What do I even want any more?

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.

Company of Heroes Preview

I think the best advice I’ve had on doing Games Journalism For Money has come from Chris Thursten as he’s been sharing his “figuring it out as I go” stories. He’s not given them as “advice” per-se – they’re more like unintentional parables. They tend to boil down to a couple of things:

1. Do the job
2. Remember that it is a job
3. Be reliable
4. If you get a chance, take it

So, when I was asked to do a 2 word preview of Company of Heroes 2 on a two day deadline (weekdays, so I had Day Job to fit it around) my thoughts were first: “no way” then “you can’t say no” then “but…” then “do the fucking job Craig.” And so I accepted and I told myself that I was going to be sure that it was worthy of 2 pages near the front of PCG.

I work well with a deadline, diving deeper into a mild state of panic as it approaches until the work is done, and the work tends to come out pretty well, generally. I usually gauge my success by how much something is edited (everything gets edited, it’s a requirement for good work to the point that I’ve started getting Craig Lam to edit my GD stuff) but so long as there are no huge changes required then I consider myself to be doing fine. And it was fine! A few tweaks, normal editing stuff. An article I was really happy with done on a short deadline. Nice.

Really, I don’t know why I worry about this stuff so much (it’s a lot, Chris can testify) – maybe it just comes with the job, or maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s a requirement for me to do the work to the standard I want to do it. As long as it gets it done though, I don’t really mind. However, there’s always that nag. “What if they just didn’t have time to bounce it?” “What if they’re all sat around in the office laughing” – or worse – “what if it was just ok enough to get through but they’re never going to offer me work again”. It’s irrational, they’re professionals (and really nice guys) so I’m sure they’d say or just flat out bounce it, but my particular brand of not-really-neurosis-but-a-bit-like-it wont let me think otherwise.

You can read the preview in the Christmas edition of PCG, hope you like it.