For the last couple of months I’ve felt exhausted with games writing. Not because I’ve burnt myself out doing too much of it, but because it’s suddenly felt… futile.
I can pinpoint what exposed this feeling – two large pieces published on the two places I was interested in writing more for. Shallow, pointless pieces and obviously so – yet still commissioned and approved as good work. I meanwhile send ideas to editors – editors whom I’ve already worked with – with rough pitch ideas or a quick “Hey, would you like me to review any games this month?” and don’t even get a reply.
I’m not being sour over this. There are reasons why things are the way they are, but I’m left wondering: do I even want this any more? Do I want to continue to write for these places? Do I still want to put myself through the pitching process? Do I even want to be a freelance games critic?
Honest answer: No, I don’t. It’s a job that makes me do a lot of things that I don’t want to do. I don’t want to review crap games. I don’t want to compromise or limit what I can say about a game so it can fit into a 300 word box. I don’t want to have to agonize over a strapline because I struggle to think of decent puns. I don’t want to wait around for days or weeks to see if an editor will reply. And I never, ever want to burn through a game that I genuinely want to play so that I can review it “on time”. Every one of these issues is part of the job, but at this point the “job” is getting in the way of what I actually want to do: write well about games that matter.
There’s a distinction that needs to be clarified here. I don’t want to be a freelance games critic, but I do want to continue to discuss and criticise games. I love telling people what I think about games – I’d go as far as saying that I need to do it – and I love crafting those thoughts into paragraphs. I couldn’t stop if I tried. And, you know, if someone asked me to write a review about a game and gave enough space and time to do that review – fine, I can happily do that. Just as I can happily sell features that I want to write to places that don’t make the process frustrating. Both of these things are rare, however, and getting to a position where they’re less rare means making games journalism a full time job, which would be a mistake for several reasons.
Essentially, I’m done worrying about meeting some internalised quota of getting pieces commissioned. I’m not and never have been doing this for the money and I think it’s time to capitalize on that, especially now that I don’t need the validation of being published, which is what I think my freelancing effort all came down to. I built myself on the back of a website that took every submission seriously, that didn’t compromise on artistic direction in exchange for page views and that didn’t have a deadline that reviews had to be done for. I think it’s time I wrote my criticism for that place again, while putting on a freelance hat as and when that hat is a type of hat that I want to wear.
An attitude shift like this is going to be good. It’s going to give me some time to climb my next hill, which I think is actually making games rather than just talking about them. It’s also going to let me ease off on worrying about games journalism as a whole, because as with every new Twitter outrage, every “games are art” discussion, every marketing scandal, every manufactured controversy, every pseudo investigation… I get fucking sick of it.
Time for a change, or more accurately, a reversion.