Monday, October 30, 2006

Byte: So you want to be badly paid, stressed and unappreciated? Really? Gosh.

There appears to be a rash of "So you want to be a games journalist?" articles infecting the blogosphere tonight, ranging from The Triforce's allegorical tale, to Kieron and Richard's somewhat more helpful guides.

This all appears to be a carefully orchestrated response to this feature detailing the blindingly obvious on Game Career Guide. (Probably one of the most useless websites in the world, incidentally)

It's somewhat stretching the imagination to call myself a videogames journalist, as that would imply I make a living from it, but I do write about games, and have been doing so for a fair while now for both the print and online press, so here's my two pence on the subject - while the bandwagon's here to be jumped on.

Firstly, remember that people write not because they want to, but because they *must*. This is why I was up until 3.30am on Friday night/Saturday morning coming up with a precis for an academic reference textbook on high-level videogame design. Normal people don't do this kind of thing. Writing is a disease... like a cancer of the soul: it consumes you - you don't do it out of choice. So if you want to become a games writer because you love games and you think it might be fun to write about them as well... forget it. 90% of the time writing isn't fun. Sitting behind your keyboard staring at a blank screen for a couple of hours because you can't find your first sentence is akin to Chinese Water Torture. Even if you're utterly mad about games, translating that passion from your brain into words on the page is no simple matter. And it should also be remembered that there's nothing like turning a hobby into a job to suck all the fun out of it, as critically analysing a game isn't as much fun as simply sitting down and playing it. Also remember that if you're a games journalist, at some point you're going to have to play shitty games you normally wouldn't touch with a barge pole. And getting the game free isn't much by way of compensation, if you're being subjected to the horrors of titles like MetalHeart: Replicants Rampage.

Secondly, games journalism isn't the glamorous profession you might (deludedly) think it is. It involves long hours, lots of stress around deadline and the pay isn't up to much. Why do you think I work as an IT Specialist? I might work long hours and get lots of stress in my job, but at least it pays three times as much as your average staff writer's post on a games mag... I'm lucky enough that I can indulge my urge to play games and my impulse to write without having to rely on them to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. The money I get from writing is a bonus - not a motivating factor, and I personally think that's the best way to do it.

There's a reason why most of these "So you want..." articles that have sprung up tonight are dripping with sarcasm or are outright off-putting. As Tim (whose fault this all is) recognises in his post on the subject, decent writers (never mind decent games writers) are few and far between, which is just as well, as there aren't that many jobs in print journalism to go around. If you truly want to break into games journalism, my advice would be don't read guides, no matter who's written them. Figure it out for yourself. If you don't have the persistence or tenacity to be able to do that, then you're wasting your time.

Richard Branson didn't read a "So you want to be a billionaire entrepreneur?" guide... he just went out and did it. If you want to be successful at anything - writing, business - you've got to be able to stand on your own two feet and think for yourself. Don't expect anything to be laid out on a plate for you.
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