
And yeah, Dishonored is still on my mind. First, the game started out with a bit of a lovefest. Day One reviews for the game were glowing — it is, after all, a game about a supernatural assassin who has a vast many choices about how to approach those assassinations. And the majority of the praise for the game is for its freedom: You can decide to do a lot of stuff, or not do it. You can pick and choose your way forward, you can avoid things, you can strive for other things. You are the decider, or at least you feel like it, because even if your destination is mandated, your journey to that location is not.
It’s not as much fun as you think.
Inevitably, readers on the Internet always seem to subscribe some incredible attributes to games journalists. Usually these have to do with the exorbitant checks we must be receiving from publishers and developers to sway public opinion. I figured today I’d take a minute and clear up a few misconceptions about the glamorous life of playing games for a living, for your edification.
I’m still feeling out the format for this blog, but I’m taking a lot of inspiration from the work Chuck Wendig does over at terribleminds.com. He has several days of the week where he hits specific blog categories — Fridays he usually throws down a writing prompt, for example. Thursdays are usually interviews. Seems like a good idea.
“In the Brainholes” is my current experiment for Friday blog posts. I’m envisioning it as a rundown of the stuff that’s been on my mind throughout the week. Plus I think I’m going to throw a writing prompt/weekend fiction challenge at the end (and shamelessly steal from Chuck). For the time being, until I decide I don’t like this idea anymore.
So away we go.
I’ve been working steady as a games journalist for better than two years now, and occasionally I’m asked about how to get into the industry. There are no hard and fast rules, unfortunately — nor is breaking into the industry at all easy for anyone. I wound up here by a confluence of lucky circumstances and persistence.
However, it’s definitely possible to get work as a freelancer, in any segment of journalism. But freelance work is as much about playing salesperson as it is writing, and you have to be able to handle both in most circumstances. The bad news is that being your own salesman as well as writer kind of sucks. The good news is, you can distinguish yourself if you’re a little bit savvy and willing to work for it.
Occasionally I get asked about how I wound up doing what I primarily do for a living, which is working as a freelance games journalist at GameFront.com, as well as how others might make their way into the industry. I know quite a few people who’d like to find a way to do what I do, so I figured a series of posts to that end would be useful. Here’s the first.
Mine’s not a particularly inspiring story, except perhaps for how mundane it is — it carries an air of “I’m a games journalist, and so can you!” So I mean to impart the tale and a few tips along the way maybe, though it’s probably not an experiment that can be replicated.
Something you learn quickly when working at a small video gaming website like the one for which I work, GameFront.com, is that access of any kind is really hard to come by.
Quickly, it becomes really difficult to execute what you might call “journalism” in other circles. Doing research and getting interviews with the people who actually make the games you’re writing about is notoriously difficult, and the entire industry is under tight controls by public relations companies. The game-making industry controls the message as best as it can, whenever it can, regardless of what the message is. Innocuous questions go unanswered all the time because information control is power in this industry, and publishers wield it. It’s hard to blame them, really.