Someone in the comments of that last post asked how I ended up writing about games for a living. More accurately, they asked for my origin story.
I’m writing this with another heartless, damp Irish night outside. My med student flatmates have decided in their gross intelligence to leave the central heating on until the whole house feels like the inside of a lightbulb.
But I am feeling RESTED and IN CHARGE of my life right now, and if someone wants to know how I became a games journalist I’m going to tell it to you guys hard and heavy like a rock standard.
Four years ago I was 19 and looked like THIS:
Or, more regrettably, like THIS:
Or sometimes like this:
I was a university dropout and traveller, and busied myself exchanging shit jobs in England for shit places anywhere else. Janitor, Kampala, kitchen assistant, Dallas, shoe salesman, Shanghai, builder, Tehran, traffic director, Van.
I was a bum, but good at it. I was also already a games journalist and had been for 2 years. I think I’d even already written for Edge.
Okay. When I was 14 I joined a (now long gone) online gaming forum called State. To this day I have never encountered a smarter, smarmier community of gamers. After lurking for six months I began creating accounts and posting, then deleting those accounts the moment someone made fun of me, or I revealed my ignorance or told a joke that fell flat. Swapping these personas once a month, I was the Untalented Mr Ripley.
One day I created an account called Quinns and managed to not come across as a jerk. I then started posting these big, pretty news threads on the forum with lots of screenshots as a kind of service, and one night even recorded myself doing impressions of 20 videogames and created a thread where people had to identify where the quotes were from. That went down well.
“Quinns” was the iteration of me that got popular, and State became my life. I can’t overstate the importance of spending several hours of every day reading how these smart people would analyse the industry, break apart games to laugh at ther gooey liquid centres. Not to mention the huge investment of time and energy I sank into sharpening my own sentences, or the hundreds of obscure titles I learned about / from.
State would put out an eZine once in a while, sMag, which could well be the most pretentious games publication ever to see the light of day. Sometimes it was pretty good, and I wrote for it a few times. No correlation there. One day one of the staff writers of PC Gamer magazine came into State’s IRC channel and asked if anyone wanted to do a week of work experience. I was the only guy who said yes.
If I were more of a prick, I could say “That’s right! They came to me!”
Instead, I say this: “They came to me! Because they needed someone who knew their shit yet would travel to their city to work hard for no money!”
When I first arrived at the PCG office I was starstruck. Suddenly all those headshots in the magazine had bodies! Just, really small bodies! I was the tallest guy there!
You know what they got me to do first? They had this big, three foot wide filing cabinet that was heaped full of old CDs containing back issues of the magazine. On my knees, I had to spend several hours sorting them and putting them into labelled CD spindles. Next, the editor came and asked if I had anything I wanted to write for the magazine. I said I wanted to write about the staggering, unsung UT mod Thievery. He said okay. I wrote it. He printed it out, covered the sheet with red pen that said just about everything except “This is shit”, then they gave me the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Official Videogame to review. I played the game and wrote the review over two days. It came back with more red pen.
Anyone in any kind of desirable career will have a story like this. Models, ice-cream tasters, actors, all of them will explain how their first experience as the whipping boy of their dream job was awful and that they bravely soldiered on to become the respected professional they are today. Fuck that! I don’t care how tough your dream job is to begin with, it’s still your dream job. If you have a lick of sense and you’ve tasted the dusty floor that is zero-qualification, minimum wage labour, you do not look back. Ever. If you do it’s because you’re running and want to see if it’s gaining on you.
I loved that week of work experience. Of course I did. I was 16 years old and sat in the PC Gamer office, filing CDs! I was 16 and already getting my work rejected! I was sat at a desk, playing a terrible videogame! It was awesome. I went drinking with the PCG staff after work, and was energetic and young and kept rapt by their stories.
My review of Lemony Snicket’s An Unfortunate etc. got published in the end, several drafts later. Someone on the mag’s forum who didn’t know me commented it was one of the best reviews in the issue.
At the end of the week the guys at PCG offered me a freelance contract and I said yes. Every so often for the next six months they’d throw me a 1/2 page review of some trashy game like this and I would literally end up sending these pieces off at 8am, trying to block out the dawn chorus and ripped to the tits on guarana and caffeine having agonised over my work for 12 hours straight. I would then go to bed instead of going to my prohibitively expensive private school and spasm so much in my sleep that I’d wake up on the floor.
Eventually the 1/2 pages became full pages and my details got forwarded to other editors, and that was that. I had a career. Nothing I wouldn’t give up for the travelling, mind, but then that’s just it. The games, the really good ones, let me travel.
Just so you guys know I’m actually saving up for another spell of backpacking right now. Should be leaving in just over a couple of months, at which point I’m turning this into a travel blog.
I think it’ll be pretty good, though. You should totally stick around.