If you’re reading this, then you are probably one of a handful of people who are. If you don’t personally know me, you’ve probably come across this article because I made the effort to share it to a gaming-related group I’m part of on social media. Even though you might be reading this initial paragraph, chances are, you won’t read to the end — or you might skim across it, get the general gist of what I’ve written, and then go on with your day.
I don’t say any of this trying to evoke sympathy, or pity. I’m merely stating facts. I am — at best — an amateur writer, with an almost non-existent public writing profile. It would be arrogant of me to assume I command any more attention that I do.
Maybe one day I will achieve some great degree of success as a writer; either by effort, luck or some combination of the two. Or, maybe I will continue to draw an audience of no more than a dozen or so family and friends, and will forever remain a hobbyist writer — my words destined to fade into obscurity like legions of amateur writers before me.
None of that matters to me, and I’m not just saying that. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate praise or compliments, or that I don’t wish for my writing to reach a wider audience. I dream for that. But if it never happens, I will still be happy to keep doing what I’m doing, for one very good reason:
I love writing about games.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep fascination with games as a medium. If I had to come up with a hypothesis as to why, I would say that it is a combination of a creative mind (I’ve always had an active imagination) and the fact that I was exposed to games at a critical developmental point in childhood (possibly related to the concept of childhood intense interest).
The wildly imaginative sandboxes created by game designers are the ultimate playground for a child’s inquisitive mind.
Games are not like other entertainment media. You don’t just passively absorb them, but you immerse yourself in them and enjoy them in your own way.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am and have always been obsessive about games. I’m not big on small talk, or idle conversation — its just not something that has ever come naturally. Likewise, I’m not as well versed in TV shows or movies as many others — neither played a particularly large role in my life. But when the topic of games comes up, in any context at all, I feel like I can talk for hours. I am fascinated with everything about them — the design process, the art, the players, the themes, writing, structure, effect on popular culture, opinions, discussions about morality, controversy and influence.
I will continue to talk about games long after the person I’m speaking to has stopped listening, and I’ll take any opportunity to segway back to the topic if the conversation diverges from it.
When you feel truly passionate about something, you derive pleasure from sharing that passion with others. Few things give me greater joy than mentioning some obscure game from twenty years ago, and a person I’m speaking to recognizes it. An instant bond is formed. Games are not like other entertainment media. You don’t just passively absorb them, but you immerse yourself in them and enjoy them in your own way.
Every player’s experience is unique, and you might spend hundreds or thousands of hours enjoying a game, compared with the dozen or so that you might with a TV or film series, or a collection of books. It is for this reason that I believe gamers form such a bond with the games they play, stronger than fans of any other medium. When you are an active participant in something, you inevitably form a sense of ownership. It goes a long way to describe why gamers will aggressively defend a series against all criticism — or why they (unfortunately) often display despicable behavior towards those same critics, or against developers of sequels and remakes who they deem to have ruined “their” game.
In mid-2018, a chain of events in my personal life led me to somewhat “formalize” my fascination with games. My wife is quite prolific on Instagram with her artistic eye, and she inspired me to use the platform to showcase the artistic side of games, which I accompanied with a short blurb detailing what they meant to me. As I continued using my Instagram account (fat_studios), these “short blurbs” became longer and longer, eventually hitting the character limit for Instagram posts. I’m fairly certain many viewers didn’t really read the posts — Instagram is primarily a visual medium — but occasionally I did receive comments on posts that gave me the little shot of validation that inspired me to write the next post. One of those comments was from Cliff Bleszinski, creator of the Unreal series, and another from Tom Hall, creator of Commander Keen — big shots of validation in these cases.
And yes, I’m name-dropping.
As much as I valued and thrived on the little adrenaline hits of positive feedback from friends, family, strangers, this was mostly short-term motivation. What kept me going then, and continues to drive me to write more and more, was to watch my little project grow. I had started doing this as a little hobby, but my obsession with games had led to longer and longer posts. By the end of 2018, the combined word count (for lack of a better metric) of my little hobby had begun to enter the tens of thousands of words. While at university, I often struggled to muster the motivation to complete a mere two or three thousand word essay, let alone the twenty thousand words I was rapidly approaching.
The creative process is a snowball — productivity begets productivity. Passion for the topic was driving my writing, and my writing was inspiring more ideas for further writing. Almost every idea that I come up with comes to me while I am writing or planning something else. As I write these very words, I’m already thinking of my next piece.
The character limit of Instagram, although impractical for what I was trying to convey, did provide some valuable experience; it required me to practice expressing myself in a concise manner, condensing and prioritizing my opinions on a particular game into bite-size chunks. However, the incredible work of games writers like Felipe Pepe (The CRPG Book Project), Jimmy Maher (The Digital Antiquarian) and Shamus Young (Twenty Sided), inspired me to do more with my writing, and the limitations of Instagram prevented me from pursuing these bigger ideas. So, I turned to Medium.com.
Being Evil was my first article on Medium, initially conceived in April 2018 when I was writing an Instagram post about the game Tyranny (Obsidian Entertainment, 2016). In Tyranny, the protagonist isn’t some morally incorruptible hero like Mass Effect’s Commander Shepherd. The protagonist is a senior enforcer of a malevolent tyrant who has subjugated the known world, and using the player, seeks to eradicate the final bastion of resistance. You are one of the “bad guys”, but as anyone who has played it knows, morality in the game is far more complex than the simplistic good/evil dichotomy of so many other games, books and films.
If the statistics on Medium are to be believed, then only about 15 people read the article, of the 38 who viewed it. My following article was even worse — seven readers out of a total 32 viewers. But by this point, the numbers had begun to feel irrelevant to me. Pressing “publish” on those stories gave me an immense surge of satisfaction and release. I was expressing my love for something that I was passionate about, and that was motivation in itself.
Though many people might not have been reading my articles, they could see that I was writing them, and before long I found that friends, coworkers and family were approaching me to talk about games, rather than the other way around, as had been the historical case. People were talking to me about games they had grown up with, and wanting to share their stories.
For most of my life up to this point, my love of games had always been something I was quite shy about sharing — a dorky habit for losers who are bad at sports and have poor social skills. And while that still might be true in my case, I was no longer ashamed of it. If writing about games has taught me anything, it is that people respect genuine passion, no matter what it is.
Everyone has their kink, so to speak, and that’s fine.
The next step, and the biggest so far, came about as a result of one of the friendships forged by a shared love of games. This friend highlighted to me that a new games website was launching, and they were looking for freelance writers. By this point, I had a fairly sizable portfolio of writing that demonstrated how much I loved writing about games, so I gave it a crack. I submitted my pitch to ExclusivelyGames.com in December 2018.
I’d been waiting about a month, and had sort of given up on the idea — I was hopeful of getting the opportunity to be paid for my writing, as it seemed like formal validation for what I had spent so much of my spare time on for the past eight months. But at the same time, I was a nobody in the games journalism world, and there would no doubt be hundreds of applicants for the job. My chances were pretty slim, I thought. Well, either by luck or a successful pitch, or both — I woke one morning to find an email from an Exclusively Games editor welcoming me on board.
Writing for Exclusively Games has been an amazing experience — I was sharing my passion with more people than ever before — but it was also somewhat of a reality check. Exclusively Games was the small fry going up against games journalism giants like Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, Polygon and GiantBomb. They needed to pull readers, and not all of my pitches were approved. I soon found myself writing “Top 5” and “Top 10” lists — hardly the sort of writing that I had dreamed of doing. But it wasn’t all bad, and to their credit they were surprisingly receptive to some of the more outlandish pitches such as The Devil’s Advocate series, or Brock Stroganoff’s Finest Bytes (full credit to Matt for this amazing idea, and the name Brock Stroganoff).
I have continued writing on Medium occasionally, and have also continued to pull a fairly abysmal readership. I’ve also made some notable progress towards a book on the games I’ve played throughout my life, a long-term dream. And when I am not busy with life or more writing, I’m doing the thing I love that has inspired all of this — playing games. In every game, there is the seed of inspiration for more writing.
As I’ve said, I’m a long way from being called a “writer” by any stretch of the imagination, so I hope it isn’t too presumptuous to give advice to those who are aspiring to become games writers themselves. But if the past two years has taught me anything, it is that passion is the engine that drives output. I highly doubt that I would have been able to do what I’ve done so far if I didn’t care so deeply about what I was doing. Just start writing about something you love, and use each checkpoint as a springboard to the next checkpoint. Before you know it, you will have enough momentum that you won’t even realize how much you’ve actually done. Sometimes, when I look back at how much I’ve written so far, I’m boggled by the fact that a lazy gamer like me was even able to do it in the first place.
My love of games, and the momentum that has gradually built up of the past two years, has also served as a valuable shield. Very recently, I was informed by my editor that, unfortunately, Exclusively Games would be closing its doors, and they would be accepting no further articles. It’s the sort of setback that, at other times in my life for other things, has rattled me to the point of giving up. Straight into the “too hard” basket, time to try something else.
Not this time.
Of course I’m disappointed — after all, I was doing something that many gamers only dream of getting the opportunity to do, and now it’s all over. But I have never written about games because I want to be published, or paid, or known. I write about games because I love them.
Games have given me amazing memories — not just the games themselves, but all the peripheral experiences. Spending time with my older brother while he sets up the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Dad coming home with a chunky old IBM with Alley Cat installed. Staying up late at sleepover playing Super Mario Bros. 3. Opening a Christmas present from my parents and finding a copy of one of my favorite games ever, Star Wars Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. Installing my first 3dfx Voodoo graphics card. Wiping the KFC grease off my hands before returning to the three-day LAN party playing Freelancer with my best friends. Standing outside an internet café with a bunch of strangers, laughing about that hilarious headshot in the last round of Counter-strike. The overwhelming emotion of The Nameless One’s final confrontation at the end of Planescape: Torment. Mentoring my non-gamer wife as we defeat the legions of Diablo together. The tears welling in my eyes for the fate of Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2. The joy in my children’s eyes when I bring out the Super Nintendo.
For me, games have always been about a lot more than just gameplay. They have been like bookmarks for my life, and an endless source of fond memories and nostalgia. When I think of a certain game, I don’t just think about whether or not I beat the boss, or what my score was. I think of the people I played it with, the music I was listening to at the time, what I was experiencing in life. In games, I have found a wealth of positive experiences that can never be replicated, and I want to share that experience in anyway that I can, because I want to encourage others to experience the same thing.
I’ll keep writing about games, and who knows, maybe I’ll get another freelance gig. Or maybe I’ll just continue on as a hobbyist. In the end, I don’t really care. I love what I’m doing, regardless of whether I have thousands of readers, or just a handful of friends politely ignoring all my typos and reuse of words.
So, if you made it this far, thank you for reading. I really appreciate it, and I’m glad I got to share why I’m passionate about what I do. And if you didn’t read the article, that’s okay too. I just enjoyed writing it.